Type and Project Management

I became a project manager at about the same time I became certified to administer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI); and in my experience, type preferences have a tremendous impact on how projects are both born and unfold. Every project begins in the mind, so psychological type is a great tool for understanding project performance. This page gathers some of my work in this area.

Optimizing Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Training: Practical Applications

This May/June 2010 article, Optimizing Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Training: Practical Applications, was published in the Department of Defense’s (DoD) CrossTalk Journal.  Its goal is to connect relationship management with software development through the tool of psychological type (as assessed using the MBTI). The article provides concrete examples of how the MBTI can be applied to better understand common software development challenges, building on MBTI knowledge that many DoD personnel already have, but are not yet clear on how to apply. CrossTalk is an open access journal, so please feel free to repost and reprint the article in its entirety.

Introduction to Type (MBTI) and Project Management

I am the author of Introduction to Type and Project Management, part of CPP’s popular Introduction to Type Series.  Designed for use by both people new to psychological type and new to project management, the booklet offers overviews of psychological type and project management, and discusses the 16 types of teams and how their strengths and weaknesses can impact project planning and execution. Finally, five case studies apply type knowledge and insights to demonstrate how project roadblocks can be overcome or avoided by applying type concepts.

An Essay: Bridging Psychological Type with Project Management
This essay originally appeared in OKA’s online newsletter in 2008, and shares my thoughts on the opportunities created when psychological type specialists and project management specialists become curious about each other’s world:

I was qualified to administer the MBTI assessment about 10 years ago.  Like so many that have gone through OKA’s program, I was struck by how deeply type spoke to my understanding of self and others, and realized that I would never see the world in the same way again. By sheer coincidence, that same week I was given my very first “real” project to manage at work – as an ambitious twenty-something, I could finally wear the “Project Manager” badge with pride.

In the last ten years, I have not managed a project without the benefit of type to help me, and I have noticed the leaders and project managers I work with consistently struggle with a few very fundamental people-driven concerns…

  • The need to deliver effective feedback to team members – despite the conflict or push-back or anger it might generate.
  • The need to have difficult conversations with sponsors and clients – to manage expectations effectively, and to have the trade-off discussions that are inevitable on any substantive effort.
  • The need to answer to requirements and goals that were established at the project’s start – despite the emergence of new information along the way that make the original intent no longer as clear.
  • The need to help bring the dreaming visionaries to earth so that something real can be produced, and the need to help the detail-oriented realists to see the root causes and patterns that connect their day-to-day frustrations – or even better – to bring these viewpoints together.
  • The need to take care of oneself and one’s team – emotionally, intellectually, socially, physically, spiritually – as the initial excitement of a project dream gives way to the daily demands of concrete implementation.

These are most certainly needs that type speaks well to – in fact, the MBTI assessment can easily be applied to work on any one of these issues in many ways.  Despite this, with the exception of a very few consultants, the world of type and the world of project management don’t often connect.  From project managers, I typically hear, “Oh, yeah, the MBTI… yeah, I took that once, but I don’t remember what I was.”  From type professionals, I typically hear, “Oh, project management, I don’t know anything about that.”  Or, more commonly even…. “Project Management, ugh.”

Not the best way to get in the front door.

I believe that the project management market is a primarily untapped one for the type world, and is one that could greatly benefit from the gifts type brings.  What does it take to sell and then deliver on it?  Here are three key thoughts based on my experiences in this space.

1 – Get curious about project content, and, don’t get intimidated by project management language. A little knowledge about a project goes a long way, but you need to engage in the content to get there.  Get to know the common challenges that projects face, and the language they use to talk about it. “Implement risk-based strategies to prevent scope creep and keep secondary stakeholders off the critical path” may seem like jargon to you (and, ahem, it is), but it is jargon that project managers use and understand when they speak to each other. (Incidentally, they would likely find “type dynamics” and “dominant function” equally incomprehensible if you used those with them – we all have our jargon of choice.)

2 – Link type to the achievement of project goals. Once you have a grasp of the language and some basic content, sell type in that voice.  For many teams under intense delivery pressure, “teambuilding” and “self-awareness” can feel – frankly – like abstract wastes of time.  Make it real for them: how will type directly impact a team’s ability to meet their project goals?  How has it helped other teams?  Why should they give you that precious time?  Answering these questions demands, in part, that you know enough about the content, and have enough stories and examples stored away, to give realistic answers.  Your investment in their world will likely be noticed.

3 – Link design to content. Once you have made the link between type and project content to get in the door, use every opportunity possible to integrate real-time project problem solving within your designs.  Learning is more likely to be remembered and acted on if it immediately helped solve a problem, meet a need, or enhance project success.  You need enough content to set up the right structure and to ask the right questions – but trust that your audiences will know how to apply type to these questions if you have given them the basics.  Just give them the space to do it.

Every discipline has its special language, tools, and practices that only insiders know.  In the type world, we have “type table,” “dominant function,” and “grip experiences” – not to mention the “code” of the eight letters themselves.  In project management, cryptic phrases like “critical path,” “level of effort,” and the dreaded “post-mortem” get traded with equal ease.  These languages are useful. On a practical level, they provide useful shortcuts that help streamline communication.  On a cultural level, they help identify who’s “in the know” in our area of expertise, and they help form a sense of shared identity among those on the inside.  Unfortunately, these languages also make it harder for worlds to inform and integrate with one another, leading to missed opportunities for both an expanded and more holistic way of living life.

As coaches, trainers, counselors, and consultants, we are in a unique position to build a bridge from type to project management. We have the tools to construct that bridge – we must also be willing to learn the language of those on the other side.