Project Managers Motivation


There are thousand of posts for project managers about motivating their teams on the internet. While searching “Motivating Project Managers” I kept coming across the articles about the developers and how PM should behave. You can’t be a great PM without been a good motivator, so PMs are asked about the ways to motivate developers on every interview. But I think we miss some important item here – the motivation of the Project Managers. We assume that they are somehow already motivated and shine bright every day. Otherwise they can’t motivate the team, right? But no one cared about their motivation in software companies I know, they just required the managers to be “self-motivated”. We just don’t take that into account, as we don’t take into account that all our developers are not so brilliant as we think (and this is normal).

This ignorance of the PMs motivation results in the common for the outsourcing software companies manager’s life-cycle.  They check how energetic and enthusiastic you are during the interview. If you showed that you can light the fireplace with the power of you enthusiasm – they hire you. Then you start working hard, go through several projects. You are very lucky if any of these projects is successful (remember about the rate of successful projects to the not successful according to the statistics?). You start loosing your energy, but there is usual nothing you can get it from back. So when your internal light is completely over you have 2 options – you resign or you join the army of zombie PMs, who seem to be rather comfortable with been dead. Of course, “nothing personal, it’s just business”, as usual. But are we ok with the army of dead zombies, who turn more and more teams in zombies and high turnover of the PMs?

Just business

Let’s talk about the numbers, as it is the thing that managers understand the best. So, the costs we get not paying attention to the Projects managers motivation:

  1. Сosts of replacing the developer is close to his annual salary: in includes the time person is “finalizing tasks” after sending the resignation notice, hiring of the new person, teaching the new team members – time of the new employee + current employees who teach, time lost for team storming-forming, time when new employee comes to the “level of productivity” of the old one.
    How high it can be for the PM? Assuming the PM is the heart and soul of the project – I assume it will be even higher than with the developer. In this post author mentions the 150% for mid-level employees.
  2. Costs of team members demotivation. One demotivated manager can demotivate up to 50 developers in 100 m from him 🙂 Just count the increase in developer’s turnover. You rely a lot on this middle-level management, as they form the core force in maintaining the company’s culture and conducting the strategy vision from top to bottom (let’s assume we are talking about the average “agile” software development company). But what if the ground you rely on is not solid enough?
  3. Zombie PMs have a great power – they can even kill you company.You can count the costs of the failed projects, not satisfied customers (1 unhappy customer will make sure he spread the information about you among his circle).

Biggest demotivators

Of course, everyone wants to hire only highly self-motivated projects managers. Why can self motivate themselves for years and years. Have you seen one? Who can resist all the attempts of the company to kill your motivation?

So, the most common motivation killers for PMs (from my experience and experience of my colleagues):

Death match projects

You heard all that tales about the death match projects join your company? You know from the beginning that it will fail. Deadline is not feasible to reach, budget is too low, you have 10% of the team needed… That is how it starts. Even if the situation is not so bad – you still never get everything you need and sometimes all your projects become a “fight”. And you fight day to day and finally see that there is no way you win. Really motivating, isn’t it? You can say something “Good project manager should be motivated and finish the project keeping the team in good pace in any case!” But where you have seen good project managers? We are almost all average ones (see normal distribution).



May be some managers feel comfortable with it. But the PMs I talked to about that all denied loving the politics thing. PMs a flooded with it every day – relationships with the client and inside the company. You cant remove the politics from relationships with clients, but I wish companies can reduce it inside their structure.

Double standards and no transparency

PMs are the ones who are “close” to the “production line”, but still have a chance to see the “behind the scenes” of the company’s decision making process.
When you are at the same time motivated to “sell” more hours to the client, making the project bigger and punished for over budgeting and not following “we take client’s side” company culture value. What can you feel apart from frustration? When you know that there is the “company culture and values to show to our clients” and “our real values – only for internal use”? When you know that top management on every all-hands meeting states that employees are the main value of our company and everybody smiles happily, but you know that it is not true and they try to save as much as they can on every employee and don’t care about retention?

It’s also really hard to be the one who should answer all that “tricky” questions from the teams. When there is a toxic environment in the company, PMs are the only ones who can be the buffers between the team and this environment. And you have to choose – to be on the company’s side, on the team’s side or balancing between them with the non-stop frustration.


When company is lying to it’s employees it’s a red flag for any PM. Don’t expect the motivation to be high. I have an example when the company was not following some items in the contract and it resulted in small decrease of the payment we all received that month and the month after. It was a big blow after they started denying any fault and refused to present the evidence (that was the right of the contractor to ask for such an evidence according to the contract). We were furious not because of that small decrease, the case was not money! They just turned back to us and forgot all their talks about caring and loyalty)) I think that even if they spent their own money on returning everyone that small sum it would be much less than we lost as the result of that – it was the start of the “no trust” environment emerging.

No professional growth

In some of the companies I worked in there was a culture of “There is no time for education, just work! You are already good enough. Just be quicker!” You finished one project and received the new one, almost the same.  In a year you try to sum up the progress and find out that you hardly read one book and have visited one professional conference. It’s really hard to work 12 hours a day and after that get home and educate yourself. Especially if you can’t try the things you read about on practice. You feel like you are stuck on the same level of competence and you can’t learn anything new in this company.
It’s also a pity, when there is no PM community in the organization.

– What if I spend all this time and money to train them and then they leave?
– What if you don’t educate them and they stay?

A lot of projects simultaneously

That is ok having 2 or 3 projects (but even that is challenging). But I came across companies where PMs told me that they work on 7-8 projects 0_0 It’s more that I can imagine, because for it would be difficult to remember the names of such many projects.
When you have a lot of projects you have switch too often, you never have time to do the things right. So you are not satisfied with your work. And what can be more demotivating than absence satisfaction?
The thing which can change your attention to work is switching the projects often. PM has a kind of “emotional” connection to the project and the team he cares about. When you switch the teams – PM needs a time to build this emotional connection again and again and once he breaks – stops building this connection because “there is no point”.

No leaders to follow

PMs are formal leaders of the teams. But they still need the one to follow. The same as the teams need a leader – team of PMs need a leader.

Low professional skills of the development teams

That can be interesting to cope with the team of 5 joiners for the first time. But when you come across that again and again – working with teams of students, where you have to explain what is TDD and why we need QA – you get really tired of that.
Don’t think that if there are no students in you team – you are on the safe side. Outsourcing companies hire a lot of developers every month. And not all of them are brilliant. The market situation is the following now – even if you not aware of the profession basic, you still can be hired. And the person who have to deal with it – your PM, as he still need to deliver projects.

PM have no voice

If you can’t influence anything – you don’t feel been the part of the process. You feel that nothing depends on you. And would you care about something that does not depend on you? I think, not. You would say that we are talking about PMs and they seem to have some power – over their teams, at least. Yes, it is great if you have choice shout or not to shout at the developer, but I am talking about the relationship with the customer, project management best practices, used in the company, any processes you take part in and could improve.

So, when all of the above matches – it is a combo to kill eventthe brightest PM motivation. And it will need a long time to respawn. So try to avoid this, keep your PMs soft and happy ^_^

2 thoughts on “Project Managers Motivation

  1. I am relatively new to project management so enjoy reading your perspective and if I have a long term future in the field (hopefully!) what to expect.

    I found this comment interesting:

    ‘They check how energetic and enthusiastic you are during the interview. If you showed that you can light the fireplace with the power of you enthusiasm – they hire you.’

    I am someone who goes into interviews full of enthusiasm and have gradually lost it when I have been in a post for a while – I realise this, I make efforts to retain enthusiasm, which is easier said than done. I try to focus on the positive side and keeping find opportunities to develop.

    1. Of course, good PMs retain their enthusiasm, they don’t just stop after loosing it. But I am far from a good Pm, I am just an average one. So I have ups and downs in my energy balance. And I don’t think we should blame just the company and say that “they kill our motivation”. I was the kind of PM who is deeply involved in the teams life, I cared about them and the project, talked to them a lot (I can’t understand how managers can spend less than 50% of their time with teams and still rule the projects). That is why I needed a lot of positive emotional energy to maintain the whole process. And when you are not just spending it for your duties, but have to fight all the demotivators I mentioned – none of the retaining techniques can help. For me PM role is very energy devastating, so companies should take care about their managers))

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