Project Management and Personality Type

by Diana Ecker on May 23, 2013

The Westing Game by Ellen RaskinNow that I am a grown-up, I take every bit as much delight in reading the books of my childhood as I did when I first encountered them. One difference, though, is that now I read the introductions, too.

I was on the train to San Francisco re-reading Ellen Raskin’s tightly woven, absorbing puzzle of a book The Westing Game. The book’s introduction was written by her friend and editor Ann Durell, who describes Ellen Raskin’s approach to writing a book full of mysteries, red herrings, and twists and turns:

“It was there, in her studio, that she wrote and illustrated what was to be her last book, The Westing Game. As always, I didn’t know what it would be about, because Ellen didn’t know herself. She said that if she knew what was going to happen in a book, she would be too bored to write it. The carrot for her was watching the plot unfold.”

How exciting!

I started thinking about how people with different personality types might respond differently to this way of writing a book — or undertaking any kind of creative project. Does Ellen Raskin’s approach sound enticing to you? Or does it sound like chaos?

A Useful Model from Myers-Briggs
The Myers-Briggs assessment looks at personality on a number of different dimensions — I became certified in administering this assessment a number of years ago, and have found it to offer some helpful distinctions that relate to work styles. For example, it distinguishes between J’s, who enjoy closure and having things spelled out and decided, and P’s, who like to leave things open and see how they might evolve. (For a much more rigorous and official explanation, visit the Myers and Briggs Foundation’s detailed description of Judging vs. Perceiving).

In project terms, a J will be relieved to have everything planned out in advance: “Here is the complete checklist, I’ve thought through everything, and now that I know what I have to do, I can focus my energies on successful execution of this comprehensive plan.”

Meanwhile, a P may resist making such a plan, because they know from experience that once they do, the wind will go out of their sails.

It probably goes without saying that J’s and P’s tend to look at each other’s styles with confusion — or worse! — when they don’t have a context for understanding an approach that feels so counterintuitive. And we can all trip ourselves up by using approaches that don’t fit who we are and how we think.

Whether you identify more with one style or the other, there are ways to strengthen your process and adapt techniques that will support your own natural style.

Making Your List, Checking It Twice
A person who feels like a J may benefit from recognizing a natural habit of moving quickly toward finalizing things — maybe moving too quickly. One of a J’s greatest opportunities to pause is at the beginning. Early on, a J may feel a rush to begin planning, and allowing a little extra time to explore at this stage can be tremendously beneficial. This is particularly true when the project is complex or personal, as conceptualizing and creating content for one’s own website can often be.

J’s may also benefit from building a little bit of breathing room into the process, or even formal points to pause, re-assess, and consider how the project or message may have changed since the start of the project. Are there criteria or perspectives that have come to light since it began that now warrant consideration?

At the same time, J’s are tremendously effective when they capitalize on their natural ability to plan in a comprehensive way, and enjoy great momentum as they progress toward a project’s conclusion.

When Watching the Plot Unfold Is the Carrot
Someone who feels like a P, on the other hand, may recognize a natural aversion to anything that even hints of planning too comprehensively early on. They may want to consider whether there are aspects of this planning process that would be flexible enough to still have appeal and functionality. For example, there may be aspects of planning that are “worth it” because they will help facilitate communication with other stakeholders on the project.

At the same time, P’s can — and likely should — also build in safeguards for preserving their own energy, like leaving parts deliberately not spelled out from the beginning (but budgeting time to address those parts down the road). P’s also need to be vigilant toward the end of a project, when they may resist tying up loose ends. If your website’s purpose is to drive the success of your business, digging in your heels or getting distracted at the end can delay its launch significantly.

So What Does This Mean for You?
One of my favorite approaches for both P’s and J’s is to team up with someone who has an opposite perspective. Collaborative approaches that harness the best of both worlds can be very effective indeed, especially when there is a friendly understanding that both parties will be coming from different perspectives — and that difference can actually enrich the process.

Whether you identify more as a J or a P, or even recognize traits of both in yourself, bringing a bit of extra self-awareness to your own planning and work process can help you customize it to get your very best result and still feel like yourself at the end. And the more strategic you can be about managing your energy, the more of that energy you’ll have available to devote to the project itself.

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Whatever your personality type may be, if you like mysterious stories that are a little dark, a little quirky, and very satisfying, The Westing Game is a fun break from any project! As Ann Durell wrote, “Readers, you are in for a treat.”

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Angel Holsten March 16, 2014 at 9:59 am

I would like to get started. Is everything in order for me to get the free copy of your booklet?

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Diana Ecker March 16, 2014 at 10:11 am

Absolutely, Angel! Once you’ve submitted your first name and email address in the signup form, just check your email. There should be a message from me asking you to confirm your email address. As soon as you do that, a second email will be sent to you with a link to get your copy of the ebook right away!

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