The Tyrant

Project Manager that treats project members with contempt in the name of motivating them to work harder.


Software development projects tend to have a host of strong personalities, each of which must be aligned and focused on the goal of delivering the project. Therefore project managers must exert authority over the project members to ensure project success. The Tyrant Project Manager abuses this authority by using negative reinforcement to achieve results.

While The Tyrant Project Manager may not be well liked, project stakeholders often believe that their “firm hand” is just what the project needs to be successful, especially if the project is currently behind schedule. The fact that using threats and punishment does, in fact, act as a motivator to many personality types (see “The Soldier” developer), leads to many project managers adopting this personality.

The actual problem with The Tyrant project managers is difficult to spot, but is incredibly damaging to the project.

  • The most talented and experienced project members will leave when they feel they are being mistreated, as they are highly employable at other companies.
  • Employees who cannot readily find other employment will stay, leaving the project staffed with people who are otherwise unemployable.

The longer The Tyrant project manager stays in charge, the more dramatic this slow talent drain will become. Eventually, once all of the competent project members have been driven off, it will be impossible to add talented and experienced project members to the project, as potential employees will not want to work with an incompetent team (a fact readily exposed during interviews).

It is important to note that the Tyrant project manager is normally introduced into a project at the worst possible moment: when the project is in trouble. Projects that are in jeopardy of failing need to dump incompetent team members while keeping competent team members, but The Tyrant project manager causes exactly the opposite effect.


To fix The Tyrant project manager, they will have to make the self-realization that their behavior is negatively impacting the project. To do this, there are two general approaches to follow:

First, present them with quantitative data reflecting their project management style:

  • How many valuable employees have left.
  • Their success rate at attracting talent.
  • How many features are being delivered.
  • How many bugs are being generated.
  • How many deadlines are being missed.

Graphs over time are particularly effective at relating this information.

Second, inform them of what you expect this data to reflect in the near future. This will most likely have them express exasperation and hopeless, as they do not know how to positively impact these measures of project success. This will then be the ideal circumstance to offer coaching on how to be a better project manager, which should cover the following:

  • How they conduct themselves in front of employees.
  • How they communicate project failures and successes.
  • How they can identify and weed out incompetent project members.
  • How they can attract and retain competent project members.

Provided someone exists who can provide this coaching, they are entirely fixable due to the following characteristics intrinsic to humans:

  • People don’t like to be mean.
  • People like to be liked.
  • People like to be effective.

The only challenge then is if the project team will accept their new approach despite bad experiences in the past. Gaining their acceptance may very well be as simple as calling a meeting, with the theme being “I’m sorry” and “I’ve changed for the better”.

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