24 June, 2024

The One Minute Manager Applies the Principles to Project Management

The One Minute Manager (by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson) is a well-deserved best-seller. Its guidance is simple and valuable for any manager. So how does it translate for a Project Manager? Could you be a One Minute Project Manager?

The One Minute Manager Applies the Principles to Project Management

I think the answers are:

  1. It translates well to Project Management
  2. Yes, you can become a One Minute Project Manager

Let me explain…

In this article, I’ll cover three topics:

The One Minute Manager

The One Minute Manager is the OGhttps://geni.us/ucfz: the first, the original, the book that started it all. It is short, pithy, and told in the form of a simple story. At its core is the authors’ philosophy of management. They describe it as the Three Secrets, so the book introduces us to three principles.

What are the Three Principles of the One Minute Manager?

The three principles are ‘One Minute…

  1. Goals
  2. Praisings
  3. Reprimands

One Minute Goals

These set out responsibilities and performance standards in 250 words or less, per goal. They form an agreement between the manager and their team member.

One Minute Praisings

We motivate people by:

  • catching them doing things right,
  • telling them, and
  • letting the good feeling sink in.

One Minute Reprimands

But, sometimes people get things wrong. So, a one minute reprimand is:

  • telling them what they have done wrong,
  • then reminding them that you value them and intend to support their learning.

How to Apply the Principle to the One Minute Project Manager

I think we can adapt these ideas very well, to our project-working context. In a later section, I’ll look at three new principles that may be especially appropriate for us. Here, I look at how the three principles of the original One Minute Manager book apply.

The One Minute Project Manager sets One Minute Project Goals

As project managers, we are familiar with work packages and work package descriptions (WPDs). So, what about creating simple one-page, one-minute-to-read goals for each team member? If you choose to do this, this level of focus means a clarity that your team members will appreciate.

The One Minute Project Manager delivers One Minute Praisings

I am a big advocate for Project Managers wandering their projects and speaking with people. In general management, this is known as Management By Walking About (MBWA).

So, what better opportunity could there be to spot something good and deliver genuine praise? Let’s face it, you have few levers of organizational motivation at your disposal. You may also not have any clear authority over some of the people working on your project. But we know that a sense of achievement, and feeling of recognition, are powerful motivators for most people. And you can deliver both, for free.

The One Minute Project Manager delivers One Minute Reprimands

Things go wrong on Projects. And sometimes people do mess up. But they don’t need you to rub their noses in it. If they care about their project and are capable, they will know what they did wrong.

It will often be enough for them to know they messed up. And, if they don’t care about your project, then an extended rant about their failings won’t build the loyalty you want.

So don’t make a big thing of it. If you really need to raise the issue (you often won’t), express your reprimand for the failure briefly. Let it sink in. Then move on. Remind them that you value them as an individual professional, and look to the next steps.

Critical Appraisal of the One Minute Project Manager

There is plenty more to managing people than Blanchard and Johnson cover in The One Minute Manager. Indeed, they must clearly accept this, because it was merely the first of a long series of books, that built on the model, using the same style. So, that’s what we’ll look at next.

But what appeals to me about these books in general, and the idea of a One Minute Project Manager in particular, is the combination of pace, and priorities. I think it works well on both fronts in a project environment.

Going Further: Extensions to the One Minute Project Manager

There is an extensive backlist of One Minute Manager books. Not all of them have direct application to the Project Management context – although most have plenty of useful ideas. On my bookshelf, I have 13 of the series.

One Minute Manager books

I’ll give you a brief introduction to eight of them.

Putting the One Minute Manger to Work

The principle at the heart of Putting the One Minute Manger to Work is a good one:

People who produce good results feel good about themselves

The ABC Model

And, to help deliver this, the authors offer a simple model: ABC – Activator-Behaviour-Consequence.

  1. Activators: One Minute Goal setting – accountability, standards, instructions
  2. Behavior: Performance – what someone does
  3. Consequence: One Minute Praisings, One Minute Reprimands, Redirecting, no response

Only positive consequences encourage good future performance. So, if a person:

  • can’t do something, this is a training problem. So, go back to goal-setting
  • won’t do something, this is an attitude problem. This is an early book and the authors suggest a reprimand. I prefer to encourage and motivate that person. See my summary of Gung Ho!, below. However, they do remind us that when you end a reprimand with praise, people think about their behavior; not your behavior.

As a manager, the most important thing is not what happens when you are there, but what happens when you are not there.

The Price System

There is a second model for us to use, which follows the acronym, PRICE:

  • Pinpoint
    Determine the performance area of interest – precisely.
  • Record
    Measure current performance level.
  • Involve
    Agree performance goals and strategies for coaching and evaluation.
  • Coach
    Observe performance and manage the consequences.
  • Evaluate
    Track performance progress and determine future strategies.

The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey

The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey answers the question, ‘Why is it that some managers are typically running out of time while their staff are typically running out of work?’

In this book, the authors use the metaphor of a monkey as the next move. For every monkey, there are two parties involved: one to work it and one to supervise it. Critically, the more you can get rid of your people’s monkeys, the more time you have for your people.

The authors argue that all monkeys must be handled at the lowest organizational level consistent with their welfare. And the only way to develop responsibility in people is to give them responsibility. If your people always agree with you, one of you is not necessary

So, practice hands-off management as much as possible and hands-on management as much as necessary.

  • Assigning work involves a single monkey
  • Delegation involves a family of monkeys

The purpose of coaching is to get into a position to delegate.

Monkey Management

William Oncken’s rules of Monkey Management are:

  1. Description
    Specify the next moves.
  2. Owner
    Assign the Monkey – to the lowest organizational level consistent with its welfare.
  3. Insurance
    Cover the risks so that the person with the monkey can only make affordable mistakes.  There are two levels:
    • recommend then act
    • act then advise
  4. Feeding/check-up appointments
    Specify the time and place to follow up.

Leadership and the One Minute Manager

Leadership and the One Minute Manager tells us we should not work harder: we should work smarter. And the authors suggest that when you slow down, you go faster

This book is fundamentally about Situational Leadership. The authors assert that ‘When the best leader’s work is done, the people say “we did it ourselves”’.

They offer three skills of situational leadership:

  1. Diagnosing
    • Capability
    • Commitment: Confidence and Motivation
  2. Flexibility
  3. Contracting

Here is my description of Situational Leadership, from our sister channel, Management Courses:

The One Minute Manager Builds High-Performing Teams

The One Minute Manager Builds High-Performing Teams offers us seven characteristics of High Performing Teams:

  1. Purpose
  2. Empowerment
  3. Relationships & Communication
  4. Flexibility
  5. Optimal Performance
  6. Recognition and Reward
  7. Morale

It then combines the Situational Leadership model of Leadership and the One Minute Manager with Tuckman’s model of Group/Team Development.

Group Development Stages

This leads them to four Group Development Stages:

  1. Orientation
    Your primary leadership style needs to be directing
  2. Dissatisfaction
    Your primary leadership style needs to be coaching
  3. Resolution
    Your primary leadership style needs to be supporting
  4. Production
    Your primary leadership style needs to be delegating

No developmental stage is bad. Each stage is part of the journey toward high levels of productivity. Effective team leaders adjust their style to provide what the group can’t provide for itself. So, the most important function of a team leader is to help the group move through the stages of development.

The Leadership Pill

The Leadership Pill suggests that leading people is the opposite of trying to control them. And it also offers us more pithy quotes:

  • Leadership is not just what happens when you’re there: it’s what happens when you’re not there.
  • Leadership is not something you do to people – it’s something you do with them.

The Secret Blend

The authors offer us a ‘secret blend’ of:

  • Integrity
  • Partnership
  • Affirmation


Integrity ‘Lays the foundation for trust and respect’. Trust is what happens when values and behaviors match up. And people are more apt to trust and respect you when what you say and what you do are one and the same. And, in a quote that ties directly to the concept of Authentic Leadership, the authors state that:

‘Leading with integrity means being the person you want others to be.’


Partnerships ‘harvest the potential of the team’. So, the key to effective leadership is the relationship you build with your team. Two key ideas the authors offer are:

  • It is easier to get up the hill when you climb it together
  • Sharing the big picture puts everyone on the same page


Affirmation ‘lets people know that what they do is important’. Praise is like a way of refuelling people’s motivation: you will go a lot further if you stop to refuel.  Praise is also the easiest way to let people know they are appreciated. And, because it take little effort, each of us has the power to recognise the goodness in others.

Perfecting the blend

Leadership is the process of getting everyone to the place they are supposed to go. And people will think for themselves when you quit doing it for them. So, the highest achievement of a leader is winning the respect and trust of your team.

Gung Ho!

Gung Ho! Is about motivation, and it offers three principles that the authors describe with compelling metaphors they draw from animal behavior:

  1. Spirit of the Squirrel
  2. Way of the Beaver
  3. Gift of the Goose

Spirit of the Squirrel

…is about worthwhile work.

  • Knowing our work makes the world a better place.
  • Everyone on the team is working toward a shared goal.
  • Values guide all our plans, decisions. and actions.

Way of the Beaver

…is about being in control of achieving the goal.

  • We work on a playing field with clearly marked territory.
  • Our thoughts, feelings, needs, and dreams are respected, listened to and acted upon.
  • We feel able but challenged by demanding work.

Gift of the Goose

…is about cheering each other on.

  • Active or passive, congratulations must be TRUE:
    Timely, Responsive, Unconditional, Enthusiastic
  • Look for success and cheer the progress people make.
  • Enthusiasm = Mission x Cash x Congratulations

High Five!

High Five! Is about the importance of providing clear purpose and values when we work in a team. A team is held together by a ‘compelling purpose’, so it needs to have its own goals (not those imposed by management).

To do this, we use a team charter, which is an agreement about what the team wants to accomplish.

Take a look at:

Unleashing and Developing Skills

A team needs high skill levels. So part of the leadership role is to ‘teach and unleash’. Once you have done this, measure the improvement you get, and give feedback.

Creating Team Power

A great quote is that ‘None of us is as smart as all of us’.

We need to create what the authors call ‘Synergistic Harmony’, where everyone collaborates effectively. And we can then get true flexibility is we allow our people to cross train with each other’s skills.

Keeping the Accent on the Positive

Repeated reward and recognition is the best way to maintain motivation. So look for opportunities to catch people doing things right.

Raving Fans

Raving Fans is my last pick. This tells us that you need to ‘Care about customers’ and that ‘satisfied’ customers aren’t enough. I read this as being equally true for users and any other stakeholders. I will reframe their language from ‘customer’ to ‘stakeholder’.

This book offers three secrets:

The First Secret: Decide what you want

  • Create a vision of perfection centred on the stakeholder
  • Bring your vision of perfection down to a level of what will actually happen
  • Smooth out the bumps and warts

The Second Secret: Discover what the stakeholder wants

  • Discover your stakeholder’s vision and alter yours if need be
  • Know when to ignore what your stakeholder wants
  • Your stakeholder’s vision might change your view
  • To find out their vision: ask them
  • There are a lot of stakeholders – not just the obvious ones
  • Train your ear
    • Listen to the music as well as the lyrics  (they say one thing and mean another)
    • Silence is a message (and not a good one)
    • ‘Fine’ usually isn’t
  • The narrower the focus, the more important the vision is to the stakeholder

The Third Secret: Deliver Plus One

  • Deliver the vison plus one percent
  • Consistency is the key to delivering Raving Fans service
  • To start with, limit the number of areas where you want to make a difference
  • To be consistent, you have to have systems
  • The rule of one percent – to keep you moving ahead and focused beyond your vision
  • The magic ingredient: Flexibility

The One Minute Project Manager

Having re-read (or maybe, in places, re-scanned) these eight books, I wondered:

What are my top ‘one minute tips’ for Project Managers?

There is so much in these eight books (and the others) for Project Managers. So, I wanted to get to the core of what we do. So, I offer you my assessment of the day-to-day leadership for Project Managers. One minute:

  1. Tasking
  2. Check-in
  3. Coaching

One Minute Tasking

The first is simple. We need to set tasks for our team members. In doing this, you should:

  1. Set the context and give the background and reasoning for why the task is important (the ‘why’)
  2. Tell the outcomes you are expecting and the standard they need to meet, for you to be delighted with their work (the ‘what’)
  3. Set parameters for how much authority they have. Are you asking them to do the whole task and come back to you at the end? Or do you need them to check-in with you at different stages?
  4. Tell them the deadline and let them know the budget they have (in money and resources), so they can manage the time, cost, and quality criteria.

One Minute Check-in

How’s it going?

You need to know this from your team members. And your stakeholders need to know this from you. So, this is a bit of a ‘two-for’.

Finding out

Checking in with your team members, you need to know:

  • How it’s going
  • When they anticipate full delivery
  • What help or support they might need


Checking in with stakeholders, they will want to know:

  • How it’s going and when you anticipate delivery
  • How you are respecting their needs, preferences, and priorities
  • What they can do to help

One Minute Coaching

Your team members will get stuck, from time to time. Helping them out by solving their problems or fixing things will not help them learn and develop their professional skills. So, instead, ask them:

  1. What is the outcome you are trying to achieve?
  2. What is happening, that is frustrating progress?
  3. What are your options for fixing it?
  4. How will you select the best option?
  5. Which option do you choose?
  6. What’s your next step?

Over to You…

If you were to come up with your own ‘one minute tips’ for Project Managers, what would they be. Please let me know in the comments below. I’d love to see them!

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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