Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines…it’s a constant in our work life. Mix those in with home life to do’s and mandatory schedules – ‘I promised a date with my spouse tonight’! How do we survive?!?!
I do two things:
1) Acknowledge there are seasons or cycles to everything. Marketing is going be busy in the fall. Selling is going to be heavy in the holidays. Accounting is every winter/spring. Kiddo’s sports/events/theater is every spring and fall. You get the picture. Somethings will get caught in that crunch – be kind to yourself and others. It’s expected if you’re in the right frame of mind.
2) Prioritize based on those cycles.
Life: If you’re a tax accountant, a vacation in February is not a great idea. But one in May – much appreciated and much more enjoyable. Kiddo’s game on April 14???? – talk about it ahead of time. When cycles collide, have someone else clean the house, increase your budget for takeout, make extra meals before hand for easy lunches.
Work: Despite what it may feel like, not all deadlines are real and not all deadlines need to be kept – this is the secret. Which ones are not real and not needing to be kept are something you learn. In the meantime, talk to your boss(es) and explain the constraints (not the family ones) and find out which ones can slip.
Bottom line – be open, be honest, see what’s ahead of you so you’re prepared. Being hit by a Mac truck that you could have avoided completely sucks!!! That’s why you have to slow down.
I was told once by a consultant who specialized in culture, that when she looked around everything pointed to culture as the problem and the solution. I didn’t believe her. I thought everything was about being productive and working together because that’s what mattered to me.
When I looked at what, how, why I do (Thank you to Simon Sinek), I found a system: What = Same Road, Same Time, Same Direction. How = I manipulate the fabric of team dynamics. Why = Create Accountability.
When I put it all that together and saw the system I create – you can’t have a system of positive accountability unless you have a positive culture that supports it.
The reason I can turn projects around, even ones that are going up in flames, is that I change the micro culture of the project and create a system of accountability.
Large projects take on a life of their own. They are unwieldly with lots of moving parts and issues coming at us from all sides. It’s a lot to hold on to so these usually become ‘programs’ and we hire a group of project managers to keep track of all the details. That’s all well and good – details matter.
Having been responsible for this type of project before but on my own, it’s tough to take a step back from the details and look at the project as a whole. Where is it heading? Are we going off the rails with all the problems? Are these ‘normal’ problems and we are continuing in our forward momentum? Are we going awry? Is there one cause or one person who is a bottleneck? Is there a department that is always behind or a person making things overly hard?
I’ve talked about the ART of project management and this is where the rubber hits the road. This is where the expert resides. Finding the answers to these questions is being the conductor – looking around at your orchestra, seeing patterns and seeing the difference between symptoms and the real problems.
I’ve done a lot of different project plans and I’ve seen a lot more. I’ve seen people put in a series of status meetings as tasks which only front loads the project level % complete. I’ve seen Sponsors want individual steps for each repeatable task put in the plan because they feared we would forget them. I’ve done 5000-line project plans because there was that much to do. I’ve done little 40-line ones that are very high level and just keep us on track.
All very purposeful and useful and very like a bean counter.
I wish MS project/SmartSheets/etc was more fluid and allowed for us to see past the tasks and look at the project as a river system with lots of small trickles and streams. All leading into a large river that supported the environment and provided even more than what we originally needed. Instead, I find projects get blocked and misguided due to not taking the time to do business requirements and not thinking through the design and not taking the time we need to be successful. Of course, there are constraints of time, resources, and scope but we take short cuts and remove scope due to our misunderstandings and assumptions, so we produce small rivers that don’t support even our basic needs.
What if we did the right thing from the beginning? Is that so hard?
Expectations are TOUGH. You need some of them but not too many of them and they need to be just above where you are, so you strive to be more but not too high and they need to be realistic, so you feel motivated. How in the world can you make that work? Especially as a matrixed project manager who doesn’t know these folks very well.
Expectations are CRITICAL. This is what gives your team the belief that they can do it. But, can also demotivate them if it feels out of reach or not presented with appropriate belief.
How do you find that balance? You listen.