Are You Feeling Buried in Project Work?
By Brad Egeland
It’s really hard to admit that you’re in over your head. It’s a show of weakness or possibly a professional short coming. It may actually be neither – you simply may just be overworked, but it can feel like a weakness. And we are just not programmed to scream that out loud.
We can try to “fake it till we make it”…which is what I like to do if it’s something new. I like to take on new projects, new challenges and learn along the way. I feel that as long as I’m in the ballpark, I can make it happen. But sometimes we all come up short. If that happens…what do we do? I’m focusing on technical projects here so let’s consider some options…
Technically challenged. When we’re leading high-tech projects staffed by high-tech teams, it’s extremely important that the leader – the project manager – have some degree of technical background. Credibility with the team, credibility with the client, and credibility with potential software vendors are all critical. It’s nearly impossible to negotiate deadlines, deals and task assignments with any of these individuals or entities if we have no technical background or no understanding of the technology being discussed. I’ve seen many project managers frustrated to the point of failing or quitting as they attempted to lead detailed high-tech projects without the proper background. It’s important to understand our own limitations and seek assignments that fit our skills and to avoid those that could be career killers.
Too many projects going on and once or too many issues to handle at one time. When you find yourself running multiple projects that all happen to be in very active stages at the same time, you have a problem. Seriously, no one can handle that – no matter how detailed your project schedules are and how well you’re collaborating with your team. Ideally, when you’re managing five different projects maybe only one or two are in heavy work mode and the other three are on autopilot for awhile. Staggering the heavy duty phases, if possible, is the best way to stay sane…but sometimes that perfect storm hits and every project you’re running is at its critical point and you have to do something…raise a white flag even and surrender one or two of them to another project manager. This is not a bad thing – it’s ok to admit you’re overloaded. But you have to admit it yourself before someone else figures it out. If someone else figures it out it means you’re work is suffering and then handing off projects can make you look bad.
Team resource issues. If we’re running projects and we’re finding our team hard to manage, impossible to deal with, or difficult to rein in, then we either need to modify our management angle, replace one or more team members, or hand the project over before we cause it to fail. If resources are limited and the skill set we have is appropriate for the project, then replacing resources is not likely the best course of action. If rogue behavior is happening, however, replacing the resource may be necessary or disciplinary action through the resource’s supervisor may be required. Discuss the behavior with the resource, but if headway can’t be made, then the supervisor must be involved and the resource likely needs to be replaced on the team. Finally, if it’s just an issue that our management style isn’t strong enough to handle high-ego project resources, we may just need more experience leading these types of resources. Training may be in order, but definitely going back to the drawing board and taking on projects that are less critical or visible and possibly shorter in length may help a project manager be more prepared to handle a high-profile project with a challenging team in the future.
Summary / call for input
Sometimes we just have too much to handle and we have to do something about it. We may take an ego hit, but corrective action before it’s too late is better than complete failure across the board.
How about our readers? Have you run into instances where you’ve had too many issues or too many projects or too many new challenges going on at once and you had to take corrective action. What did you do and did it work?