Monday, November 28, 2011

Keeping Projects on Track Through the Holidays

Oh, the end of year holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. They’re all upon us now….we are joyfully celebrating with our family or planning for the next holiday. Vacation time is being requested, countdown calendars are beginning, and – most likely – some focus is being lost as the daily grind is giving way to hopes of some well-deserved relaxation time. Holidays are always hard on projects – but these current holidays can wreak havoc on the best of engagements.

The big question is this….during this time how do we keep our projects on track with so much anticipated – and sometimes unanticipated – down time? Our projects aren’t taking a break, but our project team members – and often our customers – are. How do we keep the forward momentum going? And also, how do we regroup after the holidays and get the project moving forward again at the same pace it was before the holiday slowdown?

Here are five key steps to follow to stay on track….

Plan way ahead

Project resources plan their vacations with their direct supervisor. Sometimes they tell their project managers and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they assume that their manager tells you – but that never happens. Ask questions, plan ahead. I once found myself with a resource who was leaving for India to get married and not returning for three months right in the middle of critical break/fix testing before a go-live. She assumed that her manager had informed me. Not only had I not been informed, there was no comparable resource available to back fill with. Never assume anything.

Onboard support staff if needed

By planning ahead, you can see if there are some key activities that have to happen during the holidays that can’t be moved. Request a replacement resource during the vacation time if you think it will help – but this will definitely require advanced planning (see #1 above).

Stagger time off if possible

It’s not likely you’ll get much say in this, but have your resources stagger their time off if it all possible. Leaving you as the only project resource available – and probably not able to take vacation time yourself – is a very bad situation to be in. If critical activities have to happen during a planned vacation, you may have no other choice but to go to the resource’s manager and request that vacation time be changed or that other accommodations be made.

Revise the schedule and be realistic

Take the vacation time and revise the schedule. Be as realistic as possible. It serves no good purpose to be too aggressive with the task schedules when you have no project resources available to work on them. If it’s going to cause problems with the deadline of a key project deliverable, then it’s important that everyone knows about it now rather than finding out about it later when you regroup after the holidays and watch that key date come and go. That type of failure does not make customers happy.

Kick start the project January 2nd

Finally, be ready to hit the ground running on January 2nd, or as soon as you can get MOST of your team back on the project. During that first meeting when everyone is back together, be sure to have some fun and discuss everyone’s holiday activities. And then with that out of the way be ready to productively move on. As the project manager, that means that you need to have everything in place including a revised project schedule that shows what the next steps and assignments are on the engagement.

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