The Art of Project Management: Expert advice from experienced project managers in Silicon Valley, and around the world
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Project Managers are Supporters

When you’re managing projects, things will go wrong both inside and outside of your project.  Many of the things that go wrong will be wholly and completely out of your control, but can have a massive affect on your project.  You will need to find a way to support your team while they work through whatever issues they may be dealing with; such as Stress, Family Issues, and Medical Issues.  How can you work with your team to resolve their personal issues without crossing the line between Business and Personal?

via Flickr by CWA Union

Stress:  Everyone deals with stress differently.  Some people put so much of themselves into the project that they don’t know when to stop.  These are the ones who work day and night, even through weekends.  With people that work themselves like this, the risk of burnout is very high – and you need to help them prevent it.  Don’t get me wrong – long hours and working on weekends may be necessary as you get closer to deadlines, but those are meant to be sprints, not marathons.  No person can be expected to work the ‘Death March’ for the entirety of a project.  Working that hard for that long can cause members of your team to quit out of sheer exhaustion at best, and could cause severe health issues at worst.  Work with your team member to find out why they are working themselves so hard.  Do they think that their job is in danger if they don’t put 190% into their job?  You will need to ensure that they are not killing themselves for the sake of the project.  They need to know that they have a place on your project team for a long time, and that they do not need to burn themselves out to prove it.  You and your team need them for the long haul!

On the other side of the spectrum, there are some team members who get so overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the project that they freeze up and can’t figure out where to start.  These team members tend to gravitate towards the insignificant, easy to complete tasks, rather than the important tasks that may be too complicated.  They may get wrapped up in the minutiae of documentation, rather than the actual content.  It is your job to help these team members break down the tasks in front of them into reasonably-sized chunks.  If they can’t see past the enormity of a certain assignment, help them break it down further and further until they know exactly what to start with, and when they need to have it completed.  By guiding these team members through what needs to be done, you will help their career growth, their team members, and your project.

 

Family Issues:  Let’s face it – life happens; and there is never a good time for it to happen.  Marriages, Birthdays, Anniversaries, Divorces and Deaths can’t always wait for after Go-Live.  The necessity of work/life balance can’t be denied when it comes to productivity.  If someone on your team is distracted by their family issues, they cannot be expected to fully focus on their project tasks.  Take the time to sit down with your team members to make sure that they don’t have anything in their lives that could be affecting their work.  An unfortunate truth is that there are people who feel guilty for having a life outside of the project.   Your job is to allow them to be happy with good news in their lives, and take care of the things that are less-than-happy news.  Work with them to give them the time that they need without putting an undue burden on the rest of the project team.

 

Medical Issues: Regardless of the stress-related health issues that can come up, things that are impossible to predict or prevent can happen without warning.  Someone’s appendix could burst, they could have a heart attack, or even get hit by a bus!  As the Project Manager, everyone will be looking to you to ensure that the patient can recuperate, and the team won’t need to put in too much overtime to compensate.  Preventive action is the only remedy for this.  Make sure that no one person on your team has a monopoly of knowledge.  Ensure that all requirements, changes, tweaks, and updates are fully documented and can be accessed by everyone on the team.  Software development should be using some sort of version control so that if someone doesn’t come in one day, another person can pick up where they left off.  Ensuring that your team knows that they can be gone for a while, and will still have a job to come back to, is great for the health of your project, and your team.

 

Managing the unexpected things that come up in “real life” is one of the more difficult aspects of Project Management.  Reaching the level of rapport with each and every person on your project team so that they can trust you enough to help them manage their work/life balance is very difficult, but necessary.  Your team is depending on you to make sure that they each can be given the time to handle whatever Life brings them, but that they are still a valued and integral part of the team that will be missed while they are gone.  Don’t let them down.

About the Author

Abby Dryer, PMP is a Chicago-based Project Manager, specializing in system integration. She focuses much of her energy on team-building and morale - as a cohesive team with high morale can be a determining factor in the success or failure of a project.
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