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Ten Lessons Countdown – 10, 9, 8

The countdown begins... 10,9,8 - courtesy 'randomonious'

Career Lessons 10, 9, 8 – Vacation, Balance and Change

As I pointed out in my earlier blog, we will walk through my top 10 career lessons of the last decade.  Here’s today’s list:

# 10 Take your vacation

Early in the decade, I skimped on taking vacation! I can’t even believe I did that – but, it is true.   There were even times when I worked on Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.  It was one of those things that felt right at the time – but, in retrospect, I would not do this again.  I had taken on a new leadership role, and thought I was indispensible to the team.   It was definitely having a detrimental effect on my family – as we were not able to plan any extended trips.  In addition, I had maxed out my vacation days and was losing my paid time off – an important company benefit.

Well, one New Year’s resolution – about 8 years ago – I changed all that.   I decided to take vacations – weeks and days at a time.  Nothing fell apart at work, I got to spend more time with my family and my team became more self-sufficient.

 My lesson learned?  Everyone is totally dispensable at work.   It was certainly humbling to realize that.  Taking a vacation is absolutely critical to recharge, reconnect with family and friends and be more effective in your job.  So, go for it!

# 9     Keep  a balanced outlook

All the books say that when things go wrong, keep your cool.  Well, it easier said than done.  Certainly, 10 years ago, when I was a manager of a team of mostly young college grads,  in a very fast paced environment, lots of things were going wrong.  There were regular “crisis de jour”:  missed deadlines,  conflicts,  doors slamming, words flaming,  all the things you can imagine going wrong.   I took it all very personally and worked very hard through each and every issue.  It is amazing that I did not have a heart attack and just keel over. 

In the midst of all this, I went to visit my brother – who is a doctor.  As we were driving to his home from the airport,  he said one of his patients had passed away – and he had had a really rough day.  At that instant, my work problems were put into perspective.  After all, in my line of work, people seldom died from lack of proper management. 

So, whenever I was confronted with the “crisis du jour” -  I mentally asked myself ‘is anyone’s life in danger?’  The answer was almost always no.  That realization put things in a different light.  To this day, this has helped  me keep my cool and balance in dealing with the chaotic environment in which we all work.

# 8     Be prepared for change

We are all aware of the fast pace of change in our work environments.  Nothing is guaranteed.  New technologies, new processes, new organizations, restructuring, layoffs, lost opportunities – the list is endless with the myriad of changes we have all lived through over the last decade.  The fact is that about 10 years ago, many of us, including me, were looking for stability and a steady reasonably predictable work environment.  However, the pace of change simply seemed to increase with each year.   Initially, I resisted.  Like all of us, I realized that was futile – ‘change was the new black’.  It was in vogue and it is something we all needed to fashion into our work lifestyles.

I cannot say I am fully comfortable with the rate of change.  I somehow always feel like I am behind and not fully aware of what is going on.  The rate of change sometimes feels out of control.  However, I do realize that it is here to stay, and I have become used to it – and expect it.  So, when I am planning any project, I factor change into my plans.  I expect my initial assumptions to change, the budget to change, the people to change, the requirements to change.  This expectation for change has allowed me to ‘just deal with it’.   So, while I have not tamed change, or reduced its effects, I can simply deal with it more effectively now than I did 10 years ago.  That is probably a good thing – because if history proves right, our next decade will have even more surprising changes for us.

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About the Author

Mala Devlin is a Senior Software Development Manager at Cisco systems where she is responsible for development tools & methodologies to increase engineering productivity. She is also the author of a book on engineering leadership and building great teams - "The Software Soul". She is currently responsible for marketing, engineering, deploying and supporting a variety of engineering productivity tools and applications across 15,000 engineers. She has extensive experience in directly and matrix managing global, cross functional teams - and driving change across organizations. Mala has been at Cisco for the last 10 years, and has worked in the areas of enabling large-scale componentized development/release models, enabling hitless software upgrades, and managing QoS. Prior to Cisco, she worked in a variety of engineering and product management roles for 10 years at Bell Northern Research in Canada.
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2 Responses to “Ten Lessons Countdown – 10, 9, 8”

  1. I love the way you write, Mala, and the first three of your top ten are great. Excellent start.

    One thing for sure…the rate of change is likely to change…and not for the better ;-)

    Thank you!

  2. Thanks for the terrific reminders, Mala!

    When it comes to change I am comforted by knowing that success in today’s business world is a team sport, and I don’t have to meet the challenge of change alone. An African saying I like is “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with a team.” The future is a place – a place we’re going – and we are going there together. Supported by each other, we’ll be able to handle far more than we ever could alone.

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