Project Management in Practice

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Project management lessons learned from a vacation


After nearly a two month hiatus in blog posts, it is time to jump back on the horse. In that time, I have spent five weeks on vacation and either side of it two and a bit weeks in doing handover and picking the work back again. I thought it would be useful to share lessons I learned from this exercise.

Project management lessons learned from a vacation

The Preparation

This is the most stressful part of going on a long vacation. I had worried about projects suffering in my absence due to lack of control or guidance. Clarity in decision making based on experience is a key skill of a Project Manager. As many Project Managers do, I still carry my cell phone during short holidays. There is always a fallback if the wheels start to wobble. On such a prolonged vacation overseas I was not about to entertain being on call. I therefore asked for a short term stand-in for my role. I involved in various projects during a two week period to ensure he had sufficient background in the processes we followed and status of the projects to carry them through for five weeks.

The Vacation

This was the first vacation of this length I had taken in nearly five years. Having done the legwork with my stand-in, I was surprisingly relaxed during the holiday. I cannot put my hand on heart and say I never worried. Anyone with a level of responsibility will from time to time worry about events beyond their control that they cannot steer their team through. Most of the incumbent project teams and support teams – sales and management – were still there. Needless to say I enjoyed my time off in the knowledge that with the handover I gave and the available support structure the risk of total cock-up was relatively low.

After the Vacation

On my return I was pleased to see three quarters of the activities were done as I had wanted. Some were left for my return that required a level of experience or authority to carry out. While there were some thing done slightly differently, I can accept that as best effort choices based on information at hand. One particular area was done better than I had expected – breaking development work packages into short sprints. The week following the vacation was spent trying to get back to the rhythm of work and getting a handover.

What the team learned

The team understood the consideration, communication and time it takes to make decisions on project related matters. Many a time some of these challenges are nto visible to the project team (or for management for that matter) and cannot be readily appreciated. The fact that quite a few decisions were deferred and a lot of the decisions required quite a bit of internal discussion gave them an appreciation of challenges I deal with on a daily manner.

What I learned

The biggest learning on my part is that I need to worry less about thing going wrong in my absence. My team is made up of some very capable people and are able to provide good guidance on how projects should be executed. I will probably look to see how I can take advantage of that to get some of them to provide more leadership. From a personal point of view, the vacation has enabled me to recharge my batteries and come back with renewed energy. I will also look to ensure my team gets the same opportunity.

It is good to be back. Keen to hear your learnings from similar experiences.

Image Credit: NewHotelsUs.Com

Can a Project Manager afford to go on vacation?


A True vacation spirit

Image by Kenzoka via Flickr

I recently went on a vacation after many months. I had almost forgotten what it had felt like to have some time off. As I returned I felt re-energised and about to recommend the same to others. Basking in that glory lasted until I sat in the first resource allocation meeting and I discovered to my horror that all the resources for my projects had been gobbled up and I was consoled … “you weren’t here, so we …”. Whatever the rest of the sentence was, didn’t make any difference to my situation.

I had made task allocations before I left and was expecting some clarifications from my clients on matters so I could make allocations on my return. Now I’m faced with a situation where I cannot assign what I had planned when I left for my vacation. I’m not one to let things rest as they are. I’m about to go negotiate with some of the other project managers regarding relative priority of tasks and make sure I get some compromise along the line, so none of the projects are compromised.

How on earth could this happen? In a services environment, it is not an uncommon scenario. It reminded me of something that I had taken for granted in my daily role – to be an champion for my projects within the enterprise, to prepare for possible resource contentions, following up on allocations and monitoring progress. For a while I was thinking if it was indeed wise to go for a vacation. Everything was going well before.

I had to pull myself back into reality. I had been feeling mentally exhausted and it would have led to something suffering – my health, family or projects. Working madder cannot be the solution. As I think about what could have been done to ensure I didn’t get the shock, I am convinced that each project needs a champion at all times to make sure its demands are appropriately represented within the enterprise. I can think of one particular person who may be having a heart attack as he reads this post. I can assure you that the resources are now in place :o)

Morale of the story … If you dare to go on leave, do leave a champion behind.

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