How to handle out of hours work
Projects often require out of hours work. That means someone staying late or working over the weekend (or in other non-normal working time) to complete project tasks. It happens in many industries: in IT for example you can’t always make changes to systems during working hours as it stops the production system, so someone has to make those changes at night when the office is closed – and if they can’t be automated then it really does mean someone staying up to press a button.
I haven’t come across many project team members who are willing to work unsociable hours, unless they are getting paid a lot to do so. Therefore you have to handle the requirement for out of hours work sensitively as it does normally mean someone giving up their social and family time to do project work. Here are some guidelines for managing project tasks that have to happen out of hours.
Is it planned?
First, consider if the project task is planned. That could include:
I’m sure you can think of other things relevant to your industries and projects that involve out of hours tasks.
If out of hours work can be planned, then it can be managed.
Provide lots of notice. The more notice people have, the easier it is for them to rearrange their other activities and tasks around this. No one likes to be told that they have to work out of hours at short notice (more on this later). Keep reminding them that the out of hours work is coming up and checking that it is still on their radar.
Arrange who is required. When work is out of hours it can be hard to call in a colleague if you have forgotten something. You can’t just dial up your mate at 3am and ask them to do something. So make sure you have lined up the right resources from the outset. This could involve you or a project team leader, the resource in question, technical or IT staff and someone from the vendor.
Check access. If you are going to site, make sure they remember you are coming and haven’t locked up. If you need access to a secure area, check that someone is available to let you in.
Check the facilities. Do they need to take their own food with them? The canteen on site closing at six isn’t going to be a problem for the normal staff, but if your project team goes on shift then and is planning to work through the night, make sure they’ve got the facilities to at least make themselves a cup of tea. If necessary, turn up yourself with cake – I have done this and it was really appreciated, even though I contributed very little to the actual project tasks in hand.
Arrange overtime payments. Let the individuals know how they will be compensated for working out of hours so there are no surprises. This could be overtime at time and a half or double time, or time off in lieu.
Is it an emergency?
Sometimes project work has to happen as a matter of urgency. Sometimes stuff happens that creates problems that have to be fixed immediately (like a technical failure in the middle of a training course) and that might mean calling someone in when they are supposed to be on leave or asking someone on a Friday afternoon to stay late and work all weekend. Because most project disasters happen on a Friday at 4pm, don’t they?
This type of out of hours work should be managed through your project issue management process.
Organise channels of communication. Make sure that the individuals know who to talk to and who they need to report to when the problem is fixed.
Appoint an issue owner. If you aren’t going to be managing this issue through to resolution, make sure you appoint someone else. Let everyone know who is the main point of contact for decisions, whether that is you or a colleague.
Deal with the problem. Do the work. Get the project back on track. Then fill in the issue log with the resolution and do any other project reporting that you have to and update your project plan.
Recognise the effort. Again, if you have had staff work out of hours in order to resolve a problem, look at how this can be rewarded and recognised. If you can, pay overtime for the hours worked. If you can’t, time off in lieu is normally at your discretion. Say thank you – they got you out of a hole.
Out of hours work is part of managing many projects and you can keep your team on side while you ask them to work unsociable hours for practically nothing. Keep cheerful, keep them cheerful and explain the benefits of the project over and over again. And above all, be grateful. Very few people have ‘must work overtime for project manager’ in their contract so recognise their commitment and thank them for their contribution to a successful project.
You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, at ProjectManagement.com this month we are really testing that theory with the features on visual project management. And not wanting to miss out, I thought I would share some drawing tips with you.
Drawing? If you are thinking now that you can’t draw, bear with me. By the end of this article you will be able to, I promise.
First, let’s think about why you should be using illustrations and pictures in your project meetings. It’s easy to come up with lots of reasons:
And I’m sure you can think of other reasons.
When can you use illustrations in your project meetings? There are lots of times when it is appropriate, for example:
OK? Let’s get started.
I hated drawing at school so if I can do this, then anyone can. Think of people as a five-pointed star. Then replace the top point with a head, like in the illustration below. An easy person! You can make it look as if the person is pointing, and put them together around an object to represent breakout sessions or collaborative working.
It doesn’t take much to adapt the star concept to have pointy arms and lots of legs to represent a group. I know this particular group only has 5 legs which isn’t realistic. Six would have been better (although there are 4 heads in the front row so someone is still missing out). But you still know what it relates to, don’t you? You can see that this could represent a client group, a project team, a user community… anything.
Process maps are represented in a particular way when you are using Visio or similar to put them together in their final version. But in a workshop, you can have much more flexibility about how you draw out processes on flip charts or illustrate them on slides. And there are likely to be some processes that are discussed in meetings where you don’t want a full-blown detailed process map and a quick illustration to show that there is a process will do just fine.
Arrows are great as shortcut symbols for processes. It’s easy to draw a basic arrow, I’m sure everyone can do that. A few dotted lines and it becomes the most basic process diagram. You can write in the sections if you want to show what happens where (maybe useful for illustrating the project lifecycle in a kick off meeting?). Where your process has several different end points (like accept, reject or hold changes) you can give your arrow multiple-heads, like in the picture below.
One of my favourite types of arrow is the twisty one. It can stand for lots of things but it represents transformation. So something goes in, something happens and an output falls out the other side. It could mean that software code is quality checked, or that ‘the magic happens’ in a black box process that is being provided by a third party. But it is fiendish to draw, at least that’s what I thought.
I learned how to draw the twisty arrow and the other elements at the Oredev IT conference a few years ago, in a session about visual recoding. The speaker broke it down and I have done the same for you in the picture below.
So now you have the tools to illustrate your meetings, why not give it a go?
Motivation without money
These days project budgets don’t stretch to nice things like bonuses for all team members for when the project completes on time. If the team members don’t work for you then you probably can’t give them a pay rise either. You might not even get enough in the budget left over for a party at the end of the project. Even if you do, you might be hampered by local tax laws that specify how much you can give gifts in lieu of financial amounts, and you could make it harder for people to complete their tax returns by giving any sort of bonus at all.
Common practice on projects is to take people out for a meal or even to a bar for drinks, but if your budget is tight you might have to resort to getting people to pay for themselves, or for you to pay for the first round of drinks, for example. There are other ways to motivate your team without it looking like you are being too stingy.
So, if you can’t motivate people to do a good job with financial incentives, what can you do to ensure they perform well (or to reward people who did perform well)? Here are some ideas.
Grant time off
You might have to check with their line manager, but granting someone time off in lieu of extra hours worked can be a great way to reward project team members who have put in extra hours during a push on a project, or a go live weekend. It’s also worth checking with HR about the policy for this, as you could be setting a precedent, but it is definitely worth considering.
Being ‘allowed’ to go on a training course might not seem like much of a reward. After all, surely this is part of your normal contract of employment with your boss – they should be providing training anyway. But in times like these where extra cash for training is hard to come by, operations managers might not have a training budget. You, on the other hand, could offer developmental activities as part of the project, and then encourage people to try out their new skills. There’s even a process for this in thePMBOK® Guide – Develop Project Team.
Time off for study
If someone is taking a professional credential like PMP or working towards an MBA, could you give them time off to study? Many companies have study leave policies but managers don’t always know about what their employees are studying for outside of the office. If you can find out, you can apply the policy terms and make sure that those employees feel supported during their learning.
This is probably the fastest, cheapest way to build good will in the team. Saying thank you is completely free and people appreciate it a lot more than you think. Say it often, and every so often do it in writing so that they can keep your email for their end of year review, or to show it to their manager.
Remember to say it in a timely manner – it’s no good thanking someone for a job well done when that was last month as they might not even remember what they did that was so deserving!
References for contractors
Most contractors will expect a reference at the end of a contract, but knowing that you are prepared to give a positive one can be a motivating factor. People appreciate that they are appreciated, and are prepared to put the work in if it means they get something out of it at the end.
Talk to your contractors about their expectations for a reference or recommendation and see what you can jointly do to ensure that their skills are recognised elsewhere in the organisation where they may be able to get their next contract.
Bring your own picnic
OK, it’s not as glam as going to a restaurant, but you could organise a pot luck picnic with everyone bringing their own food. If your office has a garden or outside space, or even a park within walking distance, you can camp out there. Otherwise, book a meeting room and get all the food on the table. This can also be a good team building exercise – after all, you don’t want everyone turning up with a bowl of green salad!
What other ways have you motivated your employees without hard cash? Let us know in the comments.
Think of your project like a computer.
The culture of your project team is the operating system.
The project objectives are the applications you run on it.
You can set any objectives you want for the team. You can ask them to deliver on time, on budget and on scope. You can ask them to be customer-centric. You can encourage them to schedule their own time effectively, using any number of software products.
But, if the culture doesn’t support it, you will struggle to get your objectives done. Understanding organisational culture will help you manage project risk and get a better outcome for your project!
A couple of times people have said to me that sharing the project budget with their team members is Not A Good Idea. I don’t know why that is the case – they are stakeholders too. I think it is essential to be transparent about the budget, how it was created and how you, as a team, are doing with spending it. It helps the project team come together with a common objective, and it helps build trust in the way in which things are being done.
In his book, Employees First, Customers Second, Vineet Nayar talks about 5 ways that transparency helps build trust among the stakeholder community.
1. Understanding the bigger picture
“Transparency ensures that every stakeholder knows the company’s vision and understands exactly how his or her contribution assists the organisation in achieving its goals,” Nayar writes. In project terms, it is difficult for a project team member to contribute effectively without knowing what the bigger picture is. In budget terms, if team members don’t know how things are going overall and how much their elements are costing, they cannot help work more efficiently to get the job done.
2. Generating personal commitment
Nayar says that transparency ensures that “every stakeholder has a deep, personal commitment to the aims of the organisation.” I don’t believe this is true. Transparency may contribute to building this, but it is not the only way you get people to feel as if they are personally committed to a project.
3. Transparency is a given for Gen Y
The younger project team members will expect full transparency, and without it they will be suspicious and untrusting. “They post their life stories in public domains,” says Nayar. “They expect nothing less in their workplaces.”
Again, there is more to this than I think he brings out in the book. Transparency about the budget and all other elements of the project will help generate trust in team members of all ages. Generation Y team members may have a different expectation of what is appropriate to share, but sharing (or not sharing) will have an equal impact on the trust levels across the entire team.
4. Corporate transparency promotes customer transparency
Nayar says that in a knowledge economy, it is important for customers to share their ideas with companies. This is the way that we find out what products they want, how their lives are evolving and what would make their lives easier. They may also have ideas about solving problems with our products or corporate challenges that we are facing. “Why would a customer be transparent with a potential partner like us if that company does not trust its employees enough to be transparent with them?” Nayar asks.
This is a fair point. While I would not advocate sharing the project budget with customers (unless your work is in the public sector and this is therefore expected), it is a good idea to share the budget predictions with your suppliers and partners. Why not? It will help them pitch their services at a price that creates a win-win situation for you both. In one case I heard about recently, a supplier opted not to pitch for work when they heard the budget figure that the company in question had available. It saved both the company and the supplier a lot of time in the tendering process. Share your budget figures with people outside the immediate project team. Or at least consider reasons why you shouldn’t, and then critically assess those reasons to see if they still stand up.
5. Transparency helps contractors
Finally, you need to consider the work of contractors. “The only way these outsiders can get up to speed quickly and be as effective as possible is through sharing of information and complete transparency about the strengths and weaknesses, the issues and concerns, of the assignment,” Nayar writes. “The more transparent the process, the more trust that the outsiders felt in the organisation, the more we could reduce the amount of learning time, which would give us an advantage over our competitors.”
If you share project information with contractors, it helps them feel more comfortable in their role. It will also help other team members, who have to deal with these contractors, feel as if the contractors are offering a valuable service and are actually making a contribution. If the contractors operate without full visibility, other team members may well feel as if they cannot trust them to make the right decisions because they do not have all the relevant information.
How transparent are you with your project budget? Do you share this information with stakeholders as willingly as you share other project information? If not, why not?