by Dave Wakeman
I was reading an article the other day about understanding the signs of burnout. The list was pretty much representative of what most people share when I talk with them about it these days: It included things like trouble focusing, missing deadlines, not feeling like they know what they’re doing, and struggling for motivation.
Then I saw a reminder of how we are in the third year of the pandemic—and that’s when I realized that we are all likely dealing with some level of burnout. So let’s take a step back and figure out how to help our people during tough times…
1. Be aware of what is going on.
I’ve had to slap myself upside the head a few times to remind folks that we are currently dealing with a situation that can rightly be referred to as “toxic stress.” We are still struggling as a society to get COVID under control, many of our economies are showing signs of recession, people have new routines, there are climate issues…I could go on.
I won’t because that would be too depressing. But the starting point of addressing stress and burnout is recognizing what is going on. You can’t solve a problem you can’t see.
If you are feeling a little stressed or under pressure, you can imagine that most people around you are feeling something similar.
2. Be open about these challenges.
In working with my clients, I try to give them room to talk with me—even about things that aren’t related to our projects. Sometimes, just getting things off your chest can just help you cope with challenging times.
Unfortunately, many of our organizations (and our culture) try to reinforce a feeling of stoicism around troubling times and encourage us to keep our issues pent up inside.
As a leader, you have to recognize that the default is unfortunately to not mention anything and to not seek help or a sympathetic ear. So, you may have to force this issue a little bit; that’s okay. The payoff for your team will be huge, and your ability to help people will make you a better leader in the long run.
3. Look for ways to release the pressure valve for folks.
Everyone has deadlines, meetings, internal and external pressures, and much more. We can’t control everything for our teams, just like they can’t control everything around them. But we can often find solutions to help relieve some of the pressure.
In North America, I see a lot of businesses letting their teams have Summer Fridays off. I also see team get-togethers at ballparks, picnics and other places where they can be outside together in an informal way (as mentioned above, anything simple where we can just provide an ear). You might encourage this by setting up “bull” sessions where there is no agenda.
Going even further, you might be able to relieve some of the deadline pressure or the feeling of endless connectivity by setting expectations around turning off devices, response times, or turning on your out-of-office notifications to get a break. The big idea here is that you have to actively engage in this process with your team.
In my world, I think I find that this is the key to everything when you are dealing with people, especially in an environment where everything can feel like a struggle. Put on the brakes and take a step back. Then, be deliberate in finding ways to give people an ear to bend, a feeling of support, and a little space to catch their breath.
Maybe I’m crazy, but we all need that right now.
What signs of burnout have you noticed in yourself and your co-workers, and how have you dealt with it? Share your thoughts in the comments below. And for more on this topic, read The Danger of Project Manager Burnout.
By Lynda Bourne.
Over the last few months, I have been part of a group working on a series of papers looking at the history of project management and project controls. This required the classification of the various stages in the development of the practice of project management. However, almost every author of project management history has a different view of the major change points.
Our take on the major phases of development of project management is driven by changes in the project control tools and processes being used. Better control processes provide new insights, allowing improved or changed management approaches. Based on this framework, the major phases in the development of project management seem to be:
Prior to the 1950s, the primary control tools showed static representations of cost and other deterministic data. The sophistication of both the management data and its representation in reports improved over the centuries, but the controls processes focused on reactive management actions to correct observed deviations from the plan. The people managing projects were priests, builders, engineers or other authority figures.
The current phase of development of project controls uses largely deterministic information to predict future outcomes. This phase of development started in the late 1950s with the creation of PERT and CPM schedules, and has progressed through to the point where there is general acceptance that earned value and earned schedule are among the best of the predictive control tools.
This phase saw the creation of “modern project management” as the pioneers of computer-assisted project controls worked together to form the various project management institutes (including PMI in October 1969), and the institutes in turn defined and codified the practice of “modern project management.”
As a result, the people managing projects were increasingly identified as project managers. Various styles of project management are emerging (this was discussed in my post on The Entropy at the Heart of Project Management), but regardless of the approach, the concept of a project—run by a project manager, to create value for a client—is consistent. Project management is now expected to be proactive, working to minimize the negative effect of future problems identified using predictive tools, as well as dealing with any current negative variances.
The next generation of project controls is starting to emerge. These tools are predicted to be integrated, adaptive and intelligent, with a focus on maximizing the efficient use of the project’s resources. They will use machine learning, and be integrated into the systems used to design and develop the project’s outputs rather than operating as standalone processes.
One example is the emergence of 5D BIM (five-dimensional building information modeling) in the construction/engineering industries. A three-dimensional design is integrated with the schedule (4D) and cost information (5D) to provide a single system accessed and used by everyone involved in the design, construction and future maintenance of a building or facility. Project control tools with embedded intelligence are also emerging.
These developments are too new to have much impact on the nature of project management today, but by the end of the 2020s we are likely to see as much change in the way projects are managed as occurred in the 1960s.
Do you think these phases in the development of project management are reasonable, or are there other major inflexion points?
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP
A few years ago, I joined a new team and took over some projects from the team’s manager (let’s call him Alex). Alex was helpful: He participated in all of the meetings I conducted, was available to give me advice, explained former issues he faced to help me anticipate problems, and supported me during meetings when my answers were not correct. In this new role, I lacked self-confidence—and it was a great relief to feel helped and supported.
The conflicts came a few months later when Alex didn’t change his behavior after I had gained knowledge and confidence. He wanted to take part in all of the meetings; I told him I wanted to manage by myself and contact him when I needed help. “Why?” he answered. “What is the problem if I take part?”
I didn’t know how to reply. I felt like he wanted to deliver projects with me (which is what he did most of his life before becoming a manager). He also wanted to learn and see how I handled things. When he was in the meetings with me, even if he didn’t say much, I felt like I didn’t have any wiggle room.
On the other side, he complained a lot of being overloaded, and he was late with managing administrative tasks.
As a manager, as a mentor, as a mentee and as a project manager, how do you find the right balance between mentoring and micromanaging? Here are some simple strategies I’ve observed—and am trying to practice myself:
1. Set ground rules. Talk with your manager or your mentor about the ground rules. You can ask: Are there weekly check-ins? Shadowing opportunities? What’s the frequency? What if I think you’re too intrusive?
If your mentor is also your leader, you can also enquire about how he/she usually onboards people.
You also need to clarify your needs…
I always remember an excellent manager I had—when there was an issue, he asked general questions to help me step back and see the big picture. It was a very helpful strategy.
Mentoring is a gift—but can become a burden if the mentor’s help overlaps your responsibilities.
2. Agree about the volume of information to share. I love helping and sharing information. When there is a new team member or mentee, I send several emails with a lot of information to pave the path—well, that is what I think, anyway.
But I sometimes got feedback like this: Which email should I look at? There is too much information. I prefer receiving information when I need it.
It reveals a blind spot for me: Not all people work like me, and some colleagues need information on a different cadence—and not all at once. People can feel stressed when they receive too much information, like they’re unable to keep up with the onslaught of emails. Some perceive me as invasive.
When I remember Alex, I try to refrain from guiding too much. I need to let people decide what to do with the information—and get back to me when they want to. I need to talk openly about how and when to share information; provide information when it’s required; and not inundate people without discussing it.
3. Know your boundaries—and accept the boundaries of others. As a leader and mentor, you must acknowledge the needs of your teams. If you love explaining and helping, perhaps you can invest this energy into volunteering or blogging.
You also must accept your team members' needs to explore first, to make up their own minds and make mistakes, which is all part of the learning process. Have an open mind; listen to their worries and issues, and be ready to help when needed.
By doing so, you will encourage your team members not to hide or downplay problems—and to learn from their mistakes. You also carve out your position as a role model. This is not a one-off exercise, but it’s worth the effort.
Mentors and micromanagers encompass two different behaviors, but can overlap when we don’t realize it. By mentoring too closely—even through goodwill—you can undermine a person’s performance, their well-being and, ultimately, their growth.
Have you been—or experienced—a micromanaging mentor? Share your comments below.
3 Ways to Lower Your Stress at Work
Categories: Best Practices
by Dave Wakeman
My mind is on summer break. Anytime I start thinking about my summer plans, I also think about how I can use this to teach a lesson. I think I’ve come up with a pretty neat way to tie a trip to the beach into the jobs that project managers do every day. Let me explain…
As PMs, the job is to manage stakeholders, communicate, adapt and adjust, put out fires, and to end up as a clearinghouse for everything that has to do with your projects. We also hope to achieve a break because we want people to be able to make their own decisions and to take actions independent of us doing all the thinking.
This is where my vacation comes in, because when I am away, I like to be totally away—independent of any decisions for my business. Which brings us to the question: “How do we create an environment where our teams go on without us?”
Let’s take a quick tour through three ideas:
1. Give people some autonomy.
I remember reading the book The 4-Hour Workweek, where Tim Ferriss talked about turning over problem solving to his outsourced sales and service team. His solution was to set parameters when the outsourced team should just act.
Such as, “If solving this problem costs $100 or less, you make the best decision and let’s move on.”
How can we apply that to our work?
As a PM, you might set parameters for your purchasing agents that tells them, “If the purchase is under $1,000, you do what you think is best.” The number isn’t important, the transfer of authority is.
The same idea applies for correcting errors, changing a process, or communicating an issue. Set up the parameters for when you need to know (or don’t need to know). Then, you stick with them…no matter what.
2. Don’t be the first to respond to everything.
Some of the worst habits that we encourage when leading a project or a business happen because we feel like we must do everything ourselves.
Look, I’m as guilty as the next person of doing that—responding to emails at all times of the day and night, trying to juggle what can feel like 30 or more different things at once.
When you give yourself a few moments to think about it though, it won’t work for taking a real vacation. It doesn’t allow you to be a really effective PM.
Why? Because you become a bottleneck.
How do we not become a bottleneck? First, you set those parameters like we discussed at the top.
After that, you want to be more in control of your time and how you use it.
Do you check your emails constantly? I used to. Now I don’t.
Instead, I might check them once an hour or every few hours even. And, on vacation, I’m likely to check my emails twice a day.
You can do this even in your normal workday. I do two things to force myself into better habits:
3. Be gentle on yourself and others.
Most mistakes aren’t fatal and can easily be fixed. Which makes the constant churn of work and the constant need to be “on” seem less necessary.
I worked on some political campaigns, and I’d train folks to write campaign ads. They’d always start with apprehension, because a lot of folks would snap under pressure, yelling and screaming about an ad that didn’t work the first time.
I took a different approach by saying, “If we mess up, we will fix it. No one is perfect.”
What happened was removing the pressure of perfection (or near perfection) enabled my teams to do better work. They felt freed from the need to get everything exactly right the first time because they knew that I was going to say, “We are off here, but let’s see what we can do to fix it.”
That’s something we should all be paying attention to. On vacation, I can turn over tasks to people and they feel comfortable doing them because they know I’m not going to freak about an error or something having to be redone.
In our projects, giving people that freedom probably gives us a break from being the bottleneck we talked about before. But it also gives our team members the chance to do their best work without fearing that wrath will rain down on them.
That may not mean you are on vacation, but certainly it can make your job easier…and that might really feel like just the break you need.
I’m off to the beach! See you next month
3 Common Complaints on Scrum Teams
By Soma Bhattacharya
In discussions I’ve heard within Scrum teams over the years, three common concerns often come up:
I think this often originates from general discomfort people have when problems surface; but for me,