The anxiety of project deliverable dates.
Kevin has graciously allowed me to champion this post as deadlines are not his expertise. He only knows the deadline for when he has to use the litterbox. For me, everyday for the past few years have hosted a deadline in some fashion. Some of the deadlines heavy and serious, others were little items that could jeopardize the project later on. The need for the team and myself to produce quickly and efficiently is staggering when I take the time to reflect on my work history.
The adrenaline spikes, anxiety, snacking on treats to fuel the buzz of being "in-the-zone" of concentration and neuron connecting extravaganza, can be so fierce that you don't even have time to use the litterbox.
I am no expert in managing the pressure of a deadline unfortunately because I function better under pressure of time constraints. Responding to this pressure does not mean that I am always happy or performing with the attention to details to my satisfaction. If you are a high-performer under pressure, the upper management will notice and then you always have work and then more work which can cause work fatigue and burnout. If you are not a high-performer, but your quality is great, then there is a place for that too, but it should be on projects with larger budgets and fussy clients. However, if you are none of the above, then you are a seat-warmer then I hope that you are the office clown so there is a need to keep you around.
What I do know about the deadline and anxiety relationship is that the deadlines start from the very top or the leadership team. When these individuals do not understand or listen to issues about the project(s), there is always a less-than-acceptable deadline. Listening to staff and being aware of what can go wrong, team's workloads, and team vacation calendars, can keep deadlines in the realm of realistic. There are clients that pay their bills that you want to have or to keep, who will push and demand the unachievable. In this yes-person client kiss-@ss case, all project players must understand and agree that the requirements for the project exceeds normal. It can be hard to get this agreement of terms in a document signed by the client, but a constant reminder with examples by the project manager can help reinforce what is being expected for a deliverable.
Days upon days of deadlines can leave the team tired and resentful if the rest of the office does not have the same timelines to work towards. Asking team members if they are okay with the constant pressure or allowing for enough time-off to regain energy can help keep high-performers from becoming low-performers. If the high-performers see the rest of the office operate at a different level and they are being rewarded the same, they will loose motivation.
Deadlines are here to stay as long as the global economics maintain its intensity. The best we can do is to take the time to properly understand what the project constraints are and what issues will slow us down. If we can improve on the most time consuming tasks, then all the better.
My heartrate is almost at normal as I am almost finished my own deadline. However, I just realized why it is called a deadline...cause they can kill you if you don't manage them.
Schedules and budgets are only part of the project management process.
Kevin is enjoying "alone time" while I take my vacation somewhere warmer than our office. For lack of a furry companion in my desert paradise, I have looked to the locals to assist in my writing. The locals: Dinosaurs. Well, not real ones anymore. Their distant cousins offered a helping reptilian paw. Project Management is as old as the raptors who needed to organize the hunt for their prey somehow. Then much later, Zog and Oga had to organize the saber tooth hunt and find shelter. There would have been specific resources to be used and a timeline. Sticks, moss, pelts for shelter to be secured before the snow came. This is leadership, however, due to the complexity of current projects, smaller units of management are now required.
Creating a workplan to meet a schedule with the correct number of resources to stay on an internal budget, to mention nothing of a construction or implementation budget, are only bogus numbers if the project variables are constantly changing. Part of Project Management is anticipating what can and will happen and allowing for issues in the budget and timeline. Most projects are unique and require relevant skill sets and experience to achieve an accurate schedule and budget. If you don't have the skill set or experience then ask someone who does. This does not make you look like an idiot, rather it makes you appear aware of your shortcomings enough to find a solution.
The big project drivers, obviously, people. Happy, talented people. People who like to learn and contribute to the project. People who like to feel that they are just as respected and valued as anyone else. People who have lives, problems, mouths to feed. People who need to stay engaged. Books, seminars, and websites are devoted to managing people. For those who are not genuinely interested in others or care about them, how to engage and motivate may never be taught to them. There are basics that anyone can learn and it sounds something like this:
"Hi, how are you today?"
"Hi, how are you today?"
"Not good? Anything you want to discuss?"
"Worried about a deadline? Let's see what we can do.."
"Family member is sick? Then finish-up and leave early. Your attention will be focused elsewhere anyways."
These are examples of asking a simple question, listening, and performing an action. This could be five minutes of your day to check on your team. They can either help you make your schedule or blow your budget.
There is no switch in the brain easily accessible that can be turned-on to get people to understand people. Often, individuals with excellent skills get tossed into leadership that they don't want and vise versa. A simple question implying interest can show an attempt to connect and understand people. Eventually, it will become apparent what issues are going to arise with teams. One of the big project success issues is how to get the right people in the right roles.
The dinosaurs had extra insight into survival and organization or they would not have effectively roamed the Earth for millions of years. Maybe we will find the key to global organization too...that doesn't involve eating each other...
Fiona Warren - 17 years experience with large high-profile projects and teams.