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High Anxiety: Managing Projects With Your Pants Down

~ By Brad Egeland

Man in black shoes with his pants around his ankles

Remember those dreams where you get so nervous about an upcoming test, event, date or something important and you look down to realise you just walked into the room and don't have any pants on?

Now imagine yourself as a project manager with 16 projects on your plate.

You're sitting in your office waiting for your team to arrive to work on one of the most critical of the 16 projects … and then you realise you're sitting at your desk pants-less. That was my dream.

And yes, it was just a dream, thankfully. But that doesn't diminish the fact that I was stressed beyond stressed and falling woefully behind on nearly all 16 projects - the small ones and the big ones - due to the huge demands of the work I was doing.

There are a few things you can do in this situation. What you choose will affect how you're perceived by your leadership, how you're perceived by your project team members and project management peers in the organisation, and what opportunities await you in the future.

You basically have three options:

  1. Meet with management and ask to offload some projects
  2. Examine your project landscape and delegate key tasks to team members
  3. Maintain the status quo…meaning do nothing

Let's consider the options. No. 1 may make you look weak. At least that will be the fear among many project managers - that's my thinking, so I'm assuming I'm not alone. No. 3 hasn't worked so far, so it's not likely to improve overnight.

That leaves No. 2. Let's consider that one…

Delegating Leadership Tasks to Your Team

Look for individuals who want to lead. But be mindful that not everyone wants to lead. And some do and quickly realise that it's not for them.

Have you seen individuals on your team who are especially quick learners, seem to be very interested in project info and plans beyond just what they're working on, and like to be heavily involved in key project decision-making?

As the project manager, you're likely aware of these tendencies - and you should be as you're continually assessing your team's progress and productiveness.

When you're faced with these project overload situations, look to these types of individuals to offload some key leadership tasks to when multiple projects hit their busiest times at the same time. It may be the only way to keep your sanity without giving up the reins of the project.

Keep in mind, though, you cannot just start offloading leadership tasks without giving your project customer a heads-up. If you suddenly disappear from the weekly project status meetings for a month or two, the customer's going to wonder what happened to you and get concerned...and that's something you don't want.

Concerned customers become customers who lack confidence in your ability to deliver, or they begin to think that their project is not important to your organisation. You need to explain that the move is temporary, that you'll be back to lead the project by 'x' date.

And if this isn't acceptable to a particular project customer, then don't force it…don't do it. Look for another project you're leading to offload in this manner. Don't take chances with your project clients.

Summary & Call For Input

When you're project load is too much, the bottom line is this: you need to worry about three things:

  • What's good for the project(s)?
  • What's good for the company?
  • What's good for your career?

How you choose to proceed or react to scary project overload situations can have significant impacts on any or all of those three entities…depending on the projects and the organisation you're working for.

Ultimately, you have to choose your own reaction based on what you know and the severity of the overload situation.

Have you been in this type of a situation? How did you handle it - or how do you think you would handle it if you were faced with this? Let's share and discuss.

Comments (1)

Topic: High Anxiety: Managing Projects With Your Pants Down
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17th February 2017 9:27pm
Liam (Cumbria) says...
I don't think telling your management you are overloaded necessarily makes you look weak.

At one point I had around 16 projects on the go at the same time too, including one very large complex one which was increasingly getting worse with every passing day. Unfortunately I didn't have the option of delegating to someone else temporarily as we operate small teams and they themselves had no bandwidth to take on extra responsibility.

I had no choice but to say to my management that if they wanted me to recover the large project that was failing, they needed to reduce the number of projects I was assigned to so that I can concentrate on turning round the sinking ship.

Some resource availability analysis in my department showed I was 500% loaded with work! They lightened my load and my productivity as well as the project performance improved significantly.

Offloading work was the best thing for the projects I was managing, the company I work for and most importantly my own health.

I do not believe my management think less of me by holding my hand up and saying I'm overstretched, in fact by turning round the performance of the projects I'm working on they think more of me as a successful project manager and not as a failing project manager.

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