Thursday, August 24, 2006


How do you avoid burnout?

As project managers, we often find ourselves looking into the deep, dark hole of burnout. What is burnout?

Burnout is the state of mind where we stop being creative, where our physical energy is low, where we can't imagine doing one more thing, and where we're very likely cranky and difficult to get along with.

Burnout is usually caused by working too much - and playing too little. When all we do is work, our brains never get the chance to recuperate. By concentrating all our mental and physical energy on one thing - work - we don't allow ourselves a "change of scenery." By that I mean allowing ourselves to think about different things so that we see things in a different way. Seeing things in a different way is what creativity is all about.

If you think you're approaching burnout, or are already there, ask yourself these questions.
  • Do you prefer to eliminate stress, or learn better ways for coping with it?
  • Can you review your workload?
  • Can you assess the roles/responsibilities of your team (or get a team if necessary)?
  • Can you block out regular time for your favorite social activity, and then make it your priority?
  • Can you arrange your next vacation now, and make it non-negotiable?
Here are some ways to avoid burnout - or recover from it.
  • Keep a stress-level chart each day (1.0 = good day, 0.5 = so-so, 0.0 = bad). Review it weekly to see where you are, and where you want to be next week.
  • Delegation - I know, I know. Everyone tells you to delegate, but how can you? There's a whole industry that will help you learn how to delegate. The point of this article is to suggest that you either start delegating, or delegate more work to others. If you choose wisely who to delegate to, and what to delegate to that person, both of you benefit. Win-win.
  • Start doing something that you really love. One project manager that I know took up sailing in order to prevent burnout and burn off stress. He started sailing every day by making it an appointment in his calendar.
  • Evaluate your life when you're not hovering around burnout. What do you do? What don't you do? Then look at your life when you're burning out. What's different? What can you start doing again, or stop doing at all, that will move you away from burnout?
Another interesting definition of burnout is that we are not paying attention to the things that we need in life to keep our minds sharp. By focusing our minds on different areas of life, we often see a different approach for solving a problem in our projects. There is one caveat to this, however, and that's to stop over-committing ourselves and our time. Warning symptoms are the words "should" and "ought."

As project managers, we're used to setting boundaries for our projects and our project teams. The secret to avoiding burnout is to know and enforce our own boundaries.

A special thank you to the members of the SdB+PM Forum for their contributions to this article. Without their great ideas and input, this article would never have been written. You guys are the greatest!

Monday, August 07, 2006


How a project plan is like a musical score

An orchestra conductor uses a musical score to direct a piece of music. Every instrument has a different part to play. It's in the way that these parts work together that music is created.

Each instrument has its own part. The sheets of music that each musician uses tell exactly when, and what, to play. The musician knows how to play already - after years of studying, practice, and performance.

The conductor uses the musical score to know all the parts. He knows exactly when, and what, each instrument needs to play. The conductor has spent many years, usually, studying music. His emphasis has not been on the in-depth study of an instrument, but on the interpretation of the music. And on how to lead the musicians who make up the orchestra.

In the same way, a project manager "conducts" the project. Using a project plan, each member of the project team knows exactly when, and what, to do. She is able to perform the required work because of her knowledge, skills, and education.

The project plan is made up of many different parts - all the specific plans like communication, risk, quality, etc. - so that the overall project accomplishes it goal(s). The schedule and budget are integral parts of the project plan, but not the only parts.

Each member of the project team is interested only in the part that they contribute to the project. The project manager is the one who's interested in making sure the project dove-tails together at the end.

By using a project plan, the project manager is directing the project. Utilizing the knowledge and skills of the project team members, the project manager is able to successfully complete projects.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


How is project management like conducting an orchestra?

Conductors of great symphony orchestras do not play every musical instrument; yet through leadership the ultimate production is an expressive and unified combination of tones.
- Thomas D. Bailey

How is project management like conducting an orchestra? In many ways.

A project manager does not need to be the subject matter expert to be able to lead the project team. Some people think that this is blasphemy.

But here's why it's not blasphemy.

Project managers must know:

- the technical and business requirements of the project product
- those areas of expertise and skills required
- the best process for producing those requirements
- the corporate culture and how to navigate it
- how to manage people and resources

Just like a conductor knows the musical piece that the orchestra is playing, the project manager must know the ebb and flow of the project process. A conductor doesn't play every instrument, but he knows every note in the piece. He knows the phrasing of each movement. He knows the entry and exit point of each instrument - what instrument plays and when.

A good conductor also understands at a profound level how the instruments interact. Sometimes the strings carry the main melody while the brass provides a bed of deep, resonant notes. The percussion section maintains the foundational beat, keeping everyone together.

A good project manager knows when each member of the team needs to be contributing and what they need to do. The PM knows how to keep the project moving at just the right pace. That project manager understands that she is the foundation for the project - keeping everyone working together through her leadership.

A good project manager "conducts" the project. She doesn't run herself ragged trying to perform all the parts.