What to do when everyone leaves town for the Holiday

There are disruptive technologies that completely throw businesses off track and then there are holidays that can be disruptive to project management. The time from Thanksgiving through New Years is a disruptive time when almost all workers will want time off to be with their families. In my experience, it is also a time when clients have a major must-do before the end of the year and government organizations release RFPs with proposals due the first week in January!

This collision of personal schedules and corporate need creates many project management challenges. Now since you are a seasoned project manager (ha! ha!), I know that you have accounted in your schedule for the planned time-off of your team. However, what is a fair and effective way to handle these unplanned, but have to do, tasks?

First, find out if you have any carrots. Talk with HR and senior management about any options you have to offer comp time, over-time, or personal days off after the rush is over.  Or ask if bonus money is available for having staff not take time off and getting the project done.  You do not have to offer these upfront in the discussion with your team; you just need to know what you can do.

Confirm with the client or management about the new project or must-do. Is there room for negotiation on the schedule? When they said end-of-the year, is it possible that the real deadline is early January rather than December 31? Hard though it may be to believe, sometimes customers exaggerate their due date requirement hoping that you can get close enough to meet the real deadline. If the change is the result of a government RFP, there is usually no negotiating — but I have actually talked to a contracts officer who changed the due date by a week when they were convinced that the holidays were a poor time to make contractors work.

Next, meet with the team, tell them the situation, and explain what is at stake for the company. If you make the team part of the solution planning rather than the problem, you may be amazed at their willingness to pitch in to accomplish the tasks. Look for creative ways to get the job done including sharing hours, work-from-home, and even contracting out small pieces of the work—although with little planning time available this option is unlikely to really help and may cost you more time and effort than it is worth.

If you still need resources to get the job done, meet individually with the key players and see what compromises you can negotiate. This is where the carrots come in.

As a last resort, make assignments and require compliance—the stick part of “carrot and stick” management. Be scrupulously fair here!! Do not play favorites. Have a valid, programmatic reason that “John” has to work through the holidays and “Mary” does not. To the extent possible, you can consider unique individual circumstances as secondary criteria to fulfill project needs. This is fraught with potential problems however, so tread very carefully.

Do not ask your staff or employees to make sacrifices that you are unwilling to make yourself. Long after the project is put to bed or the proposal submitted, workers remember that they worked over the holidays and you were nowhere to be seen.

Meanwhile, enjoy your holidays with friends and family and hope that this end-of-year brings no surprises!

Happy Thanksgiving!

How to pitch a new idea to management

This week I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of Project Management Professionals in Dallas at their company’s PM forum.  One of the questions that was posed to me was how to approach management with an idea or process improvement.  So in this week’s blog I offer some tips on how to pitch an idea to your executive management that might need some upfront investment.

Project managers and team members working on projects often have ideas for new projects or software processes that could potentially become corporate money-makers—a project they would like to make succeed. What is often needed is a bit of seed money to create a show-and-tell prototype or solve an outstanding technical problem.

“The Wall Street Journal reports that Google has begun to hold "innovation reviews," where employees can pitch their bosses on their latest idea or product, who then in turn take the idea before Google’s ruling triumvirate of CEO Eric Schmidt and co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.  It’s part of an effort to make sure the ideas conceived in a Google employee’s famous "20 percent time" have a chance to make it out of the cubicle.” (From CNet News).

So let’s say you or members of your team have a concept that could become a saleable project or product. How can you get support and money to grow this idea? The two things you need to remember about the priorities of those who allocate precious internal funds is their concern about money and consonance with organization goals and strategic plans. A new application for the iPhone may be a terrific idea, but if that is not the business your company is in, getting funding to develop the idea further is a non-starter.

Before you talk to anyone about internal funding, think through the key elements of your proposal. What could be built, how much effort would be required to develop a prototype, and most important, what customer problem would it solve if it worked. It may help to talk your idea through with other people to add meat to the bones as well as understanding the hidden flaws in your arguments.

Next, look for a corporate champion. Considering the type of project or product, find someone in your management chain who could be persuaded to advocate for this project because it is in their area of responsibility. People go out on a limb for ideas that can help them. It is the rare senior manager or technologist who will support with the authority of their position an idea solely because it is interesting or possible.

Schedule a meeting with your potential champion to pitch your idea. Prepare for that meeting by creating a short presentation that focuses on costs and benefits. Making a business case for a new idea means understanding the market, your current and potential customer’s needs, and your competition. You will likely only get one chance at this meeting, so make your presentation effective. And, do not leave out risks. Senior managers worry about risks almost as much as they worry about money.

At the end of this meeting, it is essential that you tell the manager or senior technologist what you would like them to do. Don’t assume that they will take the ball and run with it. Ask them to make a call or set up a meeting with decision makers. Ask them to advocate for financial support.

It may be tempting to ask them who else you should talk, however, that can be a risky strategy. If they think your request can be met with a referral, they may take the safe way out of the dilemma of putting themselves out for you by passing you on to someone else. Your goal is to get an advocate and champion not get passed around until someone says yes or no.

 Leave a copy of your presentation with them. Follow up. You won’t always get what you want or the way you want it, but you might get some help. You also may enhance your corporate reputation by showing your creativity, business sense, and desire to help the company become more successful.


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