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!

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