Wednesday, 05 March 2014 00:00

Project Resources - Guarding Against SME Overload

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coleman Mar5At the end of each project the project staff should take a moment and examine what went right and what went wrong. I began to pull together lessons learned, reflecting back after the successful completion of a recent project. When you think about project difficulties poor communications, ill-defined requirements, changing requirements, technology failures all come to mind. It quickly became clear that once again difficulties experienced during the project were not only avoidable but more importantly has become much more problematic in recent years. One of the most pressing problems is demand being placed on resources serving on projects while still performing many if not all of their work duties. It is no wonder that a recent Gallup in its 2013 State of the American Workplace Report identified that 70 percent of the U.S. workforce was either disengaged or miserable! The business and productivity impact of that has to be horrendous. Work overload is one factor that is contributing to such a dismal stat. Today, we all wear multiple hats and have conflicting demand placed on us and that increases stress.

Shared resources that split their time between their normal work activities and the work assigned to them as part of the project team has become part of modern projects. The individuals that are the most valuable to many of these strategic initiatives are the most valuable to the organizations within their current roles. These organizations do not have these resources whose normal utilization is 60-80 percent. All too often these resources become even more overloaded and fail to maintain a healthy balance between their normal work, project responsibilities as well as their personal lives. This is clearly a contributing factor when it comes to employee burn-out. Burn-out occurs as a response to chronic stressors placed on them. Left unchecked, this imbalance creates a substantial risk with implications that go far beyond the project and may result in stress issues and health problems for these individuals. That being said, the risks do not stop there. There have been instances where the overloaded individuals become so fed-up they seek employment elsewhere. This has become so prevalent that project stress now must be integrated into the projects overall risk management plan. Stop and think for a moment.

Have you ever seen project staff stress in your latest project’s risk management plan? Should it have been? Some deal with these stressors far better than others. Stress from whatever work pressures we are experiencing manifests itself in many ways from feeling a bit under the weather to high blood pressure, over-eating and can lead to serious illness. Clearly action must be taken to address this growing problem.

Today’s projects are full of hassles, deadlines, frustrations, and demands. This has led many to come to believe that workplace pressures and stress is now so commonplace that it has become a routine part of our professional lives. All too often the employees suffering from stress and overload do not recognize how it is impacting them. Many of them when asked about their stress go as far as deny and dismiss the notion. Given the physical symptoms of stress, this type of overload becomes a downward spiral in many cases for those affected, so quick identification and action is essential. There are a number of stress deduction guides and it would be advisable to include some of these techniques in the project handbook given out to all project participants at the very beginning of the initiative. Here is another project stress risk management technique that is simple and easy to do. As part of the project initiation phase, the managers of individuals assigned to the project are asked to sign a document recognizing the individual’s project participation and commitment. In addition, they are asked to assign resources that will be responsible to off-load the project resources primary job activities. The benefits of this go far beyond formalizing resource commitment. It goes to further intensify stakeholder commitment. After all, if management is not willing to make this commitment what does that say regarding how they feel about the importance of the project?

While this is an important aspect when dealing with this issue, there is a far more important aspect. Employees and contractors must have a level of comfort to raise the issue of work-overload to the project manager and their direct manager as well. Many do not! I can recall multiple instances where when these individuals bring up their overload issue, the response is “Come on … suck it up.” In addition, many of these individuals because so concerned about finishing what they have been assigned and their health and personal lives suffer. Modern project management now requires PMs to not just work to reduce project stress but to manage stress and the impact it has on the project staff.

These resources are extremely valuable assets and must be protected against this growing problem. After soliciting input from multiple sources with different perspectives, there is a growing opinion that workload management and stress monitoring and mitigation activities must now be integrated into today’s project management efforts. To assist in that effort, project managers must be on the lookout for overload situations. As part of this responsibility they must promote open and honest communications between all the members of the project team. PMs need to help project members strike the right balance and get help to successfully manage the competing demands. Project stress management does not stop there! Most project managers tend to internalize issues and keep things like this to themselves. PMs are not immune from stress and the implications of being stressed. There is no single best method when it comes to managing work/life stress. This is far from being a science and more analysis and thought must be given to this growing problem. You will never eliminate stress from projects after all, deadlines are the nature of the beast. Recognizing this problem is the first step and taking these simple actions to reduce stress and its impact will go a long way to mitigate this dangerous project affliction.

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Kevin Coleman

Kevin Coleman is a veteran project manager and considered a subject matter expert in cyber security.  He was the chief strategist at Netscape and now works as a subject matter expert and adviser on strategic technology issues. He writes regularly on emerging challenges of technology, including cyber warfare, cyber intelligence and cyber diplomacy as well as emerging technology.

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