Ever had that feeling of panic where you know you’re busy, you know there are things you should be doing, but you’re not sure what and in what order? Maybe you are so busy that you aren’t budgeting your money well. Or you have so many clients or potential clients that you’re missing scheduled calls or needing to postpone meetings at the last minute.
This can be so true of our projects, too, when we get overloaded. It can be our project workload – maybe multiple projects took off at high speed all at once. Or maybe something came up in our personal lives – good or bad – that is occupying our train of thought. Whatever the cause or the problem, it can wreak havoc on one or more of our projects. If you’re in this situation, you may not be aware of it. But I’m going to give you five signs (and I’m sure there are many more) that you may be losing control of one or more of your projects due to distraction, work overload, or maybe you’re just in over your head technically speaking or can’t handle your team chemistry. Whatever the issue, look for these signs and then wake up and take some corrective action before you find yourself out of a project or out of a job.
Major project tasks are not on the tip of your tongue. If you don’t wake up in the middle of the night unable to recite the key milestones in your project schedule, then there is something wrong. If you don’t have most of the schedule – especially what’s currently going on and what’s coming up – committed to memory, then you need to take a step back and re-assess what’s going on and what you need to do right now to get a firm grip on what you’re managing.
Your meeting schedule is becoming inconsistent. It’s never good to cancel or postpone your client meetings. I don’t care how busy you are or how slow the project is. Even if you just have a five-minute phone call to say, “Nothing has changed,” you still need to hold them. If you find that you’re often canceling meetings with your client then you need to re-assess what’s important. Your customer won’t stand for that lack of contact long before they start to become dissatisfied and lose confidence in your ability to deliver in your PM role. And you will likely find out that they’ve lost that confidence from someone higher than you in the organization – see one of my next points.
Team meetings are being skipped. When I came to Las Vegas to be the corporate application development manager for the second largest casino/gaming organization in the world I knew I was moving into what had been a mess before my arrival. I was in a new environment, in a considerably different position – going from strictly project management and consulting to managing a group of developers in an industry that I had never worked in before – and I was also busy looking for a house for my family 1500 miles from where we previously lived. To say life was chaotic would be an understatement. If found it easier to cancel my development team meetings than to conduct them if I was busy or if nothing major was happening. But that was wrong…I was new to my team and they were new to me and they needed guidance…they needed a manager after all the changes they had recently been through. I woke up, forced myself to stay on track, hold those meetings no matter what, and it wasn’t long before I had a much more confident and cohesive team. The same is true on our projects. Conduct those weekly meetings no matter what. Maybe there won’t be anything new to cover. But it still builds cohesion among your team members and being a consistent leader is half the battle of getting your team to follow you and respect you.
You are clueless on the project’s financial health. If you aren’t managing and forecasting the budget weekly, then you’re not doing enough. And if you completely lack the awareness of where your project budget stands, then you’re really heading for disaster. You’ll likely wake up to find yourself way over budget with no ability to take enough corrective action to save the project. Just like you really can’t go a month without balancing your checkbook, you can’t do that on your project either. If you do, then you’ll probably find your project financially spiraling out of control.
The project client calls your leadership. In a larger organization this could be anyone in your senior management, and in smaller organizations, this very well could be your CEO. Whoever it is, if they’re above you and your client is calling them with concern and you didn’t expect it, then you don’t have a firm grip on your project and something needs to change. You must be on top of issues or your customer will sense that you aren’t and will quickly lose confidence. If this goes on for too long, these calls will happen.
Summary / call for input
Project management can be chaotic. Life can get in the way, too. But we can’t let things get too far out of hand without raising some sort of white flag. Better to admit you need help before it’s too late than to go down in flames and fail on one, two or maybe even more projects all at the same time. Good-bye PM career. You can crawl back on top of the project heap, but you need to recognize the problem signs along the way and take corrective action before it’s too late.
What about our readers? Have you ever found yourself in project overload on one or more engagements? What corrective steps did you take? What helped you turn things around? Please share and discuss.