Staying Focused During the Holidays

“There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither."   - Alan Cohen

If you are lucky, you will be able to take some time off this holiday season. Perhaps you will have the opportunity attend a team- or company-sponsored holiday party. And it is likely that work may slow down due to vacation plans, company shutdowns, or both.

However, just because people are less available does not mean that the work stops! As a project manager, you need to be aware of and plan for the project risks that creep up during this time of year. Whether it is lack of resource availability, slower decision-making, or limited progress on deliverables, these issues should be anticipated and planned for in order to adequately plan and keep the project on track.

Here are a few ideas that will help you stay on top of the end-of-year craze!

  • Create a team vacation calendar – Ask your team members to submit their planned time off so that you can create a team vacation calendar. Make sure you explain that you are not trying to monitor their vacation from a management perspective. (Yes, some people may think that and be hesitant to share their plans!) Rather, clarify that you will use this information as you plan the timing of key project milestones, deliverables, meetings, and decisions. This tactic can also be helpful in the summer – when people also typically take time off – so that you know when people are available and when you may need additional resources and/or allocated time in the project plan.
  • Build company holidays and team vacations into your project plans – Once you collect your team members’ planned vacation days, use that information – as well as the company holiday schedule – to adjust your project plan accordingly. You can also make assumptions about lower productivity during this timeframe at the start of the project during the project planning session.
  • Set realistic expectations – Whether we like it or not, the fact is that work will slow down during the last two weeks of December. Not only do you need to factor in your team members’ holiday and vacation calendars, but you may also need to think about the schedules of other stakeholders, vendors, and partners. Make sure that your teams, sponsors, and other key stakeholders are aware of any delays that may occur during this time.
  • Share critical deadlines in advance – For some projects, there may not be an opportunity to slow down during the holiday season. If the holidays fall during a time on your project plan when you need a critical deliverable, decision, or other project element, make sure you let the relevant stakeholders know what is needed, by when, and where flexibility may exist (if any) as soon as possible. You want your team to be able to plan for any requirements ahead of time so that it does not unexpectedly cut into their holiday plans.
  • Take part in the holiday fun – It has been a long year! Along with making sure the project does not veer off track, make sure you take time to celebrate with your team all that you have accomplished. It is a good time to reflect, recharge, and connect with your team on a more personal level at holiday gatherings.

Taking these ideas into consideration as you plan project deliverables for the late-December timeframe will help you set realistic goals and expectations regarding what can be accomplished. As the project manager, you need to be flexible and amenable to your teams’ holiday plans, but also firm when you need to be so that your projects are not at risk.

So plan appropriately and enjoy the holiday season!