Straight Talk on Project Management

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How to Stop Grey Days Damaging IT Project Health?

It’s a bit of a strange one this. Independently, I’ve had two people ask roughly the same question – why do IT projects always go wrong at this time of year?

I’d never really thought about it before. By the way, in case you happen not to be reading this around the time I’m writing it, we’re talking about winter. Specifically, November and December but when I asked around … “which month did you experience the most project fails and challenges?” … the danger zone seems to extend from late October through to February.

Giving it some proper thought there could be a number of reasons why this might be the case. It sounds silly to some but grey days and “miserable” weather can have a negative impact on your mental health and wellbeing. If the greyness outside affects you then it’s naturally going to have an impact on your mood at work, even the most motivated souls struggle to find enthusiasm sitting at their desk in wet clothes after a soggy commute.

I suppose it’s no surprise that events aimed at cheering us up fall at this time of year. We get excited with the kids for Halloween, we mark the failure of the gunpowder plot by setting off fireworks and lighting bonfires, for Diwali our towns and cities are illuminated in a spectrum of bright colours, at Christmas time we drag a scented pine tree indoors and cover it with fairy lights and at Valentines we express our love, both requited and not! Our ancestors would have marked the winter solstice with bonfires and feasts to celebrate the lengthening of days. All of these festivals make the gloomy months more exciting.

Winter blues, or in some cases Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), affects around 2 million people in the UK – so you’re not alone!

Actually, S.A.D is not about your mood, but more about how well your eyes and your brain team up to regulate chemicals like serotonin (a lack of which can cause depression) and melatonin (too much of which can make your body want to hibernate). It stands to reason that less sunlight can have a negative effect and IT Projects are not immune from this.

Then there are the bugs.

More days are lost to illness during this period and the impact that these can have on Project outcomes are paradoxically both subtle and dramatic. Subtle in that the odd day here and there slips under the radar and is rarely covered – it’s just a day after all – and dramatic in that these days very quietly, but very quickly, add up into a big bundle of lost productivity than whipsaws you from left field.

So, what’s to be done? I’ve not heard back about my proposed mass emigration to Australia of the Northern Hemisphere’s entire IT Project industry, so until I do, here are some ideas. 

1 – Ensure Continuity By Getting A Really Good PMaaS Partner

One of the two Project Managers who asked me why projects always fail at this time of year could have answered his own question. This time last year a project was beset by illness. A few bugs and sniffles turned into a key team member being signed off with pneumonia at a pivotal time. The Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) market is there for help with any capability or resources issues, the better the relationship you have with your partner, the more they’ll be in a position to provide Project Management heroes when you need them. 

2 – Look After Yourself #1 – Exercise

Exercise gets your heart pumping, fresh air has a calming effect and a change of scenery never did anyone any harm – you’ll come back to the office all refreshed and ready to take on your greatest project challenges.

Taking a walk at lunchtime can have at least the same (if not a greater) impact as those light boxes recommended by doctors to combat S.A.D. Even on the greyest of days, there’s enough light flooding down from the sun to have a beneficial effect.

Take the stairs instead of the lift, park the car in the furthest space from your office front door, go for a swim before work … whatever you can fit in you’ll feel better for and so will your IT Project!

3 – Have Special Winter Timescales In Mind When Scoping Project

A good friend of mine adds (at least) two or three weeks to project timelines when agreeing delivery dates in the summer – because team members take holidays! Invariably, this buffer allows projects to come in well ahead of schedule. The same thinking for winter projects should allow you enough time to shift resources when a bug rampages through your team or when you need to bed in external resources from the PMaaS market. This needs to be agreed with stakeholders at the start and should mean that you meet expectations.

4 – Look After Yourself #2 – Eat Healthy

Is it just me or in the winter months does your diet gravitate towards stodge, carbs and sugar? There always seems to be a box chocolates on the go in the office and while this is lovely and while a little chocolate treat gives you a  boost – it’s short-lived. There’s plenty of scientific evidence to show the sugar boost/crash effect on long-term energy levels. One business I visited the other day has a weekly fruit delivery to the office – a banana will benefit your wellbeing more than a bar of chocolate and it’s kinder on the waistline.

5 – Stay Connected

When it’s dark on your way to work and dark on the way home, it can be tempting to hibernate. Actually, we humans function better as a pack or a tribe so maintain (or even increase) levels of networking and interaction during these months. Attend networking meetings, pick up the phone and connect with colleagues past and present, set up a client meeting, even reading a great IT Project Management blog and contacting the author can help.

6 – Manage Stimuli

A Project team I worked with has a “no notifications” rule … they all turned off notifications on their favourite news or social media apps. It’s nice to connect with friends but, do you need to know every last thing they do as soon as they do it? The same with the news, it’s good to keep up to date with current affairs but, do you need to be plugged in 24-7? Have you noticed it’s rarely good news that gets flashed onto your phone, sadly, bad news sells.

Since turning off all notifications off from any app that wasn’t work-related, they claim to be much more effective and task focussed during office hours. Their results certainly back this up.

Furthermore, the news and social media updates can have a negative effect on morale. There’s a lot of mood hoovers out there … you wouldn’t invite them to sit in your actual project management office so why let them in via your mobile. The weather’s gloomy enough without having to read someone’s Facebook post that starts “Why Me?!”

I love this time of year. I love pulling on a chunky sweater or a waterproof raincoat and watching the kids play football or just kicking through fallen leaves, but I know that for a lot of people this time of year can be hard. Grey days can make you feel grey! We need to be supportive of each other, have each other’s backs, for sakes of our health and that of our IT Projects.

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