Drive Them Hard, but NOT into the Ground

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Project managers have a tendency to be slave drivers. I have been known to hold that title more than once myself. Early on in my PM career, I was able to listen to a star PM and gain the knowledge and wisdom that he left us all with. The truth is that he was an 80-100 hour per week workaholic and expected the same from his team. Needless to say, this put a huge strain on his team and eventually lead to burnout and underperformance.

While I’m not aware of any teams close to me that operate to that kind of extreme, I am always cautious of the coveted “WORK / LIFE” balance. This isn’t important just for the team, but for me as well. So what is a PM to do? We are constantly being told to “do more with less” and get the job done ahead of schedule and under budget. That is a great idea, but be very wary of pushing the team too far.

So what is a PM to do? Well, I could offer advise on how to schedule, or plan, or budget or even to promise, but I’m not sure that is going to help. Typical advise would be to schedule smartly and realistically. I know you want to under-promise and over-deliver, but the plan has to be realistic or your sponsors will cut the schedule for you. The same thing goes with the budget; be realistic. Don’t put a ton of “contingency” in the budget that you know you won’t need. Again, your sponsors will cut your budget and may even start cutting your budget as a rule if they think you are consistently asking for too much. The one thing many PMs forget is to talk actually to the team and get their input on the schedule. You cannot create a good project schedule or budget from an ivory tower. Talk to your teams!

What does that accomplish? It can actually do a lot for you and your team. When I’m putting the schedule together, I’ll get my team’s input and then complete the schedule using their timelines as a guide. Sometimes, they are right on, sometimes, they may need a little . . . nudging. You see, when you get the team’s input, you’ll get their buy-in and that is probably the MOST important part of the scheduling process. Once you get their buy in, you’ll get their support and with their support, you’ll get their “A” game. Once the team is giving you their best, you can push them to their limits without pushing them over the edge. Sure, there are going to be times when something goes wrong or wildly awry, but those are exceptional times. When the team does that extra work, give them that extra praise – publicly. Once they get a feel for the pride that is gained by finishing early and with quality, you’ll really have a team worth fighting for.

Don’t get me wrong, it is okay to drive your team hard. Don’t drive them into the ground, though, or you can kiss your performance bonuses good-bye.

I’d love to hear from you. What techniques do you use to motivate your team? How do you deal with burnout? Tell me by commenting below.

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