Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success

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How to set your project up for success before Christmas

As we head towards the Christmas break, it’s time (for most) to put the brakes on to enjoy a much needed period of calm. For others, it’s a rush to deliver before losing key staff for an extended period of time. Whichever camp you fall into, it’s important to maintain momentum, whilst also taking the opportunity to get a complete break.

Having gone to the trouble of building a great team, plan and creating an environment in which people can do their best work, it’s important that people can take a step back from what they’re doing, enjoy their time off, knowing that when they return they’re able to pick up exactly where they left off.

So what can be done to maintain momentum and take a break? Here are five tips for project managers and five more for project sponsors, because the responsibility sits with both.

5 Things Project Managers Should Do Over Christmas

1. Update your controls

I’m not a fan of the word ‘control’, but the fact of the matter is that risk registers, communication plans, issue logs, dependency plans, schedules, and so on are a core part of a project manager’s job and need to be updated every week. At Christmas, PMs need to get the crystal ball out and take a longer term view and manage them accordingly.

2.  Re-plan

Once the controls have been updated and regardless of whether there are two weeks or two months left of the project post-Christmas, now is the time to bring the project team together and look at what tasks have been completed and what’s still to do. These sessions give the team focus for when everyone is back in January

3. Re-assess the risks

There’s a good chance that over Christmas the project will accumulate a couple more risks and it’s critical that they don’t become issues while everyone is away. Take a look at what’s currently a potential threat and the likelihood of it becoming an issue. Does the likelihood increase over Christmas? If so, you may need to take action.

4.  Say thank you

The great project managers take all of the blame and none of the credit, that’s what makes them so good to work for and yet over 70% of staff in Australia still don’t feel appreciated for the work they do. That’s an appalling statistic, so project managers should be that person that says thank you to the team. Say it to their face, write them a card or shout them a morning tea. The people on the team are the keepers of a project manager’s reputation, never forget that.

5. Take a break

A proper break. One where emails aren’t checked and calls aren’t taken (unless you’re actually on call of course). Spend time with the family, read a book, play some board games, have a BBQ (southern hemisphere only!), do fun stuff... Eat, drink and be merry, but don’t overdo it. As soon as they get back to the office, project managers need to be on their game again, with energy, humour and stories, not an extra 5kg.

5 Things Project Sponsors Should Do Over Christmas

1. Gain clarity on activity over the holidays

Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean that all project work should stop, so gain clarity on what is being done and by whom. Sponsors need to ensure that the project manager has secured the necessary resources to get the work done and has actions in place to mitigate risks.

2. Ask for the next three-month plan

Ensure that the year starts in the best possible way by ensuring that the project manager has provided a detailed plan for the first three months of the year. That way, sponsors can go into the break knowing that the activity continues the second everyone returns.

3. Celebrate the successes of the year so far

As Oprah once said ‘The more your praise and celebrate your project, the more there is in your project to celebrate.’ Of course, I’m paraphrasing (sorry Oprah), however, Christmas is a great time to celebrate the work done so far and the effort expended in doing so. It reminds the project team that they’re part of something successful and provides the sponsor with an opportunity to personally thank everybody.

4.  Encourage the team to rest and recharge

While Christmas can be tough work-wise, it’s also important to remember that it’s a time for family as well as a well-earned break. Encourage the team to rest and recuperate in order to come back refreshed and motivated in the New Year.

5. Take a break yourself

Governing projects alongside a day job isn’t easy, so sponsors you need to make sure you take the time to look back on what you’ve done well and the things that require work so that you too can go into the break feeling a sense of achievement and excitement for the year ahead.

Christmas is one of those very rare times of the year where we all get to take a few days off the tools and enjoy time with friends and family. In order to enjoy it to the full, project managers and sponsors need to ensure that everything has been done to set the project up for success once everyone returns. What are you doing to get your project in order now?

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