A project manager will spend much of their time planning, scheduling and organising the time of individuals involved in the project to ensure that the best possible use is made of the time available. Getting the schedule right is a key factor in any project and where there are dependent tasks, failing to ensure one task is completed when required in order to begin another task can have a disastrous knock-on effect on the schedule of the whole project.
So, understandably, PMs devote time and energy to making sure team members are working efficiently – but the project manager’s time is rarely factored into a project schedule. Yet it is those project managers who devote time to thinking of solutions to problems who are usually the best project managers – those who will think about the best way to motivate individual team members instead of applying general methods to everyone; those who will think laterally and outside-the-box to come up with a solution to a technical problem or a problem with the requirements.
This approach all takes time, and plenty of it, but putting in excessive hours is not the solution as that just leads to decisions made when we are not thinking straight because we’re just too tired. Often time away from the standard work routine, even just for a short while, can re-invigorate our grey cells. A walk in the park at lunchtime instead of working through with a sandwich at our desk can do wonders for our brain power – this is quality thinking time without all the distractions of the day-to-day running of a project.
It is not hard to find the time for such quality thinking but it’s sometimes difficult to persuade even ourselves (let alone our bosses) that this is “real work”. Yet, a project manager is not paid for the hours they work but the results they produce and on complex projects that requires having the time to think through problems, do some proper analysis and devise effective solutions. Working long hours does not always ensure the best outcome and having time to think through the challenges rather than always reacting instantly to a problem can be the difference between a successful project and not. Snap decisions under pressure can sometimes be the right ones, but not every time.
Finding Time To Think
A project manager has obligations such as delivering status reports, monitoring and amending the schedule, managing budget, risk, change. So where can this extra time for thinking through problems and challenges come from if not from working additional hours?
Firstly as a project manager we should ensure that our time is included in the project schedule – this is a key to successful project management. It will be relatively easy when just managing a single project but it becomes more difficult to ensure adequate time is assigned for us when managing more than one project simultaneously.
Secondly ensure that team members and stakeholders alike understand that we cannot (for the good of the project) make snap decisions. Make it clear that you will always need time to assess the pros and cons of every major decision affecting the outcome of the project. After all, you would prioritise tasks for your team members and not expect them to just drop what they are doing when a change request comes through without it being assessed and prioritised. The project manager’s decision-making should follow a similar path because, arguably, it is more important to make correct and well-informed decisions than to have status reports, plans and schedules up to date.