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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Use It or Lose It!

It's that time of year - where that is a variable for things like: "holiday", "peace", "joy", "depression", etc. For agency and client staff, it's Use-It-or-Lose-It (UIoLI) time. By UIoLI I'm referring both to:
  • clients' end-of-the year rush to spend their budgets in order to squeeze out a last bit of performance or to justify next year's budget.
  • vacation days & corporate policies for roll-over (or not as the case may be).
 These two UIoLI events come to a nasty head at the end of year. To a lesser extent, summer time with its holidays and summer Fridays, also has similar issues.
How can a dedicated agency person, leave her client, or for that matter, her team in the lurch during these critical times of year? This conundrum becomes even more complex because people both have long-standing plans, or faced with UIoLI, slap together last-minute trips. To turn up the temperature a few more degrees, on the client-side the same thing is happening, making the end of the year pretty much the sloppiest, most pressured, time of the year.

It only took me a few cycles of being one of the few saps (dedicated employees?) still in the office at 11pm on 12/23 and 7/3 to begin managing my and my team's vacation schedules. One approach I've taken rounding the Q3 corner, when my team wasn't burning their vacation days fast enough was to implement Winter Fridays, where they could at least enjoy some additional 3-day weekends. If someone has two weeks of unused vacation coming onto the 4th quarter, they can pretty much work it out so that they can have 4-day weeks for the rest of the year. Another approach was to encourage them to come in late or leave early. Of course, the "good" ones (you guys know who you are) would still manage to put in over 50+ hours, even in those shortened weeks. At least they got some down-time that they otherwise would not have had.

Their are many benefits to encouraging (or as some of the business literature suggests, "forcing") your team to take time off, including: higher retention rates and increased morale to learning time-management skills and driving productivity. The Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, Business Week and many others have written extensively about these issues.

So, if you're not fortunate enough to live in a state like California, where vacation days are considered earned wages that roll-over from year to year, take the time you deserve. Trust me, you and everyone around you will be better off than if you give them back to the man.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Project Management and Conflict

One of Project Managers' most important roles is to drive continual improvement. In a multi-agenda, multi-stakeholder environment this pretty much means that conflict is inevitable. We're all familiar with the full range of conflict from the healthy kind, which results in the aforementioned improvement to the kind that comes from butting heads with those whose personal agenda and greater good aren't fully balanced.

A key to success for a PM in an agency environment is getting good at working through conflicts in a way that elevates the ecosystem. It's a refined skill, which on the weak side results in you caving on something that needs to be driven and on the other side has too strident an approach, which generates disproportionate resistance. In addition, to a lack of progress, too much of either approach will leave you ping-ponging between them and getting nowhere while building a reputation that you'll have to shake.

I followed an interesting string on the topics of conflict and leadership, which led from:
  • Jessica Stillman's Entry-Level Rebel blog post: Tim Ferris: Don't Be Afraid to Piss People Off on BNET - Jessica is a great amplifier of sage advice from blogs, books and presentations.


  • Tim's Ferris's blog post: The Benefits of Pissing People Off, in which he advises that, "Doing anything remotely interesting will bring criticism. Attempting to do anything large-scale and interesting will bring armies of detractors and saboteurs. This is fine – if you are willing to take the heat."

    and finally to

  • Colin Powell's Leadership Primer on Slidshare, in which, among other things, he advises that, "Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad . . . you'll simply ensure that the only people you'll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization"