Posts Tagged ‘overtime’

The Soul of a Project #23: Watch out for Overtime

by Gary Monti on August 28, 2012

Do you want to succeed? Do you feel a personal responsibility for the project? If you just push hard enough can the project get done? These questions are probably part of your everyday life. Answering them affirmatively is often the hallmark of a successful project manager and can open doors to career success. Taken too far, though, damage can occur. One way this damage shows up is with overtime.

In my travels, most PMs start with a 50-hour week and go from there. Periodically, that is insufficient and overtime is required. It’s part of the normal ups-and-downs of a project. There are limits, and that is what needs to be watched for. What does this mean?

In my own experience where it causes trouble is when it shows up as the dark side of “spontaneous overtime.” Let me explain. Spontaneous overtime is when “the hands fall off the clock.” There is a falling into the task and being totally absorbed by it. A sense of time disappears. The light side of spontaneous overtime is when things are clicking into place and the ability to build or fix just grows and grows. It is very rewarding. Think of how rocket scientists feel when a rover has successfully landed on Mars. Even this form of overtime does have to have some limit if one has a life. However, this occurs so infrequently that pushing all else aside for a period probably won’t cause too much trouble in other areas of life.

The focus here is on the dark side of spontaneous overtime. This is when awareness of the reality of the situation has disappeared, e.g., refusing to see a powerful sponsor has pulled their support merely by neglect and the belief the project can be successful continues. This is a formula for disaster. The subconscious denial that the project has no support leads to pushing harder and harder. Without thinking, more and more overtime is put in. More meetings, more picking up others work, more “If I just push hard enough.”

There is a loss of humility and a sense of limits disappears. The PM is consumed by stubbornness yet feels realistic at the same time.

So what to do? The simplest solution is have someone to talk to who will tell you whether or not you’re nuts. If you don’t have that, think back to when this has occurred before and ask yourself, “How did my behavior shift when I was deaf, dumb, and blind?” It will show in little things. For example, do you lose your car keys? Are you grumpy, angry, or anxious in a general way with nothing you can put your finger on? Are others more annoying for no apparent reason? Experience loss of sleep or want to sleep excessively? Over- or under eating? Don’t want the weekend to end? Maybe you can brainstorm you own list with someone close to you who knows your behaviors.

The payoff is big. You are giving yourself a chance to get back within your personal boundaries and start looking honestly at the situation and confront what you see. You can restart the process of gaining control of your life.

Leadership Cancers #3: The myth of peak performance

by Gary Monti on March 30, 2010

From sex to deodorants the push is for peak performance. The message is, “If you aren’t number one then there is something wrong.” After all, isn’t it important to be the biggest, fastest, or strongest? To use the classic project management answer, “It depends.” Let’s look at peak performance, its costs, its misuse, and a realistic alternative.

What Is Peak Performance?

Peak performance as used here might best be defined with an example – the successful return of the Apollo 13 astronauts. From the time the oxygen tank ruptured on April 14, 1970, until the landing on April 17, roughly 87 hours passed of intense activity. The mission was deemed a successful failure.

It would be an understatement to say considerable teamwork, focus, persistence, and ingenuity were required. Essentially, the stakeholders involved dropped everything they were doing to focus on solving the myriad of problems the tank explosion created. A new balance point had to be created centered around the successful return of the astronauts. The integrity of the mission literally had a hole blown in it!

What Does It Cost?

What does peak performance in such a situation cost – everything. With Apollo, hard deadlines had to be met and resources were scarce. Everything else was secondary and viewed only in terms of its utility in saving the astronauts.

Its Misuse

There is no doubt the mission was noble. So, how could peak performance be viewed as a cancer? For most of us we work in a day-to-day environment far removed from saving astronauts. Even at that, there can be a great deal of significance gained from putting in a days work.

The cancer arises when peak performance is misused. The term I’ve coined is “mesa performance.” With mesa performance a peak is hit and sustained. It’s a plateau. Most of us hear it as “setting the bar higher.” I prefer mesa performance because when one jumps over the bar there is a coming back down to normal levels. The misuse of peak performance has the expectation of staying at that level. It is the new standard. We can be told we are above everyone else and will stay there. We are on the mesa.

To put it in perspective, imagine after the astronauts returned safely everyone was breaking out the cigars and champagne, slapping each other on the back and celebrating. In the middle of this Gene Kranz, the flight director, said, “Oops, we forgot to tell you. Apollo 13.1 is having problems and we need to get on it right away! You did well with 13 so we expect you can do the same with 13.1.” No one has slept for 3 days.

When this becomes business-as-usual you know where it is headed. It can be summed in one word, unsustainable. Remember how everything was viewed as a resource with Apollo 13? Ongoing consumption of everything including reserves and backups has several major downside characteristics. People burn out and start making serious mistakes, the wiggle room for different options disappears with the drop in resources. The organization cannibalizes itself. The list goes on.

A More Realistic Option

A more realistic approach is one that is sustainable. You can see this in the word “overtime.” It means going beyond a certain reasonable limit of effort causes, over time, the consumption of infrastructure.

Overtime is best when it has a specific goal in mind and is stopped once that goal has been reached.

Ideally, planning ahead occurs and reserves are built with the knowledge they will get consumed from time to time. Flexibility and the ability to meet customer needs is maximized.

If you would like to delve deeper into project management and leadership and how to become more successful send me an e-mail at gwmonti@mac.com or visit www.ctrchg.com where you can get a free Executive’s Guide to Change Management white paper.