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The Summer Games: 14X40 Vacation Relay

OlympicringsI love the Olympics (summer or winter games).  Regardless of my schedule, I take time to watch and cheer as the world comes together.  The variety of games and the diversity of skill to excel amazes me as I watch the peak of athletic prowess in action.  (By the way, a gigantic Iowabiz CONGRATS to Shawn Johnson - you've made your state proud of you, both by your performance and by your gracious integrity.)

Vacation_calendar In our offices, there is a different kind of summer game, and it seems to bring most projects to an excruciating halt in the 14 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  I refer to it as the 14X40 Vacation Relay.  The 40 hours a week you get are about as productive as a sloth at a relaxation clinic.  You can't see it directly, but some of the color commentary sound like the following:

  • "Sorry, but we can't sign off on the deliverable.  The executives on the Steering Committee won't all be back in the office at one time until September."
  • "What do you mean Fred is unavailable?  A three week fishing trip?!  He's supposed to be working on this critical path task due this week!"
  • "I can appreciate the fact that Andrea's kids are home on summer vacation, but we need her subject matter expertise, or we can't move forward."
  • "I know you're waiting on a hiring decision from us, but we can't sync up all of interviewers calendars for a couple of months."

How do you combat this phenomenon, short of shutting down every project in your organization for three months each year?  Keep everyone from taking a vacation?  Hmmm, that seems a little intense (as well as counter-productive, according to Andrew Trent).  There are a few simple strategies to help you mitigate this problem:

  1. Revisit your project plan at the beginning of summer - what major deliverables are due in June, July and August?  Who is assigned to them?  What are the risks associated with getting them done on time?  Do they really need to be completed during these months or can they be delayed.
  2. Block off "high volume vacation weeks" on your plan - I generally will block off the entire weeks of Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day so in my plan, no work is scheduled.  But I don't tell my team this (so don't let my secret out, OK?).  During these weeks, where so many are gone anyway, it allows those still in the office to play catch-up on behind tasks.
  3. Have critical resources assign proxies - if there is a resource on your project who might be unavailable when critical deliverable or hiring decisions need to be made, ask them to assign a back-up who will be there when they aren't.  Allow them to negotiate what level of authority the proxy has, but allow enough leeway to keep the project moving forward.
  4. Touch base proactively - I provide my teams with a 3-week look-ahead report (generated directly from the project plan) so everybody knows what is due in the immediate future.  We talk about these upcoming tasks weekly, so I know early if there are resource availability issues and can mitigate schedule risks.
  5. Compare your end-of-summer plan with your start-of-summer plan - use variances as a "lesson learned" along with explanations of what caused the variance.

Again, the 14X40 vacation relay does not need to be a "summer game event" which shuts down the entire organization.  With some project planning and a lot of proactive communication, you can make summer as productive as the other nine months of the year.

Carpe Factum!

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