If You’re Working Too Much, Is It a Challenging Project or Bad Management? | TechWell

If You’re Working Too Much, Is It a Challenging Project or Bad Management?

Woman covered in sticky notes

“You are working awfully long hours,” I said to a friend.

“Just during this crunch time,” she replied.

“Seems like it’s been months of ‘crunch time.’ What’s going on?”

“This project is vital to the organization,” she answered defensively.

I had to wonder: If this project is so vital, why isn’t the organization staffing it adequately?

Most people are trying to do the right thing. I’ve built a career trying to improve project management skills, sponsorship skills, and communication between these project roles. That said, there are patterns to dysfunction that must be addressed when they are observed.

If you are working for a startup or your employer has a profit-sharing or bonus plan that compensates you exceptionally well, then steady streams of sixty- to eighty-hour weeks are a choice you and your employer might make. You might want to periodically reassess the wisdom of those choices, but the choices are yours.

If you have a “normal” job that involves project work, there are times when the project manager might ask you to push extra hard for a few weeks for the good of the organization. Hopefully your sacrifice is remembered and your loyalty rewarded. 

But if you have a “normal” job with average pay and there is a pattern of demanding or expecting long hours for months on end without fair compensation or other rewards, you may be getting played for a sucker. The question is, by whom?

The conversation that prompted this story is a case of bad sponsorship. The project is mission-critical and will generate significant revenue, but the schedule is unrealistic. Rather than staffing and funding the project appropriately, the executive team is prematurely celebrating the “win,” holding the purse strings tight, and confounding the effort with what appear to be arbitrary changes. Project manager efforts to communicate the dire situation to the executive team have failed. This is a disaster in the making.

In other situations, it could be an example of bad project management. Is the project manager aware of the resource demands that he or she is placing on the team? If demands are often excessive, has the project manager approached the project sponsor to seek additional resources, schedule relief, or a reduction in scope? Some project managers don’t understand that their role is not to get it done whatever it takes, but rather to use organizational resources effectively to accomplish attainable goals and to seek relief or guidance if the goals are unrealistic.

Finally, the person responsible for the overwork might be … yourself. Some people take enjoyment from their work beyond financial compensation. Some of my public-sector friends are passionate about their organizations’ missions. If you choose to be a workaholic, I can’t fault you (so long as you don’t whine about it).

Life is too short to work for bad project managers or bad sponsors. If you are good at what you do, find someplace that recognizes your contribution and appreciates your occasional sacrifice. Don’t be codependent with incompetence.

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