Don't skip vacations for the sake of the project

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Don’t Skip Vacations For The Project

Joe Zenevitch New York, New York, USA

Software project management is a demanding profession. Besides being the most visible position on the team, usually you are the only one in that role and you don't have a backup. Planning time off is difficult, especially if you’re a third-party consultant. You feel that your absences impact the project unfavorably.

To minimize this risk, novice project managers cancel their vacations, or in the worst cases, do not plan vacations at all. I've learned over time that you really need to take periodic vacations to get a break from the stressful conditions that are inherent in most projects. Over the course of your career, how bitterly do you resent the vacations you missed? But how foggy is your memory of the specific issues you sidestepped by remaining on the job?

I'm not suggesting that you should plan your next vacation with no regard for your project or project schedule. If it’s only a three week duration project, you can wait. Taking a vacation the week before a major release would definitely be irresponsible. But, if your nine to twelve month project tanks because you take a week or two off in the middle, then you are probably not managing it well in the first place.

Obviously, it is important to find and train someone to fill your role while you are away. He/she may not do things exactly as you would have done them, but your surrogate will be able to keep the project ship afloat and sailing in the right direction. You can make it know if you’d prefer to have major issues deferred until your return.

Your replacement could be a project manager from another team, but someone from your own team is probably the better choice. A team member will be more familiar with the project, and this gives him/her a tryout run serving in a leadership role. In some organizations, the business analyst can be a good fit as an interim “you”. This person knows the requirements intimately, and should know the basic mechanics of how to run your development iterations if you’ve been involving the stakeholders at-large all along, as you should.

In agile development, the concept of the self-directed team is both important and powerful. The idea is that the project manager puts in place easy to understand and highly visible processes that the entire team follows. Over time, as the team adopts these processes, the project manager does less and less managing, and more and more facilitating. Essentially, removing obstacles and resolving issues replaces day-to-day micromanaging. One of the delightful by-products is that a smoothly running, self-directed team can make the project manager’s appropriately timed vacation almost a non-event. Even if you are not around for a few days, the machine keeps running itself.

Certainly schedule your vacations to make sure you are available for project releases, but definitely take time off. And never cancel a vacation just because you think the project will grind to a halt without you.

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