For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the time of year when project team members are likely to be taking time off on holiday. We all appreciate the opportunity to wind down from work and take a vacation, even if this year – 2020 – is a little bit different to other years. The traditional patterns of holiday taking might not apply so much this season!
Table of Contents
- National Holidays
- Resource Scheduling Around the Absence
For those of you reading who are project managers with colleagues who will be taking time off over the summer, either for vacation time or to look after family members, it’s important to think about what impact that is going to have on your project.
Oftentimes, I’ve received emails from people on my team saying, “I’m out of the office next week for a fortnight for a holiday.” They either haven’t told me in advance or I have forgotten about it… and now that’s an issue for my project scheduling. It can significantly affect your project planning if you have a key resource out of the office.
As project team members rarely report to the project manager in terms of line management, knowing when they are off can be difficult – they have to tell you because their line manager probably won’t.
Therefore the best thing to do is to keep asking and opening up the conversation to talk about time off. And as soon as you know about the upcoming vacation, put it in your personal calendar and also amend the project schedule accordingly so you know who isn’t going to be around.
In my experience, there’s often no one who can pick up a colleague’s work while they are away, so you have to reschedule their work around their availability – in other words, it has to wait until they are back. Oftentimes there is no one with the right skill set to cover, or everyone else is simply too busy to pick up someone else’s work as well as their own. Many teams are short-staffed over holiday seasons.
Another thing to factor into your holiday planning is the national holidays for the countries where your team is based. You can download these automatically in the most calendar and scheduling tools because they are well-known and available in advance. Pop them into your schedule so you don’t try and call the Spanish team on one of their national holidays (when I did this, my colleague answered… from a beach in Barcelona with his kids).
If you put national holidays into your scheduling tool, check to make sure they haven’t been applied to every individual on the team. Here in the UK for example, we don’t expect to have a holiday on 4 July or to get Thanksgiving off, but my colleagues in the US won’t be working those days.
If necessary, set holidays at the level of the individual, so everyone has the correct holidays assigned to them. Then you can add in their personal out of office time as well. Adding these dates to your scheduling tool as non-working time or holiday time for those individuals will mean that your project schedule will automatically take into account their absence when it calculates the critical path and project timelines.
With your holiday dates in the calendar, you can check that no one appears over-resourced. If they do, you’ll need to apply resource leveling or simply shift the work around a little so they aren’t loaded with tasks on days when they shouldn’t be working at all.
Ultimately, adding in holiday times makes the schedule more reliable and realistic, but if you are doing this halfway through a project, you might find that your end date moves.
You’ve then got a few options: cancel people’s holidays (never a popular choice), let the project run late (with support of the sponsor), ask people to work overtime to make up the missing hours, or ask others to step in to keep the project on track. You might be able to find other clever ways to address the time impact on your project schedule too!
What’s right for your project is going to depend on who the people are, the criticality of the project, and lots of other factors so you’ll need to make a judgment call with input from the project sponsor and the team.
While the simplest answer is often that someone hands over their work to someone else, what you often find is the recipient of the work doesn’t have the time or capability to do the tasks to the same level of quality as the original task owner. Consider whether it’s worth taking that risk (or mitigating against that risk somehow), or just leaving the work until your colleague is back.
However, you choose to handle vacation and out of office time, make sure you communicate to the rest of the team. If it’s you who is off, make sure they have a contact person who can help remove roadblocks and facilitate the work getting done while you are sunning yourself in your garden!
Projects are always affected by resource availability, and the holiday season is no different. With a few strategies in place and good communication between you and the rest of the team, you’ll find out about planned absences and be able to do something about them before you get caught out with a last-minute notification!