Caring for the "thinkers"

May 26, 2016

Tor Åge Leknes

The Case for Empowering the Department Manager

Correct allocation of people to projects is a critically important part of a successful project execution. When you think about it though, it is really easy to see it as a one dimensional benefit. The obvious way for the reader to interpret the sentence is to think of it from the perspective of the project itself, as if it read “correct allocation is a critically important part of the projects’ success”. And while this is true, there is another equally important interpretation. This second interpretation goes something like this: “correct allocation is a critically important part of the wellbeing of the project team members”. I would argue that if the department manager is able to take into account the wellbeing of the project team members, who may simultaneously participate in multiple projects, both the organization and the employees benefit considerably.

Most Promineo employees have worked as consultants in large projects for many years, and a number of us have had the opportunity to sit on both the contractor and customer side in multi-year projects. Over the years we have come into contact with countless cases where people working in projects have been completely overloaded with work. It has often been the case that a person was assigned multiple roles within a project, or across projects, resulting in him having the workload of two or more people in total. Existing management systems did not reveal the problem, and since management did not have a clue about the actual load placed on their key people, many were burnt out and needed replacing. While the projects suffered from the loss of key people, causing delays and overruns, the human cost cannot be quantified. I have personally known people who had to be hospitalized as a consequence, and who never recovered to full working capacity. All of this the result of poor allocation of people.

Correct Allocation of People = Caring

Defining the Project Organization Chart is a logical first step to identify personnel resources required to execute the project.  Each project position may be detailed with competence requirements (knowledge types), start, finish and %-load(s) to give an accurate description of the type of organization that needs to be mobilized for the project. Maybe this is done on an excel sheet. The sheets then end up on the tables of several department managers who assign people (knowledge workers) to the project positions. Regardless of how it gets done, at the end of the day the project positions have all been defined and people assigned to them. The department managers are responsible for assigning people across multiple projects, and maintaining an overview of the allocation as projects come and go. The quality of this process is what determines the success of the projects and the wellbeing of the people, but how to ensure quality?

Correct allocation of people can only be achieved when the department managers doing the allocation have good information available to them at all times. Project requirements change regularly, and require department managers to respond dynamically. Even the best planner can’t deliver high quality when working with limited or outdated information. And because good planning means caring, it is important to start caring for the quality of the information used in planning.

Overworking and Wellbeing

It is intuitively obvious that a person who has an unmanageable workload, unreasonable working hours and is not in control of his/her work, is not an effective employee. This intuitive assertion is supported by pretty much all the research out there, and is summarized nicely in a Harvard Business Review article from August 2015 – “In sum, the story of overwork is literally a story of diminishing returns: keep overworking, and you’ll progressively work more stupidly on tasks that are increasingly meaningless” (Carmichael, 2015). In other words, an employee working too much is not delivering good results for the company. What is he/she doing to him/herself with these long hours?

The side effects of overworking result in all kinds of health problems including impaired memory, depression, poor sleep patterns, alcoholism, and diabetes as Marianne Virtanen from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health has discovered in numerous studies done by her and her colleagues. There is also credible evidence showing that “Employees who work long hours have a higher risk of stroke than those working standard hours…These findings suggest that more attention should be paid to the management of vascular risk factors in individuals who work long hours” (Prof. Mika Kivimaki, 2015). The evidence doesn’t leave much to doubt, overworking is truly bad for the health and will undoubtedly harm the quality of personal life and relationships as well.

Since overwhelming evidence confirms that overworking harms both the company and the employee, it is clear that we have to ensure that our “thinkers” are working manageable working hours. For project work, the best starting point is better planning. Better allocation of people to projects requires high quality information that is up to date. Let’s make sure our department managers have what it takes to make a difference.

References

Carmichael, S. G. (2015, August 19). www.hbr.org. Retrieved from Harward Business Review: https://hbr.org/2015/08/the-research-is-clear-long-hours-backfire-for-people-and-for-companies

Prof. Mika Kivimaki, e. (2015, August 19). www.thelancet.com. Retrieved from The Lancet: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2815%2960295-1/abstract

About the author

Tor Åge Leknes

Tor Åge is one of the company founders and the product manager for Promineo. He has a long track record working in large scale projects and has firsthand understanding of the hurdles that need to be overcome to effectively manage personnel resources.

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