dinsdag 6 september 2011

The VacationPrep Blues

Although I love my own vacation, there's one thing in the vacation season that I really dislike and that's the stress that comes from the extra activities you have to follow up on from the people that are on vacation.

I don't know why; but these activities always seem to have high priority (more than your own activities) and in the project where you are filling in, there always seems to be emergency situations that have to be managed, causing your own work to get delayed. I've been more than ever been busy telling my management that work is slow due to all - also very usefull and important - activities in other projects and workareas.

Some time ago I covered for two colleagues (and supporting the back-up of a third). I was constantly busy steering, giving people information and was doing loads of back-log administrative stuff. It was extra work since the project was getting behind schedule (this was already the case before I was involved mind!) and I'm appointed to fast-forward the activities and - because I seem to be doing stuff kinda right- more people are stopping by at my desk. Besides that, I also have to figure things out, since I'm not THAT insider in their projects.

I've come around loads of stuff that could probably have gone much easier if the transfer of the activities was done more structured. I'm the kind of person who loves structure and thrives on it and I'm a big fan of checklists. So in this blog I'm making the suggestion for all of you who go on vacation and who pass on work to other colleagues to make a checklist of things that are must-do's and won't do's.

Even if tasks or procedures might seem simple to you, it takes a lot of time when your back-up has to figure out this procedure because he/she isn't familiar with it. For example: in my case the standard defect logging procedure was clear, but I soon learned that some specific agreements were made and it cost me time to exactly get the process right. When I made the remark to my colleague about it when he came back, the answer was that the activity was so common for him that he hadn't even thought of writing it down.

The next thing might help: when you are planning your vacation, note down your activities during the week before your departure and describe the particulars of them.

Had a meeting? Make sure the minutes are available and write down any information that seems relevant and isn't in the minutes (such as: J.Doe might still have some questions about X or Selma will be coming by a couple of times to ask about, etc). This makes your back-up prepared and reduces uncertainties with other parties. Remember that your back-up is perceived, just like you, as the person who gives insight in the quality of the product, not knowing answers or not be able to answer them on a short notice, is not very comforting for your stakeholder(s).

Don't leave high-priority tasks unfinished or unmanaged. If you aren't able to finish, make sure you inform your recipient about it (as well as your back-up) and try to delegate the task to a colleague who is well informed or communicate that the task will finished when you get back.

Don't rely on your back-up too much: he/she might not have the same sense of urgency or might pick up the task completely different than you would have done, bringing you further from home.
Remember that your back-up still has his/her own job to do and is not able to squeeze in your full-weeks worth of tasks too. So don't make promises based on the same progress speed as you normally have: a task or activity will take longer to complete.

Some food for thought to close with: Everything you aren't clear about, haven't written down or have discussed with your back-up is a carte blanche. Things you had organized can turn into a whole different approach, set-up or deliverable as you had in mind. Your back-up will try to get the job done, but it might give you loads more (corrective) work to be done upon return.