Project management is a difficult job under normal circumstances, so when conditions escalate in intensity with a shortage of project managers or an abundance of projects, life as a PM grows even more stressful. If your team of project managers feels overworked, they won’t be able to perform optimally, leaving them prone to making poor decisions and decreasing their total productivity. In extreme cases, they may even end up leaving your organization.
So what can you do to proactively reduce your project managers’ stress levels, and keep your team working at full capacity?
Strategies to Relieve Project Managers
These are some of the best approaches you can take:
1. Hire a project portfolio manager. First, realize that project managers aren’t enough to ensure the successful distribution of projects and resources—especially when it comes to securing the company’s bottom line. For that, you’ll need to hire a project portfolio manager (PPM), and incorporate some PPM software so you can reliably determine each project’s potential profitability, required resources, special needs, urgency, and priority. When properly allocated, your managers’ workloads will be better balanced, and you’ll be able to get more done as an added bonus.
2. Hire more project managers. If the workload is simply too high, your best bet is to hire another project manager or two to shoulder the burden—even if the increase in volume is projected to be temporary. If you can’t afford to hire another full-time staff member, consider opting for a part-time contractor to temporarily share the load.
3. Be more flexible with deadlines. One simple measure you can take to ease the stress on your project managers is to loosen up your deadlines, for both existing and future projects. Let your clients know that you’re experiencing particularly heavy project volume, and start estimating completion dates more conservatively than you ordinarily would. Buying your managers an extra day or two on each project could fill them with relief.
4. Include project managers in fewer meetings. Meetings can be productive ways to bring your team up to speed and keep your projects running smoothly, but they also take up a substantial portion of your managers’ time. With peak workloads, the last thing your PMs want to do is sit in unproductive meetings for three hours a day. Try to relieve their burden by scheduling fewer meetings, and leaving attendance of lower-priority meetings up to the discretion of individual managers.
5. Reduce communication burdens. Similarly, you may want to ease the burden of ongoing communications—one of the biggest stressors and most demanding sources of time expenditure in a project manager’s day. PMs often send hundreds of emails a day, and are on chat constantly; if you can allocate some extra time for “deep work,” rather than these surface-level communications, PMs will feel less frenzied, less pressured, and will have more time to focus on their most important tasks.
6. Reduce administrative tasks. Administrative tasks will only slow you down and add to your task list, making the overwhelmed mind even more overwhelmed. Do whatever you can to relieve the burden here; you might forgo the need for some ordinarily mandatory admin tasks, delegate the work to someone less busy, or even hire someone as a kind of assistant for your PMs—hiring an assistant will be far cheaper and quicker than hiring a new PM.
7. Allow more stress relief onsite. Finally, you can include more opportunities for stress relief at the office. Allow more time for breaks throughout the day, if possible, and consider taking your PMs to lunch after clearing an especially stressful hurdle. Encourage stretching and physical exercise, get some healthy snacks to have on hand, and try to make the environment calmer with pleasing scents and music.
The Phased Approach
Obviously, not all of these strategies are going to work perfectly for your team, and to implement them all simultaneously would be both costly and overwhelming. Instead of treating these strategies as a singular batch of tactics to use all at once, consider implementing them in a phased approach, one at a time, until you notice a significant difference in your project managers’ workloads, attitudes, and stress levels. Then, as workloads and stress evolve further, you may be able to phase them out and return to your previous setup; conditions will always be changing, and you and your team need to be prepared to change with them.