During the late 1960s and early 1970s, I taught a course which I designed at the University of Illinois entitled, "Fundamentals of the Space Program for Schoolteachers." The quest to place man on the moon and bring him back safely was discussed everywhere. It was only fitting that this information be presented in an easy-to-understand format to present and future schoolteachers.
In gathering information for the course, I visited the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas and a few aerospace and defense contractors that were working on space program projects. The majority of my interviews were with project managers.
I was provided with pictures, videotapes and other pieces of information to be used in my course. Everyone seemed rather enthusiastic towards helping me. Then I asked a critical question; "Are there any bad things happening that you would like to share with me?" This opened Pandora's Box. One project manager told me that he believed that the divorce rate among project managers in the space program could be as high as 100 percent. He said that all of the project managers that he was working with would come to work with suitcases after telling their spouses and family that the most important thing is putting man on the moon, and I do not know when I will be home next. The challenges of the job were becoming more important than one's family.
While not all projects have the challenges of the space program, they still do make it difficult for some project managers to balance effectively the job and the home life. Several years ago, I conducted a seminar (only twice) entitled "Understanding Your Spouse's Profession as a Project Manager". The seminar lasted for two hours and only the spouses were allowed to attend. At the end of the session, it was pretty obvious to me that the spouses had no clue what the project manager's position entailed and what pressures were placed upon the project managers. Now they understood why their spouses were often cranky when coming home from work. Simply telling your spouse that you are a project manager is not sufficient.
In another story, I sat in the office of the Vice President for Engineering of a Minneapolis-based engineering company. The vice president was unhappy that, in an early morning meeting, one of his best project managers stood up and said, "I'm resigning my job as a project manager. I was not prepared for this. I simply cannot handle the stress. I feel as though I am burned out. I want my old job back in engineering."
Six months later, I was back at the same company doing a three day seminar on project management. One of the participants in the class was the engineer that had resigned his position previously. I asked him what he was doing in my class since he no longer wanted to be a project manager and he said:
"They gave me my old job back in engineering. The problem is that I cannot live without the stress and pressure that I had in project management. I missed it. The VP made me a project manager again. And I think that I am now better able to balance work and home life."
Both of these stories have a common theme: The Quality of Life (QOL). From a project management perspective, QOL can be defined as the degree of enjoyment or satisfaction that a project manager experiences in everyday life by properly balancing one's job and home life, as opposed to looking at merely financial or material gains. The most important word in this definition is "balancing." There is nothing wrong with project managers being dedicated and committed to a project and its successful outcome. Companies expect this commitment and loyalty to the project. However, it should not be done at the expense of one's family. Projects come and go, but one's family is hopefully there forever. If you have young children, I am sure that they would rather spend time with you than listening to you on a phone call telling them about the profitability and importance of your project. Perhaps ten years from now, your children may still remember every great moment or vacation they had with you, but how many people will remember that you were the project manager of a certain project? If the project is that important to you, and conceivably more important than your family, then be prepare to live in a one bedroom studio apartment feasting on frozen TV dinners.
Inherent in everyone's profession is the never-ending conflict of what's in the best interest of your company versus what is in your best interest personally. Part of your best interest must include your family. You must consider what is in their best interest as well. Your job may have a direct impact upon your family. It is hard to prevent the scale from tipping in one direction or another for a short period of time due to proximity to product launch dates, crises that occur and client interface meetings. It will tip but there must be mechanisms in place to return it to its equilibrium position.
All too often, people accept a position in project management without fully understanding what it entails. The behavioral side of project management is often underscored at the expense of the technical side. As a project manager, you will be placed in charge of projects that have impossible deadlines, an underfunded budget, a lack of qualified resources, and a senior management team that wanted the results yesterday. All of this induces stress and pressure.
There are only two solutions to the problem. The first solution is to learn how to handle the stress and pressure of the job. The second solution is to take up drinking and drugs. I prefer the first solution. If you treat stress and pressure as a project, then you should quickly be able to see that the resolution to the problem is a team effort and perhaps the most valuable part of the team is your spouse and family. Spouses and family can make the challenges of the job bearable. They can ease the pain. Perhaps for a short period of time they can eliminate some of the roadblocks at home that attenuate the problems with stress.
There comes a time in the life of all project managers when they become accustomed to the stress and pressure of the job. But a note of caution. Always be appreciative of the sacrifices that were made at home in order for you to succeed as a project manager.
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