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Overtime – saving grace or bad planning?

We’ve all had to work overtime. For some it’s just how we do our job, for others it’s a major inconvenience (especially unplanned overtime). During my days as a developer, overtime was not only a common occurrence, it was basically the norm – especially the closer you got to your deadlines/rollout/implementation.

Since I’ve moved into project management about seven years ago, I’ve strived to ensure that my teams do not have to work overtime to deliver the project as planned. I’ve tried, and on some occurrences I’ve failed. There are always going to be situations that demand overtime to meet the needs of the project, however good project management dictates that overtime should be one of your last resorts.

While there are some obvious benefits to getting your team to work overtime such as (perceived) increased daily throughput and depending how employers handle overtime and the project parameters, possibly “free” work completed by the team. A common trend with employers is time-off-in-lieu for approved overtime worked (especially on a billable consulting engagement where the employer is charging resources out by the hour). Some team members (myself included) look at this as an opportunity to bank up some well-deserved R&R time while completing the project, however there are others who still would rather (or simply have to) be with their families at home.

There are those team members who will often work overtime without being asked in order to deliver on their commitments. While this is great that you’ve got team members dedicated to delivering, as a project manager part of your job is to watch for this so that your team members aren’t burning themselves out. Nobody should have to be a Superman on the project if it’s planned and managed effectively.

If you have people working overtime on your project, as the project manager you need to do two things: 1) Look to see what happened in the project that’s requiring your team to work overtime and; 2) Correct the situation as soon as possible. The value of your team working overtime will be quickly diminished and go into the red due to mistakes made out of exhaustion and possibly disengagement.

Always remember that one of the keys to a successful project delivery is an energized, passionate and engaged team. Overtime is that very tempting “Band-Aid” fix that many project managers use to correct a failing project but fail to consider the negative impacts it can have on the project, team and even your client.

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