After a decade-plus of leading and managing programs, there’s one thing I don’t recall ever saying – or hearing someone else say: “gee, I need to find balance in my projects.” I didn’t philosophically, or physically, sit down to figure out how to balance my time, my focus, and my energy between the various projects I was running.
Why? Because that’s not howmanages a program. You collect key information components about the program’s elements, such as cost, schedule, and scope, and then you execute. That might mean a lot of work in some periods of the year, a little less at other times. You delegate less important tasks to others and look for efficiencies to optimize schedule and keep on budget.
If ever I did fret about balance between projects in my portfolio, it was because of one of them going off schedule or budget. Or maybe because of the contractor executing the project or some other stakeholder that was creating friction.
But I don’t recall fretting about focusing too much time on one project and not enough on another.
I can see where this might happen: project goes completely sideways and you have to spend all of your time working with your staff to sort out what went wrong. Perhaps the contractor isn’t performing and you end up in mediation…or worse…litigation. That could consume a lot of time really fast. One might then get a bit jumpy about putting too much time against one project at the detriment of other projects.
Even then, these types of situations are few and far between. What you’ll experience 99%+ of the time is day to day program management, without the word “balance” coming into play.
Work-Life Balance Won’t Happen…So Stop Trying
If we’re not philosophically concerned about “project balance” in the office, then why are we concerned about work-life balance in general? This is definitely a topic that Anthony and I have written and podcasted about often. We’ve each spent a lot of time individually contemplating what it all means.
I came to realization a long time ago that attempting to find balance between work and life was like finding the process to turn lead into gold: not going to happen. Instead of alchemy, I’ll offer that you might want to consider operating like a program manager with your LIFE. I’m putting it all in caps because your life isn’t nicely segregated into (1) work; (2) family; (3) hobbies; (4) volunteering; (5) etc. No, it’s all mixed together.
Instead of neat firewalls between each aspect, it all gets mixed together much to one’s chagrin. I remember back early in my career when I attempted to dictate how the life/work management would play out. Guess what, it failed miserably. I simply felt like I was unable to fulfill my responsibilities in any area of interest.
What changed my perspective on this was acceptance. Acceptance that not everything will ever get accomplished that I set out to accomplish. Acceptance that there is a force at work that will dictate what happens despite how well I’ve planned and coordinated. Acceptance that the non-work commitments and responsibilities in life cannot be separated from my work responsibilities.
Program Management, Life, and Shangri La
I like to bring elements of engineering and project management into my life in general, since the majority of my waking hours are spent on professional pursuits. To this end, I adopted the perspective “program manager” with regards to my life. Doing this gave me a plethora of resources to draw from, since the body of knowledge around program/project management is very substantial.
Let’s get academic for a moment. According to Project Management Institute (PMI), a program is “…a group of related projects, subprograms, and program activities, managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually.”
Sounds a bit like one’s life.
Each of our lives is comprised of related projects, tasks, and goals that must be managed in a coordinated way to obtain the benefits we seek: fulfillment, happiness, wealth, travel, a spouse, the P.E., a master’s degree, children, a 12% BMI — you name it.
This doesn’t require you to set up a mental Project Management Office and begin conducting weekly program reviews. It does require you to come to grips with the need to coordinate the aspects of your life in such a way that they coexist and, ultimately, compliment each other.
This is where you reach Shangri La, not by finding balance. By accepting that there is no balance. That to run a fulfilling life requires you to be out of balance. By seeking the type of life that brings your goals into existence while not driving you into the health death spin.
Christian J. Knutson, P.E., PMP
Engineering Management Institute