Why Project Managers Should Adopt “New Year’s Resolutions” More Than Once a Year

Before the smell of fresh roses and new love adorns the air, February also heralds in a season of New Year’s guilt. According to a 2019 survey, less than 7% of people stick to the growth goals they set for themselves on Jan. 1.

Because of this pattern, New Year’s Resolutions get a bad rap; they push themselves to the top spot as the guilt-inducing nemesis of the “treat yourself” and self-care movements. However, at their core, resolutions are nothing more than projects we commit our energy to prioritize or change. This fact is precisely why we can’t ignore them.

Although we might try to compartmentalize the personal from the professional, we live in the same bodies on the weekdays and weekends, and our behavioral tendencies prove it. In a discipline like project management, where follow-through is everything, our plans for personal growth also impact our ability to perform as leaders. Specifically…

#1 – Committing to New Year’s Resolutions is an exercise in realistic goal setting.

We all know someone who, encouraged by the hopefulness of the holidays, decides that they’re going to start their day at the gym seven days a week. “I really think it’s going to be refreshing! I might even like it,” they say, with protein shakes on the mind.

We might even be that someone. While at first glance it seems harmless to set behaviorally implausible personal goals, the same philosophy is at play in our professional projects.

Scoping and estimation, one of the first steps of nearly all project management methodologies, require a thoughtful evaluation of all the factors that really affect how humans work.

For example, let’s say we estimate that editing a report only takes six hours. It’s a common mistake for the unseasoned project manager to schedule a single workday to complete this task. This unrealistic goal-setting is rooted in an unsustainable obliviousness to how the minutiae of a workday occupies real time from pre-requisite reflection about how to thoughtfully approach the task, to chatting with colleagues, to even stopping to do a quick stretch.

Project managers that actually set and keep their own resolutions learn how to identify the real-life factors at play outside of what gets written into the contract.

#2 – Good action plans include benchmarks to change course as needed throughout the project lifecycle.

So now it’s February (or March, or even October!). Surely we can’t be talking about New Year’s Resolutions anymore. Besides, it’s already too late to sign up for the painting class at the community college.

As creatures of habit, the natural reaction to a plan that goes off course is a return to the status quo. Change takes intention and effort, and if we can’t fit that change into a clean framework we set for ourselves at the beginning of a project, it’s often hard to muster the will to do anything at all.

Nonetheless, regardless of the type of project we manage at work, there will always be unpredictable elements affecting our ability to write out a perfect project plan. Team members will get sick on pivotal presentation days. It will storm on the open house showing for the property with the view.

As project managers, we need to develop a new impulse for making changes to the plan with stride. If we can’t take the painting class, that doesn’t mean we can’t crack open our old watercolor sets at home. In other words, an adjustment to the plan is not a reason to stop the project altogether. Instead, we need to set benchmarks in our project schedules that allow us to still achieve our project’s core mission in spite of the new factors that present themselves over time.

#3 – It’s not enough to create the perfect plan: project managers also need to have the stick-to-itiveness to actually execute when needed.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly for senior managers, personal resolutions force us to reliably execute our own goals.

In many ways, it’s obvious within the name that project managers frequently are a step removed from the work we’re “managing.” In fact, in some fields, the managers may not even have the background necessary to execute the tasks we’re being asked to administer.

That being said, as any good RACI matrix will indicate, a manager must be accountable for whatever their team ultimately produces. Project managers that develop the dedication to complete their resolutions ultimately shape a results-driven culture that they themselves can meet. In a work setting, this looks like using whatever resources are at our disposal to step in and help the team cross the finish line, rather than falling back on scapegoating others at the expense of the project.

The impact of setting, adjusting, and ultimately keeping our New Year’s Resolutions can be felt in our success as project managers year-round. Ultimately, if we believe in the value of the work we do, we can’t afford to let a calendar date deter us from taking the next step in our personal, and in turn, professional, growth. We must set #FebruaryResolutions, even when it’s uncomfortable.

Not sure where to start? Check out these suggestions for identifying your personal priorities. You may also be interested in How to Set Goals You’ll Actually Meet and 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Managers.

Arianna Montero-Colbert currently serves as a Governor’s Management Fellow for the state of Tennessee’s Office of Customer Focused Government. In this role, she drives confidential process improvement and strategic planning initiatives across 23 state agencies. In addition to working for the state, she consults for various nonprofits and academic institutions, most notably, serving as the RightsCon Platform and Production Manager for the global organization, Access Now. You can follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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