How to better manage crunch time
The final phases of project development can be testing for any team. But, it’s not always realistic to meet deadlines without a degree of crunch time.
In this article, we discuss how you can manage this critical stage more effectively to minimise the risk of burnout for you and your team.
Plan your own time carefully
Importantly, be realistic when doing it. As a manager, you already know that come crunch time, you’ll be in high demand. When planning your schedule, take your own scope for productivity into account and reduce your own deliverables towards the end of the project. Depending on the size and importance of the project, hand over these responsibilities to your project managers or assign them to individual team members.
If in doubt, underestimate the productive hours you will have in the last days or weeks of a project. Crunch time is a stressful time for everyone, and it’s crucial that you’re available to support and supervise your team.
Crackdown on meetings
Unnecessary meetings can be a huge drain on productivity at the best of times, but they can do significantly more damage during a crunch.
Use meetings sparingly and even then, not unless they are absolutely necessary. Impose a strict time limit of 15-30 minutes on crunch time meetings and be selective with attendees.
Prepare an agenda detailing issues to be addressed and the necessary outcomes. Distribute this document in advance to allow attendees adequate prep time and use it during the meeting to keep discussions strictly on topic. Only invite those who can contribute to the core focus and ensure everyone leaves with a clear understanding of what is expected of them – and by when.
Be attentive to your team
The increased workload synonymous with crunch time isn’t the only risk factor for workplace burnout. When everyone is working at maximum capacity, it’s easy for employees to feel isolated – especially if they’re lacking the right support.
As their manager, you need to be aware of what’s going on in your team. Your development staff may be working well beyond their contracted hours to make sure a project is released on time. Closely monitor individual team members and be aware of their workload.
- Are they managing their time effectively?
- Are their deadlines still realistic?
- Have they gone above and beyond to meet your project goals?
- Can any tasks be re-assigned to make their workload more manageable?
Make sure you’re not too hard when things don’t go well. Ordering in dinner when your team is working late or organising taxis to save a late night commute can make it easier for people to focus on their individual tasks, keep morale high and prevent stress levels from becoming unmanageable.
Project management tools and workflow apps may have been your weapon of choice up ‘til now – and they can still be useful. But at crunch time, these tools should be used with caution to avoid your team becoming overwhelmed.
Workflow tools such as Asana and collaboration apps such as Slack can be a great way to monitor work efficiency, manage impending deadlines and highlight potential issues. But in those final days, these helpful tools can become a hotbed for panicked exchanges that are distracting and can exacerbate feelings of anxiety around the approaching deadline.
Combat communication overload with forward planning. Slack users, for example, can structure project channels in such a way that each has a relevant goal or is privatised within a select team. Creating specific workspaces will keep discussions focused and ensure staff are only included in channels that are relevant to them. Discourage miscellaneous chat or if your team benefits from having a place to vent, confine off-topic rants to a designated channel.
If you find that conversations are losing focus, firmly bring them back to the task in hand by answering questions promptly or providing offending team members with the resources they need.
Use short breaks to recharge
Taking five is crucial when the time is tight. A working lunch is one thing, but consistently skipping on downtime can quickly elevate stress levels and affect the quality of your work.
Schedule short 15-minute ‘power’ breaks to step away from your computer screen or escape the office. The most efficient way to recharge is to get outside. A brisk walk around the block is enough to get the blood flowing and help you return to work feeling refreshed.
Short breaks like this have been shown to lower stress levels and boost productivity by stimulating creative problem solving.
Reward and review
The aftermath of crunch time is about rewarding your team but also about taking stock. It doesn’t take much to show people that you appreciate their hard work but it’s not something they’ll forget.
Book a table for dinner or get creative and organise a day out on work time. It’s a small gesture in the grand scheme of things, but will also give your team an opportunity to get together and blow off some steam.
It shouldn’t be all about work, but post-crunch time celebrations can often reveal how everyone really felt about the project. Listen carefully to frank discussions to identify areas for improvement or take note of areas where your team excelled this time. Incorporate these insights into your formal project review and you may reduce the crunch on your next project.
Sometimes, crunch time is a necessary evil. But by using these key management strategies you can significantly reduce its impact and meet your project deadlines without putting your team at risk of burnout.
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