Monday, February 7, 2011

Multitask-managing your managers

Those of you who have worked through the economic downturn--and perhaps some of you who have recently been hired--may be finding yourselves pulled in multiple directions. You may be having to work on more than one project, and it's quite likely that those projects are run by different bosses or managers. Actively working for more than one person is a bit of a juggling act, and it requires that you be organized and super-professional...sometimes more professional that the folks giving the orders.

The fact is, we don't always get to work on only one project. If the projects are on the small side, you may end up being on multiple project teams. If the projects are small enough, you may be the team. And if there are several small projects coming in at about the same time--three rooms here, a 2,000-sf remodel project there--you may find yourself being the project team on multiple projects. This is just a fact of our profession, and it's a smaller version of what our engineers go through (even when they have really big projects, it's rare to see an engineer work on just one or even two projects at a time--I usually see them work on anywhere from four to twelve). If you're juggling multiple projects for the same manager, then it's important to keep them updated on what's due when and what it'll take to get each one done.

That communication becomes even more important when you're working on more that one project for more than one manager. I've been dealing with this myself in the past couple of years, but I was reminded of it by an intern recently. I'm working on a major healthcare project, and my portion of the project was assigned (for the long haul) a skilled intern with lots of design, construction, and Revit experience but not a lot of experience in my particular project type (healthcare). This meant I was going to have to walk this intern through some of the redlines so that he understood rules of space planning a surgery center or a clinic, and because we have several deadlines coming up for this project, I need to make sure I have the information he needs in enough time to have drawings ready. However, I was surprised when he had to stay late to finish a drawing we needed for an early meeting the next morning. Turns out that he's having to finish CA for another project that's running almost three months behind. Because of the urgent nature of that project, he has to drop everything and focus on it whenever he gets an RFI or a shop drawing or any other question or request from the field. So while he only spends four to eight hours a week on the CA project, it can strike at any time, which is what happened when I handed him at 10am the redlines for my next-morning meeting--the emergency pushed everything else to the bottom of the list.

When you're working for more than one manager, it's even more important to let them know about your upcoming deadlines as well as general workload. For example, you may have been under the impression that you are to divide your time evenly between Project A and Project B, but it seems like Project A has more urgent stuff going on and has more to do. When you recognize that, ask both managers at the same time, whether in person or via email, whether they need to reconsider where you're putting your time. Remember: it's the managers' jobs to decide where you're spending your time, so do your best to avoid negotiating on either one's behalf. Make them slug it out as to who you're working for.

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