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It’s June! And you are likely to have vacation plans as the weather warms up and we enter the summer holidays. As a project manager, you’re an integral part of the team, but progress can’t stall while you’re out. Here are some tips to help you keep your projects moving forward as smoothly as possible and minimize the number of emergency cell phone calls.

Update Your Schedule

Make sure that your project plan and schedules are up to date. Look over these documents for any milestones, deliverables or tasks due while you are scheduled to be out of the office.

Let your client, team members and project sponsors know that you are going away once your plans are firm. You want to make sure that other key players on the project will not have conflicting plans as you. Remember, it’s summertime for your everyone else too, but business does not stop. The best way to ensure that there are no conflicts is to tell them as early as possible. The earlier you tell them, the easier it will be for others to make their plans.

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Set Expectations

Hold a meeting with every team member or in small groups based on responsibilities. Check that all team members with deliverables due understands what is expected of them and the deadline. Explain the implications of missing the deadline.

Take a look at the downstream items that are set to occur after you return from vacation. If the people responsible for those items aren’t equipped with the right information or tools, make sure that changes as soon as possible. The best case scenario for any project is that it moves ahead of schedule. That possibility still exists even when you are on vacation. You want to ensure that individuals that have downstream items are able to keep things moving along if this were to happen.

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Conduct a Handover

Select one person to handover your project to. This person can be someone else on the project team or a fellow project manager who can keep folks on track while you are away. Provide this person with your most up-to-date documentation. Walk them through all the major milestones and deliverables. Explain what these items should look like if this person is not familiar. Provide them with the major stakeholder names and an alternative contact (such as the account manager or project sponsor) should a crisis occur.

If you’re working on multiple projects with vastly different teams, it might make sense to select multiple people to assign coverage to. If this is the case, I find it helpful to also designate one additional person who has a list of coverage contacts for all projects. This person can act as a traffic manager should communications be misdirected or random inquiries come through.

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Customize Your Out of Office Message

Don’t forget to set up your email client’s auto response! With all the preparation at work and in your personal life that goes into leaving for vacation, it can be easy to forget the most basic things.

I learned this the hard way a few years ago. I was so frantically trying to get everything done and leave the office on time, that I completely blanked out. When I remembered, I had already embarked on my journey without my work computer. I was at the airport and in a hurry to make my flight, I put the wrong return date in my message.

So while this sounds like a no brainer, I’m going to repeat the best practices of setting up an out of office message in hopes that no one will commit the same faux pas as I did.

  1. Be specific about the dates you will be away.
  2. Set expectations by stating your accessibility during this time.
  3. Include a point of contact for urgent requests. This person should be the same as the “traffic manager” I described above, if you have one.
  4. Change your voicemail. I know this sounds onerous, but it is an additional safeguard so that nothing gets dropped.
  5. Set a reminder to change your out of office messages on the first day you are back. Many email clients include a feature to specify when the out of office message should be shown, so you can often take care of this as you are setting things up. If it doesn’t make a note of it along with a note to revert your voicemail greeting.

What other holiday preparation rituals do you have?

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