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The myth of flexibility: people, projects, prostration

Adeline Teoh ed.
April 23, 2012

Dedicated project managers bend over backwards to serve the project, their sponsors and stakeholders but are rarely flexible when it comes to meeting their own needs.

As you read this, I am trekking around Australia’s iconic big red rock, Uluru, in the middle of the desert. As much as I love publishing articles and whitepapers that address various project management sticking points, I have to admit I love holidays to the same extent. I speak, of course, from a position of privilege: my role is flexible. As long as readers aren’t bereft of insightful articles for too long, I’ve done my job.

Understandably, the role of a project manager is rather different. You’re the hub of activity, the touchpoint for your team and other stakeholders, and more or less the engine of a project. While a project might ebb and flow in terms of its demands on your time, it’s a rare project manager who stops before the project outcomes have been delivered. Unfortunately, this ‘go go go’ impetus often leads to burnout.

It’s true that dedicated project managers bend over backwards to serve the project, their sponsors and stakeholders but are rarely flexible when it comes to meeting their own needs. Smart project managers are still dedicated to the project, but recognise that leaving room for their own wellbeing is part of running a project successfully. After all, if everything else goes well but you are on your deathbed at the end of the piece, can you really call that success?

Diversity Council Australia recently launched a program called Get Flexible!, which aims to make flexible work practices more mainstream. The major business reasons identified were:

  • Businesses will be sustainable and adaptable to change
  • Flexible work and careers is a pathway to gender equality
  • Talent will be attracted and retained
  • Workplaces will become more productive.

It concluded: “Mainstreaming flexible work and careers is a business imperative that will result in improved organisational, individual and community outcomes.” Reposition this in a project context and you get my drift.

Organisations are becoming more project-based in their business activities in order to become more flexible. After all, why pay for overheads year-round if a project takes only six months to complete and become business-as-usual? Ironically, however, less mature organisations do this without proper consideration of how this might affect project team members in making work conditions less flexible for the six months of the project. Matthew Franceschini of Entity Solutions outlines how organisations might do this better in ‘Towards a project-based workforce‘.

With more than a modicum of navigational skill I hope to make it back to my desk for next fortnight’s edition. Until then, remember to get flexible and stay flexible.

Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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