6 Things Project Managers Shouldn’t Do: #1 Overcommit


I think there’s a good chance that many of us would agree that we’re all doing more work with less help and at a faster pace than ever before. Whether that is due to an increased amount of competition, heightened innovation and creativity brought by technology and access to information, or just plain old economics pushing down upon all of the organizations, the fact is, we’re all slammed. However slammed we are, we must still be smart about what we commit to.

Your boss, her boss and his boss all expect that you will produce. That’s a given. But on the other hand, how effective will you be doing the work if you commit to doing more than is physically possible? You may be able to crank it out for the short-term, but over the long haul, something is going to give. Usually it’s the quality of the work, followed closely by your attitude and, ultimately, your mental and even physical health.

Be smart. Do your work to the best of your ability, remember to communicate, communicate, communicate to those you report to and keep them apprised and in the loop of what is actually possible. Don’t be afraid to manage upward and push back a little bit; just do it in a way that won’t cause unintended consequences.

I’m fairly confident that your boss and their boss and his or her boss will also push right back the moment you do. Expect that. But before you give in and start down the road toward eventual burnout, consider pushing back one more time in a gentle manner. I’ve found it’s all in how you say it rather than what you’re communicating that really matters.

Organizations and managers will often give you as much as you will let them give you and will assign you to do as much as you let them make you do. Learn to know your realistic level of effectiveness and the threshold where quality really begins to suffer. Communicate that threshold — otherwise you will find yourself overcommitted, unable to produce your best efforts and wondering where it all went so very wrong.

I’m not saying to whine about being asked to work hard and give your best; you’re a professional, and working hard is exactly what you are paid to do. I am saying that for all of us, there comes a point at which we will lose our effectiveness, and from my experience, burnout is sometimes not that far behind.

And, you just never know. Your boss may actually have both the interests of the project and the organization along with your long-term health and effectiveness in mind. Keep the communication open while involving and informing your managers, and you may just be surprised at what happens.

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  1. Praveen Malik Reply


    Very convincingly written article.

    We all love aroration and respect from our fellow workers. And it, sometimes, becomes difficult to say No. I think PMs should pause for a moment before committing anything.

    Praveen Malik

  2. Jesse Edwards Reply

    Nice article that makes a critical point. I’m pleasantly surprised Tim got through the article without mentioning the Iron Triangle, Scope Creep, or other classic buzzwords.