One evening when I was hanging out with a small group of project managers in Boston, we got talking about how PMs seem to get ‘beaten up’ by everyone.Since they are at the center of a project, they often have multiple parties pushing them in conflicting directions and feel pressure from every side.One of the PMs said, “yup, just like a piñata.”
“A piñata?” some of the PMs visiting from Hyderabad asked curiously. Yes, a piñata – a figure, covered with paper mâché and decorated in bright colors, with candy inside. At parties piñatas are suspended from a rope and children, usually blind-folded, take turns hitting it with a stick (bat) until it breaks and the candy falls out onto the ground and the children rush to collect it.
I can certainly attest to what feels like blind-folded children rushing at me with a big stick trying to get that last ounce of energy from my soul.Project Management is often a high stress job, and that stress can lead to health risks including high blood pressure, heart attacks, and even strokes.Stress in the workplace can lead to absenteeism and employee burnout.When you are stressed it shows, and others become stressed as well leading to the plague of low morale.
PMP Zelda Jones seems to have it right.(http://www.pmforum.org/library/papers/2008/PDFs/Jones-12-08.pdf) Humor in Project Management in PM World Today, December 2008 (Vol. X, Issue XII) she writes: “If you are in this profession and don’t have that sense of humor, the most applicable term for you is ‘masochist.’”
She goes on to write: “Experts agree that daily exercise, a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and applying a sense of humor are the primary ways to counter the effects of stress. Proper nutrition and exercise contribute directly to the quality of sleep you may or may not be getting. The electronic world we live and work in isn’t conducive to exercise, and our grocery stores and restaurants are filled with unhealthy, but quick foods to accommodate our fast paced life styles. Humor may be the only stress reducing factor (of those listed here) that can be effectively incorporated into our daily lives with minimal investment of time and effort
The renowned Mayo Clinic documented the physical changes that occur when someone is laughing, and found both short-term and long-term benefits in laughter. Short-term benefits include stimulation of the organs, activating the stress response (resulting in a relaxed feeling), and soothing tension and stomach aches. Long-term benefits are considerable in that laughter helps relieve pain and improves and strengthens the immune system which helps fight diseases.”
The successful delivery of a project is a serious job, and there are serious consequences if a Project Manager does not drive excellence in custom application development.Quality and productivity must be taken seriously.But does that mean the Project Manager must be serious? I say NO!!
Before you unleash your inner jester though, a few things to keep in mind about bringing humor to the office.Unfortunately, humor can also alienate people and create a more hostile work environment, even sparking lawsuits, all of which creates more stress in the end.Check out the tips about office humor here:http://stress.about.com/od/workplacestress/a/officehumor.htm
Granted, not all of us are funny. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.
I like doing the following exercise with global delivery teams to get them thinking about communication.In this game, I ask the group to line up by birthday (Month and day only, not year!) They are not allowed to speak during the exercise or write anything down.Generally in the exercise, the PM or team lead jumps in to get everyone organized, enquiring with each person and figuring out how to line them up. We do a second iteration of the game, except this time I blindfold the PM (luckily, without a piñata!) and then have them do the exercise with each team member picking a different date (perhaps their start month/day with the company).Having the PM at a disadvantage here usually creates some laughs and it teaches the team to work together to accomplish a goal.There’s also the lesson in here about understanding the strengths and challenges of others and making sure to account for these on a project.