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How to Keep Projects on Track When You're Away—7 Essential Steps

When it’s your job to see that a high-stakes project is delivered on-time without drama, you can’t let anything get in the way—not even your well-deserved vacation!


So, how do you ensure the project stays on track, the stakeholders remain happy, and no detail is left undone while you’re away?


Since that one time years ago when my vacation bliss was interrupted by a missed detail, I’ve learned to follow seven steps that keep the project on target AND let me fully disconnect so I can get the rest and relaxation I’ve earned.


Vacation Interrupted…


I was relaxing on the beach in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. The weather was absolutely perfect, the ocean was warm and wonderful, and I was in my happy place!


Leading up to this vacation, my job as a project manager had been especially intense. My company was in the process of relocating, and all my coworkers and I were stressed about possibly moving or having a worse commute.


The project I had been leading was complicated with lots of moving parts, and while we were finally in the home stretch, we weren’t quite over the finish line yet.


I was giddy with anticipation of a vacation from the mental and emotional load of my job. A whole week away from work on a beautiful beach!


As I lay basking in the sun, my relaxation was suddenly shattered by the jarring buzz of my cell phone. Worse, the caller ID displayed the name of my employer!


A member of my project team was calling and she was in a panic! The conversation went something like this:


"I’m so sorry to bother you on vacation, but we really need your help! We have to send the files to print today or we will miss our deadline for the event! But I was just reading over them one last time and I found a big mistake in the copy! The graphic designer is out of the office today. He’s the only one with access to our files who can fix this but he’s not answering his phone. You’re the only person who can help. Nobody in the office knows what to do!”


Better luck next time


The conversation to troubleshoot the problem and determine next steps only took 15 minutes, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it for hours.


I thought I had set up my team to keep the project rolling while I was away, but clearly I hadn’t. I needed to revisit my process.


Analyzing where things went wrong, I immediately implemented these seven steps to prepare for vacations—and I haven’t been interrupted since!



7 Steps to Keep Projects On Track While You’re Away


  1. Communicate and cover responsibilities. As far in advance as possible, communicate with your project team the dates that you’ll be out of the office and arrange for someone to cover your key responsibilities.

  2. Identify key milestones and tasks. Review the schedules for all of your projects and note which tasks or milestones need to occur during your time off.

  3. Update and reassign tasks. Open up your task tracking tool and assign the new person responsible for the tasks, making sure to add context and clarifying comments within each one so they know exactly what to do. Include links to necessary documents, your PM software tool, and even Slack conversations. Be sure the person covering for you has access to all the necessary project files and PM tools. (This is where I went wrong in the above example!) Often you will need to update your permissions to give someone else access to edit your files.

  4. Delegate meeting leadership and note-taking. If someone will cover project meetings for you, be sure to confirm who will lead and who will take notes. Ask the notetaker to add new action items from the meeting to your PM tool so you don’t miss any tasks when you return.

  5. Set stakeholder expectations. Communicate with your stakeholders that you will be away. If any milestones or deliverables will be hitting while you’re out, let your stakeholders know who they can contact in your absence. Be sure to clearly set your stakeholders’ expectations regarding your vacation. For example, you might share something like this, “I will be away on vacation from June 10-17. I will not be attending project meetings or checking email or Slack during this time. Please contact [Team Member’s Name] if you need anything while I’m away.”

  6. Leave clear instructions for the team. Before you leave for vacation, send a detailed email to the person who will cover for you. Clearly write what you need them to do while you’re away. Recap the project activities that need to occur. Make sure you link to the schedules, plans, contact info, and documents they might need. Ideally, you should also meet with them to review the details together to ensure they understand everything clearly and have the opportunity to ask questions before you leave.

  7. Set up your out-of-office email responder. Make sure your auto response includes the dates you’ll be away and who to contact in your place. Now, go enjoy your vacation!


Delivering projects on time and on budget is the ultimate goal of every good project manager. And we can’t let anything—not even our well-deserved vacation—get in the way.


With proactive forethought and communication you can set your team up for success and safely ensure you won’t be needed while you’re gone.


What steps would you add to this list?

 

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