The Christmas Blues

A look at the calendar lets in a bitter truth. Christmas is around the corner. Again. Didn’t I just finish this – let’s call it a project? Oh no, I remember, I just processed this project. Both financially and mentally. And now it all starts all over again??? The first symptoms of the next Christmas blues present themselves. Higher heart rate, sweat on my forehead, fear in my eyes.

A few processes are known to me from project management. Initialization, planning, controlling, completion, full stop. And the often associated time constraints, lacking resources, critical customers or short-term changing provisions are a part of professional life. Sophisticated time management and a certain stress resistance are indispensable, even after work. So many tasks to be done: fill up the fridge, take the dog for a walk, fit in the daily sport unit, ironing shirts… and all that in two and a half hours, because then the series that you’ve been looking forward to all day is on! So what? Isn’t everything just like it always is? No, completely, and not at all. Because Christmas doesn’t mean managing normal, everyday madness. Christmas takes the crown for madness.

First of all, there are the expectations – let’s call them requirements – that are brought about by this celebration. From yourself and from the rest of the family – let’s call them stakeholders. Thanks to all the ads and Hollywood films, Christmas has become a synonym for a relaxed and happy family, perfect presents, a richly set and tastefully decorated dining table, lots of snow and the Coca Cola Christmas truck. The goal of my project, then, is already pretty well defined. A perfect Christmas. Hallelujah. Of course I want every individual stakeholder to be happy. There are some very sensitive examples. Everyone want to be personally visited or invited, wants a fitting gift (though they never say) and to be extensively informed about your private life. And you yourself want a tree and lots of decorations, suitable music, delicate food, a great mood and to conjure the spirit of Christmas, and reach the project goal one hundred per cent.

Perfect Christmas or Christmas blues?

Perfect Christmas or Christmas blues?

Reality, on the other hand, is another story. Let’s look at some requirements. A few can immediately be assessed as ‘not possible’. Even though I want it so much, I can’t impact the meteorological conditions of Christmas. A white Christmas is a game of chance that I only win, at least in my home city, every few years. Then we have the completely happy family. Simply impossible. Satisfied? Possible. Good mood? Maybe. Positively surprised? Achievable. But happy? Everyone should consider their own project. This shoe will definitely not fit me. It is tight and gives me painful blisters. What remains are the perfect gifts. Despite a punctually completed schedule, annually repeated workflows, and empirically created use cases, I am always hurrying to the overly crowded shopping centers on the 24th of December, because it’s too late for online shopping and besides, I have no idea what to buy. How should I know, when every year it’s the same: ‘You don’t have to get me anything!’ or ‘I don’t want anything.’ Don’t want anything? What sort of person doesn’t want anything? I personally want all sorts of things. Santa Clause would be busy all year just to fulfil my wishes. But okay. Obviously there are those want-less, happy people. So I make myself crazy with these slightly vague specifications through the shops and mutate into the Grinch, on the inside and the outside, more and more with every elbow sticking me in the ribs and every shop that I leave without a Christmas present. My face takes on a bizarre expression and discolors rapidly and my opinion of Christmas corresponds to my opinion of cocktail umbrellas. Bah humbug! I come closer and closer to the actually not very surprising realization that my project perfect Christmas is yet again under threat.

But this year was meant to be different. No stress, no breaking out in sweat in overflowing shops, no nightmares about forgotten gifts and no unrealistic expectations for a celebration with its origin in a small stall filled with straw and a few animals and the occasion of the birth of a child. There were no overflowing dining tables then, no madly flashing light installations of a huge pile of gifts. The three holy kings brought myrrh, frankincense, and, okay, a bit of gold. What was eaten on this night is not traditional and a stall is probably not the most comfortable place to spend the night.

Maybe we could, in memory of these holy kings, concentrate on the peaceful coming together of people – and animals – and be thankful for the wonderful things that happened in the past year. If I can even achieve this approach is written in the starts. The evening stars. But if that becomes my new requirement on the holidays, then the chance of reaching my project goals becomes closer. But now I have to bring this merry message to the people, so that all the stakeholders involved are informed about the change to the requirements of the Christmas project. I hope that my not-so-agile family can be glad that this year there will be no Christmas tree, but instead just a Christmas bouquet, no truckload of presents, but just some homemade baked goods and no evening-filling entertainment, but rather we will just be sitting together. The thought alone of this new adjustment to Christmas madness takes the weight off my shoulders and lets me start to look forward to it. In the end it is also my Christmas, so I should weigh my requirements with as much worth as the others, if not more. If there are others who, like me, are always struck down by the Christmas blues, then I recommend to look over your project goals and especially at the available resources. You don’t need to be a scrum master to define changes on short notice and to communicate them- with the right arguments one can definitely keep the team’s mood in a positive place. Simply breaking down tasks into small, simple yet important requirements makes the whole project more manageable, more relaxed. And who’s not a happy project manager when the end result is a merry Christmas?

‘If you always do what you already can, you’ll always stay what you already are’ said Henry Ford. Bettina Offenhaus, diploma of business mathematics and administration, worked as the management assistant at microTOOL and also wrote some blog posts.

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