In project management, as in the rest of life, sometimes accidents happen, in fact, sometimes these can be more like biblical catastrophes. Everything that can go wrong seemingly does go wrong. Suppliers fail to supply, deliverables don’t get delivered, deadlines get overshot and stakeholders are holding nothing but anger and have no qualms about sharing.
If you’re a good project manager, with a reputation for a steady hand and calm head, this is often exactly the situation you can get parachuted into. The previous PM gets jettisoned and you are called upon to take over the major project crisis management situation. Of course, crisis management might not be your forte but for whatever reason you’ve been chosen to solve the issues at hand and it also represents an opportunity to shine and add to your skillset.
If you’re wondering how to best approach project crisis management, here are some tips to get you started.
Staying calm under pressure
It might seem like the most obvious piece of advice but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an easy one to follow. When entering a disastrous project, crisis management can only be successful when things are looked at with a cool head. Even if the experience can seem slightly overwhelming, approach every meeting with the decorum of a sinking ship’s captain. If you project confidence this will be picked up on by the rest of the team.
Identify what is salvageable
Be methodical about how you assess the current status of the project. Instead of focus on what has been achieved so far and what is likely to be achieved in the near future. There may be some parts of the project which are now unachievable within any reasonable timeline, this should not mean the whole project is written off however. Hold meetings with your team or specific team leaders to ascertain what parts of the project still hold value and can be turned into some manner of project success.
Time is the first thing that any firefighting PM in project crisis management mode needs. Establish how long your team requires to supply the necessary deliverables, be fair to them, the project may be in crisis but it’s not necessarily their fault, so asking them to pull a month of 16-hour days isn’t reasonable. Once you have set your new, achievable deadlines, contact the relevant stakeholders to negotiate. It’s important to balance the understandable urgency they might expect with the capabilities and satisfaction of your project team.
Don’t be afraid to change the project scope
Big decisions often need to be made in project crisis management. After assessing your project and identifying how deep the crisis runs, it may be necessary to either abandon or reduce the scope of the project. A running project takes up human, monetary and technological resources, by keeping it going you may be holding your organization back. It may be possible to still deliver value with a reduced project scope but, if necessary, it is up to you to decide to fold up the project and call it a day for everyone.
Crisis management is a situation that few project managers relish. It can be a very stressful and panicked time for all involved but it’s not always a guaranteed nightmare. By keeping calm and approaching the situation as logically and objectively as possible, you can greatly enhance your reputation as well as your skillset.