As everyone knows, crisis situations can, and do, occur on any project during any stage of development and/or at any time. "Planning before Panic" during a crisis is the key to keeping oneself motivated to continue and create a successful (and profitable) business outcome.
One of my recent examples was a project with, of course, an extremely tight deadline. Having been informed of a critical path system failure on beta testing, late on a Friday afternoon, I saw a "critical situation" developing. Because the nature of our business is dependent upon so many variables, this scenario can, and will, intermittently occur even with the best of planning. Having a Crisis Management plan in place, allowed me to seize the opportunity to show my client what we could really do.
First step: Convening the Action Team- Our team was immediately contacted and made aware that their full attention was priority number one at this time. We had a challenge that supersceded all other work during its resolution.
Second step: Fill the coffee pot night and day-More difficult than I ever thought!
Third step: Guarantee the team that long sessions of meeting the deadline were at hand and complete confidence in delivering success was assured.
Our team(s) spent several days doing 20 hour work sessions; grabbing little available sleep, leading to another long day, and a little more sleep. Giving the project this type of total commitment led to the client's personal thanks and loyalty not only because of our expertise, but also our dedication and personal service. His professional satisfaction with the product led to an errorless, multi-state, 450 location corporate distribution!
The question is: How did we do it? The simple steps below outline the management technique that worked for us during those long hours.
1. Identify, define and prioritize the immediate challenges to resolve One of the distinguishing marks of the good manager and corporate leader is the ability to identify, define and prioritize critical challenges to be resolved under crisis conditions. In our case, some of these were:
What software immediate functionality must run smoothly to accomplish my clients goals as quickly and accurately as possible?
What pieces of the software can wait for another revision and are not on the critical path for this release? E.g.: Do I need a particular color scheme, box functionality, search mode, additional code or software, or can certain pieces not be worried about right now?
We identify only those issues that required immediate, consecutive and/or concurrent resolution, prioritize them, and keep the focus and work effort balanced towards those best-defined issues. Record each challenge on a work-flow or project management flow sheet. This will keep the team organized and informed.
2. Identify the Solution(s)
Make important and accurate decisions for what we need to and can accomplish with each issue. Consider the realistic abilities, available time and resources of the staff.
Always consider alternative plans or means to accomplish our solution(s). Will we need additional software or add-ons to current software versions in order to meet our needs? Will we have to bring in additional people to meet the dealine(s)? I remembered, "This may reduce any profit on the project, but I have made a long-lasting, positive investment in client relationships and my future reputation".
Plan how to meet the solution in the time frame(s) available, setting up a time table that is realistic, visible, accurate and available to everyone on the project.
3. Implement the solution(s)
Be sure each team member is clearly aware of their respective challenges and solutions.
Be sure to advise each team member of their timetable deadlines, clarifying as needed.
Deal with questions immediately, rather than wait until a later time. This minimizes costly repetitions, corrections, and time when deeper into a project. There will always be more specific questions/challenges which develop later, so this method has already relieved the pressure of "making it up as I go along".
Re-evaluate the manpower required to complete each solution. Occasionally, this becomes a real challenge as manpower, inevitably, is short, hours are long, and the deadline is fixed.
Periodically schedule team meetings to review accomplishments, goals and upcoming challenges.
Reassign projects and personnel as needed.
4. Capture My Client's Faith
Develop a "Will Do" attitude and delivery approach within my team. This is a team effort, composed of cooperative, knowledgeable and capable individuals. Present a unified approach to my client.
The "Will Do" attitude proves to my client that my team is worthy of their trust.
This does not mean I tell my clients "Will Do" on everything, even if he/she wants butterflies rolling across a green field and landing on the flower in the initial splash screen.
Openly and frequently discuss realistic, accurate and timely goals and requests with our clients throughout any crisis period. Having organized and accurate communications with clients, reassures them I have a secure handle on project challenges and goals at all times. Remember, doing this through all phases of any project promotes team confidence, willingness and organization.
Do not fall into the trap of promising unreasonable dates or specifications just to get a contract, and then overrun the project time frame or fail to deliver. This creates an environment of doubt, foreboding and resentment with the client and concerns them with the reliablility of their product.
Always make every effort to make good on clients' deadlines. Even when it is a tough haul and the specifications have changed, do your best to properly set the clients' expectations as to product delivery dates and performance.
Innovative solutions, ongoing client communication, and a disciplined, well-constructed approach to crisis management will continue to set companies apart from the others that think "inside the box". When deadlines are tough, and "by the book" thinking only slows us down, always remember there are alternative ways to succeed at the same task. By developing a repetoire, or portfolio, of challenges faced and met, we develop a faster, more accurate and successful means of actualizing our goals. These Crisis Management hints sets us apart in our competetive marketplace. Clients will return to us many times over as they gain confidence and our work assures credibility and reliability. By applying this plan to our daily management tasks, we learn to manage well during a crisis!