Do you remember that panic-ridden moment possibly early in your project management career when you came to the realization that a project you were managing was in serious trouble? Heck, maybe it was even yesterday on whatever project you’re managing right now. It can certainly happen to us at any time and it will happen to you again before you leave this project management life.
Maybe a project you were managing before had experienced problems – maybe even this one – but not the type where you felt you couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel… where you felt nearly all hope was lost.
If you reached this point – the point where it almost seems that all hope is lost, then it’s likely that you’re going to need to take some immediate and possibly drastic action.
I’ve found when this has happened – and yes, it’s happened to me a couple of times – I usually need to take a few steps in order to do my best to get the project back on track. It won’t always work, but these steps will give you your best chance of a successful outcome for your efforts. And it may not involve all these steps, but they can all help if they are absolutely necessary….
First, regroup. Regroup in your mind and with your team. If you’re in the middle of a panic situation on your project then yes, you need to act quickly. But quickly doesn’t always mean immediately. In fact, it’s best to ‘figuratively’ count to ten. Stop, take a deep breath, assess quickly where things stand right now and what to do next. And in 99.9% of the cases that should involve sitting down and brainstorming – even if it’s a very short brainstorm session – with the rest of your project team. Assess the issue, come up with some fixes, workarounds, action scenarios…whatever you can think of to fix or reduce the issue quickly and move forward to save the project. And try to quantify each scenario you come up with, if possible, because that will be helpful information when you go back to the project client.
Temporary work stoppage
If the problem is big enough and warrants a stoppage, then by all means halt the project if that’s in everyone’s best interest. It’s never a good idea to put your head down and blindly move forward while you’re trying to assess how to respond to a critical, potentially show-stopping project problem.
Formal meeting F2F with the client to discuss issues
Formally meet with the client to go over the critical problem or issues and present whatever scenarios you may have already come up with as resolutions or fixes to allow the project to move forward. This is where any quantifiable information you’ve come up with will be helpful, because you and the customer must now – quickly and jointly – decide how best to move forward. Any hours, timeframe, and dollar numbers you can use to make the best decision will be extremely helpful.
If possible, do a quick lessons learned session
This likely isn’t going to happen due to the nature of the issue and the criticality of a quick resolution. But if you do have time, it may be a good point in the project to have a short lessons learned session with your team and the client. This is especially true if you know for sure that some action caused this that could have otherwise been avoided. It isn’t about pointing fingers, but it is about learning and documenting what went wrong and making sure it doesn’t happen again on this or any other project.
Assign necessary tasks to get back on track
Next, make assignments of key tasks based on the chosen corrective action scenario. Build these into the revised project schedule and budget (and document in a change order if one is appropriate, given the situation). This is where we start to take quick action to resolve and making these assignments and holding everyone accountable for their progress in the swift resolution of the issue will be of significant value in getting the project back on track.
Hold a formal restart kickoff meeting
Finally – and especially if the project had a definite work stoppage – hold a restart kickoff meeting. Review the issue, the jointly decided action to take, and who is doing what on the tasks needed to get the project restarted and headed toward a successful resolution and end solution.
Not all critical problems on the project mean it’s time to panic. In fact, it’s never really time to panic – it’s time to take a deep breath, assess the issue and proactively and collaboratively come up with potential solutions…and then pick the best one to move forward with. And always involve the customer – it’s their project and we need to always work WITH them and keep them fully in the loop.