What Do You Do When Your Project Becomes Derailed?

project crisis

Tips for Project Managers to Manage Through a Project Crisis

Sometimes a project runs into crisis. Things go wrong. Panic strikes. This is when good project managers lead. They seek solutions, work collaboratively, keep project stakeholders fully informed, and bring the project back on track.

Before we look at how a project manager can rescue a project that is in crisis mode, let’s look at what may have been the biggest project crisis in the world, ever.

The Volkswagen Emissions Scandal

In 2015, Volkswagen admitted that it had duped the owners of around 11 million cars around the world. It had marketed its diesel cars as producing low carbon emissions. What it had really done was cheat the emissions tests by fitting a device that detected when the car was being tested. This then switched the car into low emission mode.

The world’s largest car manufacturer – which also owns brands that include Audi, Seat, Skoda, Porsche and Lamborghini – was rocked by fines of almost US$20 billion. Its share price collapsed.

Now, you may argue that this was corporate mismanagement of the highest degree. That greedy executives had put profit before ethics, morals and legal process. You may say that what Volkswagen did was criminal. I wouldn’t argue with any of these statements. However, in the mix somewhere was a project manager. Maybe several. These project managers should have noticed the crisis shaping up, and acted to avert it.

Here are five actions that a good project manager will do when faced with a project in crisis.

1.      Pick up on the Red Flags

A project crisis doesn’t happen overnight. There are always red flags and warning signs that indicate the project is about to become derailed. Project managers should watch project stats closely, and encourage an open culture in which all project team members and other stakeholders feel free to express concerns.

Even the smallest issues must be tackled early, before they are allowed the time to develop into issues of crisis proportions.

2.      Embed Transparency in the Project Management Culture

Project managers should encourage transparency by communicating openly and honestly with their teams and project stakeholders. Project managers who communicate clearly remove confusion and empower collaboration. As problems evolve, open communication will ensure that all are on board in the solution-finding process. Clarity removes panic and negativity.

3.      Remain Positive

Positive attitudes solicit positive outcomes. With clarity of purpose and understanding and acceptance of the issue, project teams will thrive on the positivity of their project manager. The ‘can do’ attitude is critical to success. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.

4.      Focus on Solutions

Poor project managers and executives play the blame game. This will help no one. Learning lessons is important, but priority number one during a project crisis is to find a solution. This is where all focus should be. Blame destroys teams. Solution finding galvanises them.

Pointing the finger of blame breeds negativity and saps motivation.  Bring the team together, discuss the project crisis honestly, and focus on turning it around.

5.      Thrive with Quick Wins

After analysing the project issues, fix all those things that can be fixed quickly. Get people working on finding the big solution, and energise them with the quick wins. These positive steps will confirm that the team has the power to find an overarching solution to the project crisis, and ensure that all their effort is motivated to do so.

PRINCE2 Seeks to Prevent Project Crises

Of course, prevention is always better than cure, which is one of the major strengths of the PRINCE2 project management framework.

While no two projects are the same, the PRINCE2 methodology encourages lessons to be learned from each project. Experienced project managers take these lessons with them from project to project, and put in place risk management planning to identify and mitigate potential project risks. This is why PRINCE2 is so adept at avoiding project crises.

When unforeseen circumstances do occur, a competent and experienced project manger will employ project management tactics such as those discussed in this article to manage out of a project crisis – and take these lessons forward to the next project.

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