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How to respond to a project in crisis

7 Responses to a project in crisis

Even when a project appears to be going well, there can be a roadblock hidden around the corner. It can take the form of a minor oversight, or other times become a serious budget implication, leaving the outcome and your client teetering on the edge.

When a project hits a hurdle, it’s crucial that your entire team remains positive, cool-headed and logical. It’s easy to flick the switch and turn on crisis mode, but how you deal with a problem, your team and the stakeholders is the only thing that will keep your project afloat, ready to sail on to success.

During a project catastrophe, here are seven key project management responses to keep in mind and stop the alarm bells.

Act on the warning signs now

Some project managers will respond to a crisis once the extent becomes clear, others prefer to dive straight in at the first sign of trouble. If you’re on a longer timeline (and with a huge budget to match), then it’s best to nip any issue in the bud as soon as details emerge. While challenges can seem to come out of the blue, every disaster has a warning sign. Take notice of these early on to make or break your deadline, and identify concerns in all areas – from statistics to stakeholders. If you turn your back on the project, it will only grow bigger while you aren’t looking.

Keep the communication channels open

No matter the scale of the crisis in a project, the project manager should always lead by example and maintain open lines of communication between the team. Active discussion drives away confusion and doubt, keeping every individual updated with changes in real time. Even established team members can panic under the mounting pressure – it’s up to you to enforce a focused, positive outlook to manage stress and keep the project running.

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Be realistic and consistent

No-one likes to hear more bad news, it can kill your confidence and undermine the efforts of your team. However, being realistic about your situation is the only way to set a clear, achievable expectations in both corners – for your coworkers and the client. Every project manager should be unafraid to deliver issues to stakeholders, highlighting the depth and urgency of each hiccup. When all’s said and done, they will appreciate being kept in the loop, working alongside a professional that is reliable, trustworthy and proactive.

Stay solutions focussed

Perhaps the biggest lesson project managers need to understand is to focus all efforts to finding a solution, not passing blame. Trying to pinpoint the single individual at fault will only serve to bring the project to a standstill and upset the positive dynamic in your team. While there is a time and place to review performance and contribution, facilitating negative communication while trying to handle a crisis definitely isn’t it.

Be positive

Encouraging positive discussion and work ethic is a great start to getting your project back on its feet. If your team is feeling run down, then good feedback is the ideal antidote to reinstating progress. Don’t be afraid to back up all this talk with action – celebrate the small wins, not just the big ones. Everybody likes to be on a winning team! Channel an enthusiastic approach to encourage productivity within your team, and you’ll notice an almost immediate difference in overall efficiency.

Keep up the momentum

Above all, the client will want to see that you’re doing something to fix the problem. Without a tangible response or action to witness, every small issue is magnified and your leadership can flounder. It’s time to take charge of this project, you are the one responsible for delivery and able to spearhead the momentum of your team. The attitude of the project manager and the working environment of your team will play a huge role in turning the direction of the project around.

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Re-envision the outcome

Had a dream? Time to let it go. Well, maybe not completely, but there isn’t much point in holding on to what could have been. A hurdle can not only change the timing of your project but the entire framework. Best practice is to revise your plan of attack to take this into account and then reconvene. Getting the entire team on board is a crucial step every project manager must take before introducing a game plan – otherwise, how will you score the goals? Build a unanimous attitude conducive to boundless momentum, encouragement and enthusiasm to drive your project across that finish line.

About Helen Sabell

Helen Sabell works for the College for Adult Learning. She is passionate about adult learning and encouraging professionals to learn project management online. She has designed, developed and authored many workplace leadership and training programs, both in Australia and overseas.

One Comment

  • Gemma says:

    This is a very thoughtful article!! Enjoyed the read. Momentum is often left in the corner and not as highly valued as it should be – especially when momentum is the best way to grow your business! My next question is do you think these responses are only for teams?

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