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9 Lessons of Effective Crisis Management for Project Managers

Eric McConnell
June 8, 2011

lessons of effective crisis managementOne of the things I like most of all is analyzing my completed projects to find mistakes and think about ways to prevent those mistakes from occurring again in my future activities. Such a correction of mistakes helps me be more efficient and lead my people to a perfect project environment.

Last time when I analyzed one of my previous projects I tried to follow several lessons of effective crisis management that were given to me by my good friend. There were nine simple lessons or steps that helped me avoid making mistakes in my management practice. Then I thought those lessons would help you as well, so I decided to write this article and describe 9 lessons of effective crisis management for project managers.

Lesson #1: Immediately Respond to Early Warning Signs

Before any negative event occurs there are always some sings. Your job is to learn to detect those signs and take immediate preventive actions. For example, when there is a lack of financial resources in your project your budget will be inefficient so the project work can be slowed or, worse, stopped. You must detect any “warning signals” of the budget creep, for example you can monitor daily and weekly cost estimates to find any gap between the cost and daily/weekly budget.

Once you have detected warning signs you need to develop a plan of preventive actions to eliminate the crisis situation, or at least to minimize its negative impact to the project. Usually such actions are specified in the risk management plan and contingency plan. As a good manager you must develop both plans at the very beginning of your project.

Lesson #2: Make Quick Decisions

As I said above, your risk management plan along with the contingency action plan will be the tools to respond to a crisis situation. The second lesson of effective crisis management teaches you to use both tools. But there is one more thing you should do – you need to make your decisions within the shortest length of time. Your decisions should be made quickly because you do not have time to conduct a deeper analysis of the problem. Meanwhile the decisions should be well weighted. Remember you shouldn’t act as quickly as possible but you should make a quick decision.

Lesson #3: Be Strategy-Focused

Being strategy-focused means focusing on the big picture view of your project in order to make right decisions on managing the project during a crisis situation. To learn the third lesson of effective crisis management for project managers you will need to strategically lead your team in terms of project vision, critical thinking, task prioritization, employee motivation, and timing.

Lesson #4: Never Run Out of Ideas

The next lesson you must learn is to always have at least one idea to respond to a challenge of your project. If you run out of your ideas you won’t develop a solution and handle the challenge. Having good and feasible ideas allows you to be flexible and see things from several perspectives. If you generate solutions you can efficiently respond to the negative impact of a crisis situation.

Lesson #5: Learn to Face Reality

This lesson of effective crisis management for project managers means that in case a crisis happens you must accept and communicate it to the rest people involved in your project. You should face the reality in order to make realistic decisions. You shouldn’t ignore or deny the crisis as it has occurred. Your job now is to focus on creating an effective solution.

Lesson #6: Be Optimistic

When a crisis happens, don’t panic! If you become very pessimistic during the crisis your project is likely to fail because you won’t be able to generate effective solutions and make quick decisions. So be optimistic when seeking solutions. A genuine and sensible assessment of the situation will help you find feasible work-around solutions. Your optimism will inspire the team with enthusiasm so they will be ready to follow on you and do your instructions of effective crisis management.

Lesson #7: Manage Communications

If there are no good communication channels in your project your team and other stakeholders will fail communicating with each other and you. Then, when a crisis happens the project manager will be unable to provide hope that the situation is in good hands. The stakeholders will feel lack of inspiration and enthusiasm. There will be no joint work so any solution will fail.

That’s why you must establish and manage communications within your project. Usually a communications management plan is designed to solve the issue.

Lesson #8: Encourage Others in Problem Solving

After a crisis situation has blown your project off course, you need to make sure that you get the project back on course as soon as possible. Your team can be a good partner that proposes possible ways for solving the problem. Brainstorming and brain-writing will help you and the team to discuss alternatives and generate work-around solutions.

Lesson #9: Don’t Suffer from the Anticipation of the Risk

The final lesson of effective crisis management for project manager is that you must handle risks that you have identified but you should never ignore the chance of risk occurrence. Also you should not anticipate for a crisis situation because the feeling of anticipation can cause you great pain and make you suffer before the crisis occurrence. The solution is that you must accept the chance of risk occurrence and make an outline of corrective actions.

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