Anatomy Of A Crisis: Getting From Flipping Tables To Problem Solved

Lego angry peasant mob

Photo credit: eldeeem / / CC BY-NC-SA

At some point in every project something will go wrong. A component doesn’t work. A supplier fails. A key team member quits. The design doesn’t work. The client drops the project. The team goes into crisis mode, upset at the situation and running in multiple directions to fix it.

Once you understand the anatomy of a project crisis, and know how to lead in each stage, you can quickly move your team from flipping tables to problem solved.

Stage 1: The Emotional Reaction

Even the most rational people will have an emotional reaction to a major bump in the road. It is perfectly natural for the team and other leaders to be upset about the situation. It likely means they have to change plans and there will extra work in the short-term. They will want to know why the problem happened, who is responsible and who will fix it. Fix it NOW!

In this stage, you need to remain calm and quickly gather as many facts as possible. Acknowledge the emotional reaction, particularly for more emotional people. If you don’t show that you understand how they feel, it will only make matters worse. Practice your best reflective listening skills and help the team and others affected by the problem get past this stage as quickly as possible.

Stage 2: Find The Solution

Once the wave of emotion has subsided, gather your team to start finding solutions. If the problem is fairly specific, talk to a small number of experts. If it is a problem that affects multiple departments or areas of expertise, gather the group together, clearly describe the problem with all the facts you gathered in Stage 1 and work with the team to develop an action plan. As the next steps are determined, assign actions to owners who will get it done and report back to the rest of the group. This is a crisis, so there should be no question of priority: it is top priority to put the project on track again. Set a follow-up meeting for the group to report on the status of their action items and determine next steps as needed.

Stage 3: Implement the Solution

As you implement the solution, clearly communicate the action plan and provide regular updates as things evolve and get resolved. If it is a huge issue, set up a war room to coordinate the team and the evolving action plan. Only do this if it is truly a huge issue that affects multiple departments. It is always best to keep the team as small as possible to ease communication. Once the solution has been implemented, do a quick post-mortem and follow through on any actions that need to be taken to prevent the issue from happening again.

What are some of your best practices for dealing with a project crisis?

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About Liza Wood

After a dozen years leading video game development projects in a variety of roles, I decided to pursue a Master of Data Science at the University of British Columbia. Studying data science doesn’t mean I’m moving away from leading people. Growing data science teams need collaborative, pragmatic, Agile leadership to connect data to all areas of the business. I would like to share that point of view, along with my experiences, on this blog.

View all posts by Liza Wood

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