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Crisis Management for PMs

Crisis in a project is the situation which makes the project very much unstable and makes the people of that project in panic. The main fear factor is to lose the project. It affects individuals, groups and the whole project stakeholders starting from the client to vendors. This crisis occurs due to serious problems occurring in the project. Sometimes it becomes a turning point for the whole project if it is not handled properly.

As a responsible project manager, it's his/her responsibility to handle the situation calmly and take the necessary steps to save the project. A true project manager is a person who stands with the team during this time of high pressure and motivates them so that the project will come back to the original or smooth state. Project managers have to be very cautious about the risks which may cause any type of crisis during the project.

A project manager has to be very proactive every time.  It's the responsibility of the PM to make sure to understand the early signs of any disaster coming towards the project. PM has to anticipate a few things beforehand to take preventive action. It means that a PM should always have a plan B to work on that situation. In case the team is already in crisis due to miss of the early signs, the PM has to do a root cause analysis about the crisis.

As mentioned earlier, the PM should be very careful about the early signs of any crisis. Somethings he/she has to think about the big challenges coming unexpectedly during the course of the project. The challenges which cannot be solved during a shorter span of the project life cycle may lead to a crisis of project failure. In order to avoid this, PM has to minutely observe each and every pattern of the symptoms going on, inside the project.

There should be a proper crisis management team to handle any kind of situation in the project. Although it’s the responsibility of the PM to be on the top of every crisis for the project, still all the internal supporting teams for the project should be aware of this situation. The PM has to inform this and seek necessary help as and when it is necessary.

Finding the root cause is another step in handling crisis management. Once the root cause of the crisis is identified, the estimation has to be done to find out how much time and resource it will take to control the crisis so that it will not spread further. If the root cause is not found and the crisis happens in the backend unnoticed till the end of the project it causes a disaster but if the crisis can be detected at the early stages of the project it can be stopped from further spreading and damaging the progress of the project.

The project team should be communicated properly and discussed for the course of action. They should not be pressurized unnecessarily to handle the situation. They must be guided with the next steps with optimism to avoid the crisis. During the crisis, the team must be calm but in a mood of a serious action plan. If the team comes in a panic situation during this time, it commits some mistakes which makes the situation worst and the crisis increases. A PM has to be very cool and optimistic during this situation, he/she has to keep his emotions and anger in control too ,to motivate the team to do a correct action. PMs in panic mode can never a good motivation and direction to overcome the crisis.

Getting very realistic with the situation and updating the true status of the project to the stakeholder is very important. Never gives a false promise to the stakeholders, specifically customers to complete the project. Tell them the exact scenario of the situation and let them know the steps you have taken to overcome this and what is the deadline for the same. It is also necessary for the PM to update the same details with the senior leadership of the organization and discuss with them about the necessary steps to be taken. Highlighting them with the current project problems will help in managing the crisis early and before time.

Any crisis during the project teaches a lot of lessons to the PMs as well as team members. As every lesson is important for the PMs to deliver the projects successfully, the PMs have to take the already occurred crisis as a “lesson learned”, and try to implement the contingency and prevention plans before the next project commences.


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Asit Chandra Dash

About author

Manager Program Management on Digital transformation, at Sapient

A professional with 14+ years of experience in areas of in Development, training, recruitment, people management, and project management and Scrum.
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