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How To Manage a Project Management Crisis


The best-laid projects are susceptible to issues and problems. Unfortunately, not knowing how to manage a project management crisis will lead to public distrust, losses for a company, or even further problems in future projects. Follow these steps to effectively manage a potential project management crisis.

1. Respond Immediately to a Project Management Crisis

The age of social media has made the public aware of major events as they occur, and a project management crisis must be acknowledged as soon as it occurs. This includes identifying potential warning signs and indicators of an impending crisis and designing a crisis management plan.

2. Create a Crisis Management Team

The crisis management team is responsible for the overall management and response to a crisis. This team should be created before a crisis occurs, and it must include appropriate individuals from across an organization. The key to using this team is only activating it when necessary, and team members should know where to report to and their immediate responsibilities when the team is activated.

3. Draft a Process for All Communications Outside of the Crisis Team

The project team must not communicate outside of the team without a standard process. This ensures all communications to stakeholders and public entities are accurate and reflect the most recent data for a given crisis. This will reduce confusion and ensure everyone is on the same page.

4. Make Decisions as Quickly as Possible

A crisis response requires immediate decisions, but these decisions should be evidence-based. This may include the use of metrics and KPIs from existing business intelligence tools, and a rationale for each decision must accompany all actions.

5. Focus on the Small-Big Picture

This is the tricky part of managing and project management crisis. You must focus on the overall picture of what should happen when the crisis is resolved. However, you cannot disregard small parts of crisis management.

6. Create a Schedule to Manage the Crisis, and Set Appropriate Milestones

A crisis can easily throw out a project management team's existing schedule, but the response to a crisis warrants the creation of schedule and milestones to ensure all actions are taken accordingly and at the appropriate time.

7. Document All Parts of Crisis Management Plans and Actions

Many crises will result in audits and intense internal, if not external, investigations of why a crisis occurred, how it was handled, and what could have been done better. As a result, all crisis management plans and actions should be thoroughly documented in the record.

8. Leverage the Crisis to Provide Lessons to Prevent Future Problems

A crisis is unfortunate, but it provides an excellent learning opportunity for an organization, its employees, upper-level management and stakeholders. When each crisis is over, draft a set of recommendations and “lessons learned,” which can be used to prevent and effectively manage future crises.

No one wants to think about the possibility of a crisis in project management, but it represents a real threat to your livelihood and success as a project manager. By understanding how to manage a project management crisis now, you can be better prepared to respond to and minimize the damage from any future crises you may experience.

Key Things to Remember

  • Act on a crisis as soon as indicators or warning signs appear, and always take responsibility.
  • Activate the crisis management team.
  • Do not speak to stakeholders or the public without a process for handling external communications.
  • Make data-based decisions.
  • Focus on the outcome of the crisis to ensure everything is correct when the crisis is over.
  • Create a schedule of how you will respond to the crisis.
  • Documentation is critical to crisis management.
  • Create a list of “lessons learned” from a crisis, and use it to prevent future crises.

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