Emergencies Call for Specialized Project Management Skills

It isn’t uncommon to encounter challenges during a project. Teams may lose a key member, putting additional work on everyone else, or a critical material might suddenly become unavailable. These problems are relatively routine and most PMs have the experience and resources to deal with the issues without derailing their project’s progress.

True emergencies, on the other hand, present PMs with a different set of complications and obstacles than are found when a team must address an urgent (but garden-variety) problem within an existing project. Overcoming the challenges that sometimes threaten an organization on a broader scale—such as when a natural disaster hits or a facility is destroyed by fire—call for a more specialized set of project management skills.

If your team is in the early stages of coping with an emergency, or if you’d just like to know you’re prepared the next time a crisis occurs, consider where deeper project management expertise may be required.

You need to establish and maintain robust communication channels. Whenever a disaster strikes, successful recovery efforts hinge on a strong communication plan. There will likely be information flowing between the project team and groups that aren’t usually part of the process—shareholders, local first responders, the media, etc. Your organization will want to carefully control any messages that are released during this time, since you may be obligated to disclose specific pieces of information to the public, or to share data with disaster management agencies.

During an emergency, your team’s focus will be on developing a plan to get operations back to normal as quickly as possible and communicating with anyone who can help to make that happen. A project management consultant with emergency response experience will be able to assist in routing important messages and to ensure all of this information flows between stakeholder groups and the team most efficiently.

You need to manage all the critical paths and continuously monitor progress. When you’re working to bring operations back online—particularly when business units may be scattered or unable to leverage their normal resources—any lapse in the oversight of the project’s primary critical path could significantly hinder progress, creating more problems for the organization to solve. There are also likely to be secondary and tertiary critical paths that will also need to be carefully managed to ensure everything is sequenced effectively, without conflicts or delays.

The team will be under intense pressure to perform across all of these critical paths, making the need for a project management methodology with stringent project controls be more important than ever. The resulting real-time insight into the project’s progress will allow PMs to spot potential issues and resolve them before they impact the timeline.

You need guidance that’s free from internal pressures. Your in-house team will certainly have its hands full as you work to recover from the emergency, and you may still have other ongoing projects that must continue to move forward, too. Accomplishing everything on your plate requires enough support and influence to cut through the internal push and pull that often makes project planning as much a political discussion as a strategic one. A disaster response is no time to deal with business units that don’t agree on the project’s priorities or that are hesitant to assign their staff members to assist with project tasks. A third-party partner can give your team the neutral perspective needed to navigate these issues and ensure the organization approaches the recovery process under a shared project management strategy. This enables PMs to establish appropriate resource levels and get the cooperation needed to execute time-sensitive activities.