Panic within the project team is never a good thing. Most teams operate under some level of pressure that trends up and down depending on workloads and the nature of the current project portfolio. Garden-variety pressure is healthy, prompting teams to find new ways to increase efficiency and to focus on what’s important. Panic, on the other hand, usually has the opposite effect, stifling progress and undermining the team’s efforts. The cost of panic, is thus, very high.
Because panic impacts the project in many ways and can ultimately bring a team to its knees, it’s important that PMP®s always be on the lookout for these warning signs.
Panic has an enormous impact on productivity and can quickly snowball from one missed deadline to all-out, show-stopping terror. Once panic sets in, team members often find themselves unable to focus their energy on anything other than those items that seem most urgent (even though these may not be the most important tasks on their plate). Those activities that are still moving forward according to the project plan could soon feel panic’s effects, too, as PMP®s re-prioritize in a last-ditch effort to get things back on track.
One of the first things to take a hit when panic grips a project is the team’s morale. Panic is stressful and can lead team members to become more inwardly focused. Their communications often become less frequently and may stop entirely before too long. Energy levels fall, sometimes going into a gradual decline but in other instances seeming to drop off a cliff. Sustained panic, where problems in one project sap attention from another project and lead to a landslide effect across the entire portfolio, can pummel morale so badly that key team members may decide to seek opportunities elsewhere.
A team that’s in full-blown panic mode has almost zero chance of working together successfully. Self-preservation instincts often kick in, leaving little room for teammates to support one another when problems arise or to share resources if there’s even a hint there might not be enough to go around. The blame game soon begins, with sub-groups pointing fingers every which way. Team members subsequently spend even less effort on the project and instead attempt to save their own skins by trying to make the plethora of problems someone elses fault. Project team members who are experiencing challenges in their critical-path activities may also avoid alerting others to the problem out of fear of discipline or simple embarrassment, a situation that further erodes the team’s cohesiveness.
Panic-stricken project teams are generally terrible at maintaining strong communication channels, both throughout the project team and with the project’s stakeholders. One reason is that the team is completely absorbed in trying to staunch the tide of problems and growing stress. Another is the desire to somehow prevent stakeholders from discovering how badly the project has gone off the rails. Unfortunately, this lack of attention is typically rewarded with diminished engagement and sometimes a complete detachment from the project as end users and sponsors begin to suspect there are serious problems.
Panic causes project teams to do all sorts of uncharacteristic things, such as miss multiple deadlines, fail to alert the leadership group to impending trouble, cease outbound communications, and sometimes even misrepresent the status of particularly troubled portions of the project. Executives quickly lose faith with the PM and project team when it appears they can no longer be trusted to act as prudent stewards of the organization’s funds and other resources, and the ability to raise support for future projects will almost certainly be in jeopardy.