Unless you live in a happy fantasy land (and if you do, please send directions so I can go there too), you’ve worked on a project that has had at least one “fire” emergency.  It could have been that the server went down right after a website launch.  Maybe the catering company didn’t show up for your major customer event.  Or a critical co-worker unexpectedly quit, stopping your entire team dead in its tracks.

Fighting fires is a natural occurrence on any project.  Life rarely goes according to plan, and just like Murphy predicted, when the project goes to pieces, it usually goes with a bang.

Many project managers pride themselves on being able to handle these fires in a quick, professional manner.  They love feeling like Superman, who can step in and save the day.  It makes them feel like they’re “doing their job,” and the rush of disasters can create a sense of immediacy and importance.

What these managers don’t realize is that the fact that a fire occurs should be cause for concern.  Although you may get a rush from being able to step in and save the day, it does not come without a cost – delayed schedules, frantic co-workers, or wasted efforts.

So yes, you should expect fires, but you should not bask in the flames.  Instead, know that although many fires cannot be prevented, they can be anticipated and lessened.  This is what “worst case scenario” planning is all about – thinking about extreme situations that could halt your project and what you can do if they occur.  Nipping these problems in the bud before they flare can save your team a lot of unnecessary drama.

-Deborah Fike

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