It had been a long time since we had such a drought in new projects. Bothersome projects were getting closed, resources were being released, and the project paperwork was getting completed. A few new projects were starting, but nothing of real significance. I got caught up on training, organized my desk, and filed my expenses. I read through some project management publications and even began to plan a ski trip.
And then it started. Sometimes a single phone call is all it takes. It was Carol. She was changing positions and needed me to take over on a complex project. While on the call with her I got an email from John – one of our primary data analysts. He turned in his resignation. His last day is in 1 ½ weeks. He is on 4 of my projects. Soon afterwards I found out that an important but unhappy client had just been given a promise by one of our senior management team that requires a quick turnaround of a potentially complex project.
Within a matter of minutes I had gone from somewhat bored to almost frantic. Earlier today, I had felt prepared for the next wave of projects. Now I felt disoriented and overwhelmed. I was scrambling to make sense of my tasks and priorities.
Taking over in the midst of a complex project requires preparation and research above what is needed when a project is starting from scratch. Losing a key resource on 4 projects can cause delays and uncomfortable calls with clients. An unsubstantiated promise of a quick turnaround for a troubled client creates anxiety all around.
The avalanche of new tasks was building. Before reaching a state of panic I decided to make lists. I made a list for each project indicating the team members, their roles, and then the project deliverables. I setup calls with senior project resources for the complex project, calls with the resource manager for the 4 projects in transition, and an immediate team meeting for the troubled client.
I grabbed a diet soda, setup project folders for each project, and began to gather the information needed for each project. The moving mountain of tasks rumbled for some time but within a few weeks the tasks for each project were being managed.
Project avalanches happen. Organization and persistence are the primary tools to stay in front of the tasks. Proven processes are the lifeline that helps in times of trouble.
I canceled my plans for a ski trip and gave thanks that I was in Texas where mountains and avalanches are rare – and hopefully project avalanches are rare too.
Have you ever been avalanched? What has helped you to be better prepared?