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The Adventures of Dan the Project Manager Man - Avalanche

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?

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Comment by Dan Vickers on April 12, 2011 at 2:58pm

Hi Steve,

Thanks for your message.  In my world, all of our resources are internal so I don't have to deal with hiring contractors.  However, the pain of not having any available resources can result in difficult conversations with clients, especially new ones.  The more animated conversations are internal.  When we have a lack of resources for an important client then we usually begin prioritizing projects based on length of relationship, amount of project revenue, and the client's influence in their market segment.  The hard work is sometimes dealing with the clients that have what we have deemed as lower priority projects.

I appreciate your input and your thoughts.


Comment by Steve Johnson on April 11, 2011 at 5:00pm



I was in a similar position last year. The difference was the projects kept coming in and management would not budge on hiring more coordinators - even though I'd be promised as a full-time PM on the largest of the projects. Multiple meeting with management and they were putting profits above the project. Have you ever run in a scenario where you could not get the resource you needed and how did you handle it?


I ultimately survived the project and the client was satisfied if not extremely happy.  I had to bypass management and hire contractors which I had control of the hiring process. I just explained the extra costs on the back-end. Management was not happy, but I showed them details on why it was required. 



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