Losing head during a crisis can make a bad situation catastrophic. Without one, your ability to see and hear will be compromised. What’s even more important, you won’t be able to drink coffee. It is a well-known fact that without coffee nothing can go well. Therefore, we can’t let that happen, no matter what. Other industries have some ideas about managing difficult situations. Can we learn something from them? Let’s find out.
Managing on High Altitudes
Piloting a plane, especially during bad weather or near high-traffic airports, is very challenging. A lot of things are happening at the same time. Planes fly very fast so you have to think a few steps ahead. Stakes are high. The margin of error is thin.
Young pilots learn the following mantra: aviate, navigate, communicate. It means that first they should be focused on controlling the basic parameters of the flights (altitude, speed, etc.) Only when the plane is under control, it’s time to navigate. Know where you are and where you should be heading. When this is covered, communicate with air traffic control. There were accidents where inexperienced pilots got those priorities wrong.
If flying a plane seems too abstract for you, picture yourself in a car. Your first priority is to drive safely. You don’t want to hit another car, a pedestrian or a tree. Then, make sure you are going where you are supposed to. Only when those things are properly taken care of, it’s a good time to win an argument with your passenger.
How is that relevant to management? Quite a lot actually. Managing a troubled project is a bit similar to flying a plane. You have to make decisions quickly, and mistakes can have grim consequence. Things move very fast. Keeping your cool and taking the right action is absolutely critical.
So how to go about that?
First, ensure that your day-to-day operations are covered. Don’t leave your team without meaningful work to do. If there is a local conflict, address it immediately before it would spread. If people aren’t in good spirit, talk to them. They know that something bad happened, they may be afraid. You don’t want them lurking through job ads while you’re figuring out what to do next. Keep them informed.
Secondly, figure out what is the best course of actions and how would it impact the schedule, costs, risk landscape and so on. Think options. Use your most recent knowledge. Prepare for difficult questions. Your last course of actions didn’t work, is the new one any better?
Only when you have that figured out, it’s time to communicate the situation to senior management. When you tell your bosses that you have a problem, you’ll be immediately asked about your get-to-green proposition. You need to have a good answer to this. You’ll be most likely expected to explain the consequence of said options, like the impact on milestones, budget and so forth. You can’t just tell you’ll have a budget overrun. You need to be able to tell by how much, why, and what to do next.
A crisis is what makes or breaks a manager. If you keep your head during stormy weather, you are way more likely to keep it after the next performance review.