Crisis Management in IT Projects
The truth is that crises happen in IT projects. Due to the young nature of the industry, the chances are higher that a project will encounter some form of crisis during its course. It might be a small crisis, or a large one; even those that start out small can quickly become much less manageable if not correctly handled.
The immediate damage is often limited; it is fairly easy to repair most crises in IT projects, even down to catastrophic hardware failures, as long as the correct precautions are taken. However, more often than not the impact is long lasting, even if the mistakes are repaired.
The fact of the matter is that, in IT projects, mistakes develop into crises much faster than in other areas. Thus, mistakes tend to cost more, especially if, as is usually the case, other areas rely on the underlying IT implementation.
Avoiding a Crisis
The best solution is to try and avoid crises entirely. The problem is that in IT projects, due to the intangible nature of software and electronic data, this is difficult. Not being able to touch, feel, or otherwise sense that which is being created means that a certain amount has to be taken on trust.
Thus, the precision is in the preparation. Ensuring that the project is properly prepared will help to make sure that mistakes are not made, or are easily detected. This means that, in the first instance, the correct team, staff or provider must be chosen.
The project must be within their competencies, making sure that the number of project firsts is minimised as far as possible. So, if it is the first time that a tool is being used, it is probably a bad idea to do so on a new platform, with a new member of staff, who has never programmed in the language being used for development.
Each task in the project should be broken down into its most simple terms. This allows for direct control of progress, and makes it easier to find mistakes as they happen, rather than as the various pieces of the project come together in the final stages.
The burden of risk can be placed on a third party by using outsourcing. However, this requires that the contractor has their own crisis management strategy, which may be implemented with varying degrees of success. The recommendation is to use a third party mediator to help with the outsourcing; this removes a project first, and takes the stress away from the client.
Managing the Crisis
Even taking everything into consideration, a crisis can still occur. Rather than diving in to fix it in a gung-ho manner, there are some techniques that can be used to great effect to minimise the impact of a small, medium, or even large crisis.
Firstly, take a staged approach. Tackle each part of the unfolding crisis as a separate manifestation of the bigger issue. This can be done by first reducing some of the deliverables and scope, to get the project back to basics.
Next, try to find ways to reduce and then enhance the task by task planning – take each affected area and revisit them to see what has lead to the crisis, and then improve upon the original plan. This will work better than trying to pressure those involved into delivering on what has proven now to be an impossible task.
Coupled with this is the management approach which nudges and cajoles staff towards a goal, rather than trying to command and control. The command and control approach only works if everything is going according to plan. When the crisis develops, a sense of striving towards a common goal is more beneficial than trying to make people feel that it is their fault and responsibility.
Finally, as a last resort, there is always the 'Big Reset'. Stopping the project in its tracks, and restarting the whole endeavour is sometimes the only way to get through a big crisis. This will, of course, only work if that which has been achieved to date can be re-used in the new project.
To correctly manage crises, we can tackle them from two angles. Active crisis management takes a mistake aversion, and fix-it approach. We try to avoid errors, and fix them as they manifest themselves, before they come together in a crisis.
Passive crisis management takes the wait and see approach, preferring to put everything together and iron out the mistakes later on. Crises tend to be bigger, simply because they occur after the mistakes have been made, but less time is lost in trying to prevent the mistakes in the first place.
For many, an adaptive approach works best – trying to avoid and detect small mistakes, while allowing the project to proceed, secure in the knowledge that any crises which manifest themselves will be that much more manageable for having that preparation done in advance.