Issues are a way of life. But when several critical issues hit at once or we have one of those show-stopping moments on one of our projects – those are the times when we feel the most pressure…when it’s really tempting to hit the panic button or proclaim that the ‘sky is falling!’
Primarily by just learning on my feet, I’ve figured out that in order to stay focused during these critical pressure situations I need to use these three methods to effectively deal with what’s going on and work with my team toward successful resolution….
#1 - Prioritize the issues. An issue can come up that causes critical problems and a decent amount of stress on any project. But often times it’s more than one issue – a series of events or a ‘perfect storm’ of risks and issues hitting at the same time. I’ve found that in order to best handle these, I must prioritize the issues that need to be dealt with. That isn’t a groundbreaking revelation to anyone, I’m sure, but it’s so easy to start attacking several issues at once when you’re in panic mode thinking you’ll get past the critical phase faster. What usually happens is you make little to no progress and you might even create new issues.
Stop, assess, analyze and prioritize the issues. Figure out which ones need addressed first – and if any appear to be of equal importance then attack the ones you can eliminate quickly. Anytime you can quickly shorten the list, that’s a good thing.
#2 - Avoid multi-tasking. As stated in #1, avoid the urge to take on more than one critical issue at once. Too many times we think we can multi-task when we can’t. When we aren’t operating in panic mode it’s fine to multi-task – it’s actually a good thing and it’s expected of skilled, highly productive workers. But when you’re trying to focus on key issues under pressure and make progress toward getting the project back on track, it’s best to attack them one at a time. If not, you may not pay close enough attention to detail, something critical may fall through the cracks, poor decisions may be made, and you may actually create new issues that have to be dealt with by taking action without the extreme focus needed in these high pressure situations.
#3 - Avoid interruptions. Finally, do your best to avoid interruptions when dealing with project issues of a critical nature. Put your team in a war room, lock your office door, announce to everyone that you’re unavailable for ‘x’ amount of time except if someone is bleeding or dying (I use that one on my kids when I’m trying to teach them not to needlessly interrupt when I’m doing something very important). Do whatever you have to do to avoid needless interruptions. The key is to avoid those needless and/or frequent interruptions that can throw you and your team completely off track – turning a one-hour successful brainstorming session into all-day failed operation. If you don’t announce that you are unavailable – but do tell people why and where you are – and make an effort to make yourself unavailable when trying to focus on these issues under pressure and get to a resolution, then you’ll still be inviting the same interruptions that you get every single day that you aren’t even aware are happening.
We all experience showstoppers or very critical issues on our projects from time to time. Pressure situations are a way of life for the project manager and his team. But how we deal with these situations – the processes we go through to keep our focus on getting through them and handling the stress and the pressure - are often the determining factors of whether the project will fail or succeed.