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Recovering from Disaster Through Project Management

  • December 5, 2008
  • By Michelle LaBrosse
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In today's world, when you think of modern disasters, they often have an IT edge to them. Identity fraud. Computer viruses. System crashes leading to lost data. Security breaches. Much like the emergency crews called upon after natural disasters strike, intelligent IT professionals are expected to come in, assess what happened, provide answers, and make it all better.

During a recovery effort, often a Risk Management team is called upon to assess what's happened and provide answers about what to do. Often, what is missing is the Project Management component, the "can-do" that needs to accompany Risk Management to make the strategy jump off the written plans. In terms of what positions should be involved, put on your cross-functional hat. Make sure that all key departments affected are involved, so the solutions don't exist in a silo.

Information Technology thrives on connectivity, communication, speed, and accuracy. The combined teamwork of Risk Management and Project Management can help any team in a recovery effort.

Here are seven Project Management prongs to help you when you find yourself looking for a magic wand to turn disaster into recovery.

1. "Living and Breathing" Project Agreements

The importance of a project agreement is critical to keep an assignment alive and functioning during a recovery period. If everyone is responding quickly to fix the situation but operating in a silo, you're going to find a lot of duplicated efforts coupled with many things falling through the cracks.

The more people know, understand, and act on the agreement made prior to the disaster, the more life there is in it. Obviously, if you are the only one who knows the plan, it becomes useless. As changes and decisions are made, minute-to-minute, it's critical to communicate them to everyone quickly and effectively. Don't be afraid of change. The only thing to fear is silence and not communicating the immediate goals and tasks to your team.

2. Team Dynamics Under Pressure

Even in the best working conditions, team dynamics are a challenge. In crisis mode, you have the intensity of emotion. To make it through the madness unscathed, provide a place for people to safely funnel that emotion. Is there a set timeframe in the industry on how long recoveries should take? Or, can you at least give an efficient maximum time? The timeframe for recovery varies greatly depending up on the severity of the situation, and how "recovery" is being defined. For example, the recovery from the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai may take several months, whereas the recovery from Hurricane Katrina has lasted years; and many would argue that the New Orleans still hasn't "recovered."

The platform to vent should include: ample opportunities and time to interact, the O.K. to talk openly about how they are feeling and what they are experiencing, and a collaborative goal to make it through the changes together. Validating emotions releases stress and so does looking at the road ahead, step by step.

At the beginning of each day, map out a clear path of what can be done in that day. In unusual working conditions, you may need to establish new team guidelines and protocols that are not relevant in your normal working environment but are in a specific situation.

3. Document the Recovery Effort

Every organization is as smart as the people it has and their collective experiences. Even if power and technology are not available initially, grab some paper and a pencil and document your efforts the old-fashioned way. Take notes about everything that is happening, so you can share it with your team, your industry, and others who may benefit from what you have learned first-hand. Experience is a powerful teacher and every thing that you learn during a recovery effort can hold important answers about prevention, as well as response for future situations.

4. Active Leadership

People need a leader to guide them to safety and your actions will either give them that confidence or provide them with additional stress and fear. Employees and colleagues need to see, hear, smell, and taste success; even small victories matter. If you're in a bleak recovery effort, active leadership shows movement toward goals, positive attitude, and outlook and belief that everyone's contribution matters.

5. Communicate Every Success—no Matter the Size

Recognize people's efforts and celebrate loudly—even if it's simply an authentic recognition that says "we're all in this together and we're making progress."

6. Give People Hope

Hope comes from active leadership. In a recovery effort, it's important to give people a safe environment where they can communicate and share their fears and concerns. Be a leader who can resolve conflict, come up with solutions, and give people a way to participate in the solution. Hope ultimately comes from the actions of others who move each of us to continue on a path of recovery.

7. Bounce Back

IT experts are resilient and solutions-oriented, so when you use your Project Management skills to bring calm to chaos, recovery will become reality. The healing begins when a post mortem is developed and discussed immediately after the recovery period. This enables everyone to evaluate what worked and what didn't work as well as what needs to stay in place and what should be reworked altogether. Offering this platform for people to reflect on what just happened will prevent history from repeating itself and can contribute to a new Disaster Recovery Plan for future use.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going

IT professionals are durable creatures. Always expecting the best, but planning for the worst, there isn't another industry as well-prepared for "what if's." Although much of what I just described may or may not have been brand new ideas for you to consider, it is a great list to whip out in an emergency. Above all, remember to take a breath, think first, and then get going.

About the Author

     

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun, and fast. She is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the Cheetah Success Series, and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring Project Management to the masses. To date, more than 30,000 people have become "Cheetahs" by using Cheetah Learning's innovative Project Management and accelerated learning techniques.

Recently honored by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), Cheetah Learning was named Professional Development Provider of the Year at the 2008 PMI® Global Congress. A dynamic keynote speaker and industry thought leader, Michelle was previously recognized by PMI as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world.

Michelle's articles have appeared in over 100 publications and web sites around the world. Her monthly column, the Know How Network is carried by over 400 publications, and her monthly newsletter goes out to more than 50,000 people. Her radio program, Your World Your Way, is a weekly broadcast that is an inspiring and practical look at how Project Management fuels success.






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