How to Lead in Constant Chaos and Fire Drill Mode

dfIt’s the classic game of hot potato in corporate, where you are on a project, your role and activities are clearly defined yet predictably everything becomes a fire drill and your bandwidth suddenly maxes out overnight. Inevitable finger pointing runs wild for ownership as target dates loom near. All hands on deck, sure you’re an adaptable player, but which way do you turn when you don’t know what you don’t know?

How Fire Drills Happen

A group kickoff occurs without a hitch. Milestones are set and smooth sailing is enjoyed for a time. Requirements have been locked down. Check. Resources are allocated. Check. Meetings are held where bread is broken. The team is pumped and the project moves full steam ahead.

Yet despite the best laid plans, you are strongly encouraged to drop everything you were working on due to an unforseen show stopper. Something was missed, key decisions have been reassessed and the project takes on a new direction. Your “green” milestones are suddenly behind schedule and you’re in crunch mode strongly invited to “get the job done” with a smile.

This predictable project cycle is based on similar recurring patterns which crop up in almost every organization.

· There are meetings held without all the necessary key project leads in attendance.

· Requirements are changing on the fly and last minute.

· Key considerations are not fully thought through.

· Breaking from target dates are not acceptable but squeezing in more with less is acceptable and woven in as part of the company culture.

How to Lead during a Project Firestorm

· Establish clear communication lines with the core team by scheduling daily stand-up meetings under 30 minutes. Mornings are usually best to set the tone and direction for the day. Suggest open office hours for senior project leads, to keep their communication channels open for everyone.

· Take a “Help me, to help you” stance. You can adapt as long as you open up on conflicting priorities. Ask your manager what should fall to the side and what should take precedence. Educate him/her of what should inevitably be compromised by the swift change in course so they have all the facts to give you the best guidance.

· Limit the number of chefs in the kitchen. One person should take ownership for each functional area. If the team is too large, establish sub-ownership of certain roles within that framework so everyone is clear on their own responsibilities. This keeps everyone motivated with their own stake in the ground while still remaining a contributing key players to the project as a whole.

Fall back to the proven 80/20 rule. The majority of your results as a team will come from 20% of your efforts. Should circumstances quickly turn Code Red, all bets are off. Call a meeting where everyone clarifies the absolute minimum they see needing to get accomplished in order to make the project

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