We’ve all witnessed the scene a number of times either in person or in the movies. The troops are deployed and fighting a war in some distant land. The generals and other military leaders are back in a central hub monitoring what is going on, tracking reports that are coming back from the front line and making big picture decisions to move the cause forward.
There are maps, equipment, and communication devices scattered all throughout the room. You can hear the constant chatter of people talking in an undertone processing and assessing the information they are receiving. It’s the stereotypical picture of a “war room” and all of its associated activity.
While your projects are most likely not life and death, you should consider updating your project planning software and schedule to add the tasks for setting up a war room. We’ll discuss when a war room should be included in your plan and how it should be set up to maximize the effectiveness of this concept.
When Should a War Room be Included in Your IT Project Plan?
There are a number of different types of projects and scenarios that will present themselves to you and your team that would necessitate having a war room. For example:
Your team has been working for the past 9 months on a substantial upgrade to the software product your company maintains. It has gone through design, build, and testing. All lights are green and you have now scheduled a date for this application to move into the production environment. This is a great opportunity to include a war room in your plans.
It’s important to have all-hands-on deck during such a deployment. Have a representative there from each department, group, and subgroup that is responsible for monitoring the progress of the successful deployment. They should be responsible for monitoring their own team and reporting to the larger group accordingly.
There are many moving pieces that occur during such a large-scale deployment and the opportunity for something to go wrong is right around every corner. There’s no time to pontificate about who is right or wrong during such times, but rather, focus on what needs to be done to get the situation fixed and back on track.
Anticipation of Something Going Wrong
A second scenario where it is good to include the idea of a war room is when there is a high likelihood that something will go wrong. Simple project risk management, let’s say you work for a retailer that sells a number of products online. You know the Holiday season is coming and traffic is going to start picking up. Couple this with the fact that you know there are heavy discounts and free shipping associated with this event and you have the recipe for a disaster.
This is another good opportunity to get the right people to huddle together in a strategic location to make sure that everything goes as smooth as possible. There are people monitoring hardware, site visits, bandwidth, latency and other key metrics and components related to keeping the site up and running during this potentially hazardous time.
When Something Has Gone Wrong
This is the least desirable of the three scenarios that you would need to include a war room (or the potential for one). This is when something has actually gone wrong. A risk has been realized and turned into big-time issue. Your production environment may be down and nobody has any idea of why!
This is when you pull this group of leaders together and nobody leaves until the issue is fixed. There is no higher priority that anyone should be working on other than fixing what has gone wrong.
How a War Room Should Be Set Up
There is no particular formula to how a war room should be set up, but there are a number of principles to consider to ensure a war room is effective.
If at all possible, it’s best if the core group of stakeholders on the project meet face-to-face. This may not be possible at all times due to disbursed work teams; however, if it is possible do everything you can to be at the same place face-to-face. This allows for better communication, increased focus, and ultimately better results in the end.
2. Conference Call Numbers
While the core team will be at the central location, there will be other members that are peripheral to the team or additional stakeholders that will need to know, or want to know what is going on. Be sure to set up a telephone bridge and provide them with this information so they can join at the appropriate times.
3. Contact List
This is something that needs to be done prior to a high-stress situation or crisis. Compile the name, numbers (not just one, but as many as possible), email address, and any other way possible that you know how to reach everyone. You don’t know what the emergency will be and thus you’re not sure who will need to be called in to assist. It may be an Engineering problem, or something a DBA can assist with, or a business issue that needs the Client Relationship manager to be available. Keeping this list current and up-to-date will prevent a lot of angst later when something does go wrong and you can’t get reach the right person.
4. Criteria for an Emergency
This is also something that needs to be done ahead of time. What are the criteria for an emergency? There’s nothing worse than making a big deal out of something and pulling everyone together for an issue that really wasn’t that big of a deal. You will be met with a collective sigh and “that was it?” from those who have been unnecessarily dragged out of bed to assist. The opposite of this holds true as well. If something really was an emergency and nothing was done about it, this comes with its own set of problems.
Compile and have everyone agree upon the criteria for what constitutes an emergency. Then, when a situation arises you can go down this list and make an educated decision as to how things should progress with your IT project plan.
5. Reporting Structure
This is an important aspect of putting together an effective war room. You need to make sure there is a clear hierarchy for who makes the call to assemble the group and runs the war room while it is operational. This is also the same person that makes the decision that it is no longer needed and that the problem has been resolved to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.
6. Communication Plan
A communication plan is important in order to make sure everyone is updated on a regular and consistent basis. Otherwise, you will end up with people calling in all day and all night checking on status and interrupting those that are responsible for making sure things get done or fixed. If everyone knows that a brief communication will be sent out every hour on the hour or some other frequency, then this will allay some of the concern and trepidation that other very concerned stakeholders may have.
A war room is not something that needs to be included in every IT project plan. However, if you work with large deployments or something has gone wrong, this is an effective tool that can help keep things on track and close the project out.
One component of a successful war room is to have the proper intelligence – good data is important for making the right decisions. ProjectManager.com creates real-time dashboards so everyone on the team knows what’s happening when time is short. Sign up for a free trial today.