How to Plan In Difficult Times

tomorrow never comes for the hard-working project manager

The evolution a new company goes through is a funny thing. A company usually starts with nothing more than a good idea and a whole lot of energy from just a few people. This ‘good idea’ turns into a great idea and people start buying the product or service. The next thing you know more people are added to the company, small groups with their specialties begin to emerge (such as sales, marketing, accounting, IT, etc.) and departments begin to be established. Tools and techniques get put in place, processes are honed and they invest in an online project management system.

Then something strange happens. These departments that started from the same ancestry…the small group of highly energetic people, now, oddly enough, begin to work against each other. It’s not intentional, it’s just what happens as a company grows and resources are strapped.

Sales begins to throw Services under the bus. Finance points the finger at Account Managers about why they can’t collect money. The Call Center blames the Product Management team for making such a crappy product. Product Management blames the project management software or team for not keeping the deliverables on track, etc. etc. etc.

It’s not a foregone conclusion that this will happen in every start-up company, but I’ve seen it happen enough to realize that there is a pattern in there, somewhere.

How to Plan Like There’s No Tomorrow

I’ve been around a number of companies that start out on fire and begin their asproject managers know to plan with an eye on the immediate needscent toward success. They begin to hire engineers, testers, project managers, product managers, and salespeople. They move into new buildings with much larger space than what they had before and get the latest and greatest in technology. And then, without warning, the bottom falls out and layoffs begin to occur. Everything comes to a grinding halt as people assess their situation and try to figure out what to do next.

Layoffs are miserable, especially when there are a lot of people that are affected. Whether it’s a huge corporation or a small company, planning becomes challenging during these times. It will also help to keep the following illustration in mind when faced with such a challenge.

Why the Old ‘Toss the Rock into a Pond’ Analogy is Still Valid

Have you ever thrown a rock into a glassy lake or pond? There’s not one shred of wind or disturbance on the surface of the lake. It is totally calm and uninterrupted. Everything is at peace. You then pick up a rock and hurl it out as far as you can. What happens? There’s a huge splash as the rock enters the water and begins to sink. The force of the rock displacing the water causes ripples across the entire surface of the previously calm lake. The ripples are bigger than you would expect and reach farther that you would imagine…all the way up to the shore.This disturbance relentlessly pounds the shore over and over again until the lake returns to its calm status. And it will return to original state. The lake always returns to being smooth, peaceful, and uninterrupted.

a project manager's attitude is like a ripple throughout the projectReady for the connection?

Your Company is the lake. The Layoff is the rock thrown into the lake. The subsequent splash, ripples, and pounding on the shore is the fallout you will experience as a project manager once this disruption occurs. And, the lake going back to its calm state is nearly how every company, after a bit of time, returns back to its original condition once everyone has figured things out.

This is where you can play a big part of being a project manager that knows how to plan a project like there’s no tomorrow. There’s a certain disbelief that occurs after a big layoff where people walk around a bit shell-shocked. You can gently remind everyone that for those that were let go there is no tomorrow and that everyone needs to start going above and beyond to ensure the company remains viable. How can you do this? Take this opportunity to engage in the following activities as a project manager:

  • Sure, I’ll Help – There needs to be a big attitude adjustment once a layoff occurs. People need to stop just looking out for themselves and need to ask the question about what they can do to help others. You can lead this charge as a project manager who knows how to project plan like there’s no tomorrow. Offer your assistance in areas that you know were particularly hit hard. Perhaps you have resources or you know of resources that can be “loaned” for a period of time until another group gets back on their feet or catches up on their backlog of work. It may require some longer days on your part, but they will certainly appreciate your efforts in helping them out during this tough time.
  • Play Nice with Everyone – Remember the departmental strife that was discussed at the beginning of the article? As everyone’s teams get smaller and more compact, they are almost forced to play nicer with each other to get things done. You undoubtedly had some particular person that you just hated working with or who frustrated you to no end – and you would avoid them at all costs. You can’t do that anymore as a project manager because they are now the only people left that you can rely upon. You, and everyone else in your company, are going to need to use your best manners as you work through these tough times together.
  • Break Down the Silos – There should be zero energy expended on internal turf warfare and the silliness that ensues because of that activity. Rather, everyone in the company needs to focus on the one common goal that brought the company to a layoff in the first place…survival! When you understand how to plan a project like there’s no tomorrow it brings a greater sense of urgency and importance to everything the team is working on.Take this opportunity to reach across and into all departmental silos within the company and begin tearing down those walls. Ensure that everyone understands the big picture. Get rid of the finger pointing and “he said, she said” mentality that can easily creep into any company if not carefully guarded against.

Finally, don’t fret when layoffs occur. It is unfortunately a common occurrence in today’s business environment. I know of companies that have gone through half a dozen layoffs in just as many years and unfortunately eliminated two-thirds of their staff. However, the result has been that the core group that stays around is stronger and more agile than ever before. Plus, they’ve learned the skills necessary to work together and not against each other.

But, It’s Not My Job…

You may reason that helping out, getting others to play nice together, and breaking down silos is not in your job description as a Project Manager. You’re most likely right. But, if you’re worth your salt (and you probably are or else you wouldn’t have survived the most recent layoff), you understand that there are things you need to do that go above and beyond your job title. Just do it. It will make your professional life that much easier and allow you to survive the next layoff because you have learned how to plan a project like there’s no tomorrow.

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