Why Project Managers Must be Prepared to Deal with Disruptions of All Kinds

Disruption is the Name of the Game

We live in an age of disruption. Indeed, disruption is the norm rather than the exception and this means that firms, businesses, governments, and individuals have to be prepared to deal with disruptions of all kinds.

Considering that project managers are tasked with executing specific projects in organizations that face disruptions, they must learn to deal with disruptions of all kinds.

For instance, disruptions can be political meaning that there can be sudden changes in the larger political system through changing of governments and social disturbances due to political events.

In addition, there can be economic disruptions wherein recessions and stock market crashes can impinge on the projects by funding cutoffs. While these are the larger disruptions that Project Managers have to contend with, there are other disruptions such as micro ones where key personnel might leave the organizations and the projects throwing the projects into jeopardy and at the same time, there can be changes to the scope and timelines of the projects that result in delays and cost overruns.

Indeed, cost and time overruns happen in most projects mainly because of the disruptive effect of several or isolated events.

Preparing for Disruptions by Anticipating and Estimating their Impact

Turning to the specific ways in which project managers can prepare for disruptions, the best recourse would be for them to prepare a risk and contingency plan wherein they anticipate most of the risks in advance and prepare strategies to deal with them.

For instance, it is quite common in large multinational organizations to have a dedicated unit devoted to risks and contingency planning wherein each project is required to submit a risk matrix and contingency plan that is vetted by the risk management unit.

In addition, it is also the practice in large organizations to color code the risks and estimate their impacts and have backup plans in place. For instance, it is the norm to identify whether key people are likely to leave and prepare a matrix that indicates the chances of such events happening.

In our experience, we have found that it has become mandatory for project managers to anticipate most of the risks in advance and prepare accordingly.

Apart from this, there is also the aspect of preparing for client driven demands about scope and cost that can lead to time and cost overruns. In this case, it is the practice to set aside a buffer of time and cost of the project so that such disruptions do not cause overruns that can result in the shrinking of the profits from the project.

The Known Unknowns and the Unknown Unknowns cannot be Anticipated

Having said that, it must also be noted that project managers cannot prepare and anticipate all the disruptions and the risks. For instance, given the recent spate of political and economic trends, it is simply not possible to guess and anticipate how sudden events such as Demonetization can be anticipated.

Further, it is also the case that disruptions such as natural disasters like Earthquakes and Hurricanes cannot be anticipated in advance in addition to estimating the impacts of such events. Indeed, how much can one estimate the loss of life and property from natural disasters that can lead to key people and even the project managers themselves unable to attend to professional duties?

Apart from this, no amount of data driven and metrics based risk and contingency planning anticipate the unknown variables from disruptions of any kind. Indeed, this is the case especially with developing countries where sudden social disturbances are simply too disruptive to anticipate in advance.

To use the memorable phrase popularized by the former Defense Secretary of the United States, Donald Rumsfeld, there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns that simply cannot be anticipated in advance.

How Technology Disrupts

In recent years, technology has become disruptive as well and this is definitely giving project managers much headache and causing anxiety. The chances of a new technology or an app coming along suddenly and making the projects underway redundant and obsolete means that such events can be highly disruptive in nature.

Further, with exponential and accelerating technological change, linear modes of thinking do not suffice and one has to constantly learn to spot and indentify risks before they can severely disrupt the projects.

In addition, the fact that social media and 24/7 news cultures impinge on the marketing and sales projects by demanding project managers in such functions to keep an eye on what is happening to their customers in real time can be very stressful.

Gut Feel and Intuiting and Sensing Disruptions can Help

Thus, the need of the hour is for project managers to think outside the box and bring in their extra edge that can make the difference between success and failure. This means that project managers must intuit and sense the impact of disruptions as they happen in real time without knee jerk reactions.

In other words, project managers in contemporary organizations must be proactive instead of being reactive and this calls for constant vigilance and being always on the move.

Lastly, the gut feel and the flight or fight impulses of the project manager would be extremely useful in dealing with disruptions. For instance, project managers must be prepared to stay put when required and take exits when needed.

In addition, they must have a gut feel for dealing with disruptions that no amount of software and technology enabled risk management tools can help.

To conclude, when disruption is the name of the game, project managers must not drop the ball and be on the lookout for disruptions and learn to manage them.

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Project Management