Crisis builds confidence

It's a shame how many projects approach a crisis point when the timing of critical outcomes is at risk. Too late to point out that this could always have been avoided—impending crisis has to be recognized and handled with stout hearts and brave decisions.

Picture the scene—a major integration of an acquired business into the acquirer's operations. The company's day-to-day work was 100% dependent on efficient systems, so any compromise on quality would impact the customer, revenues and margins.

The work had begun many months earlier in an atmosphere of excited trepidation. A slow start—always a threat without robust launch measures—had morphed into a feeling that there would be plenty of time to get the work done. One year later, the target date was fast approaching and the mood was that the date would be missed, at considerable cost to the business. And to everyone's reputation.

By the time I was called in to assess the alternatives, it was clear that the mood was one of impending crisis. Three days in, I went into the CEOs office with a big smile. "Crisis is the best opportunity we have!"

The CEO raised an eyebrow—"Run that by me again."

I proposed that our prospects made the situation much simpler:

  1. Were we willing to go all out to avert the crisis? Given the alternative, will we make this job #1?

  2. If we decide that this was priority #1, distractions and excuses would immediately evaporate.

  3. Did the plan include ANY optional work—wants but not needs?

  4. Were there any constraints we must observe other than date and customer impact?

  5. Can we have two weeks to come back with a renewed plan on these terms?

In the course of our 5-minute conversation, the CEO's posture went from defeatist to optimist. She later told me that was the best 5-minutes of her year. "Consider this as job #1—I'll deal with consensus. What do you need to make it happen?"

The new plan was approved within two weeks. We said we could make the original target date.

And we did.

This project had over 100-contributors, a good percentage of the company. I've never been prouder of the team spirit that made it happen.


The next time you're facing a project crisis, check yourself in the mirror and take 5 minutes to consider the 5 questions above. Then check yourself in the mirror again.

Notice any change?

Now go make that confidence infectious. ... and if you missed these related articles, go back and take another look:

When optimism just delays disappointment

Introducing WAgile—your new balance between confidence and uncertainty

Don’t fail at the first hurdle

Minimal Effort Means Avoiding

Work 6 Steps to avoid painful projects