Why Project Managers Must Master the Art of Dealing with Disruptions

The Types of Disruptions

In times when disruption is the norm rather than the exception, Project Managers must master the art of dealing with disruptions of any kind and all types. Disruptions can be technical, people related, political in nature, and strategic in orientation.

For instance, the technology that is being used in the project might suddenly change or be replaced with newer versions which means that the project planning must include contingency plans for dealing with such sudden changes in technology.

Further, key resources or people might quit the jobs midway or move to other projects which means that project managers must not overly rely on specific resources and instead, diversify the risk or spread the risk to take care of such exigencies.

In addition, in large and complex projects in the construction and infrastructure as well as manufacturing sectors, a new government might hold off on the project or cancel it altogether apart from new challenges regarding land and labor issues.

Project Managers must be prepared to deal with these challenges by making plans in advance anticipating at least some of the shifting grounds based on the undercurrents.

Apart from this, there can be a shift in strategy of the organization or the client wherein newer strategies are formulated leading to the present projects being disrupted and thrown into uncertainty which means that project managers must again anticipate or even be prepared for such disruptions.

Preparing for the Known Unknowns and Responding to the Unknown Unknowns

Indeed, when disruption is the name of the game, project managers must prepare for any sudden changes or surprises on account of the above or any types of disruptions. This can be done through risk planning and contingency planning wherein project managers budget for disruptions by factoring in as many risk factors as possible.

This is the case in the real world as well when one takes the examples of the United States Military which in its war planning accounts for the “Unknowns” that can be known in advance, arise from nowhere that are unknowns, and can be highly disruptive in nature.

Indeed, the fact that the United States Defense forces prepared for such eventualities can be seen in the way the former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld first articulated the Known Unknowns, Unknown Unknowns, and assorted risks to its invasion of Iraq in 2003.

It is ironical that despite such planning and the might of the US Military, the Second Iraq War went badly indicates that even the best plans that capable and confident managers make are often thrown into chaos and uncertainty.

Thus, this is an important lesson for project managers when they plan for eventualities and be prepared for surprises that can come from any direction and anywhere.

How Project Managers can Anticipate and React to Disruptions

Project managers can indeed anticipate some risks and disruptions if they are astute enough and if they have the necessary tools and information in place. More often than not, disruptions are unmanageable when the project managers do not have the necessary information either in advance or when disruptions strike wherein the heat of the sudden situation is such that there is absolute chaos and confusion.

In other words, the key is access to reliable and accurate information that can make the difference between responding to threats and disruptions and being caught unawares leading to problems all around. Indeed, the term blindsided by the disruptions is an apt way to describe how project managers when faced with disruptions succumb to what is known as “Analysis Paralysis” wherein their ability to react to the disruptions is severely impaired thereby imperiling the project itself.

In other words, what project managers need to do is prepare and anticipate as many risks and disruptions as possible and react swiftly to any sudden emergencies. This calls for a sense of intuiting and predicting the risks and disruptions which can only be done by what is known as “being on the ball all the time” and more importantly, “not dropping the ball” in times of crises.

This needs the project managers to have a sense of network thinking complemented by the innate “gut feel”. In other words, project managers must sense “which way the wind is blowing” and react accordingly as well as base their decisions on data as well as the “inner voice”.

To explain, project managers must learn to deal with disruptions by a scientific method of data gathering and data analysis and at the same time, trust their inner gut feeling which is the art of dealing with sudden changes.

The Art and Science of Dealing with Disruptions

This is the reason why project management is often referred to as an art and science, and hence, project managers must master these attributes if they are to succeed in the real world. An important aspect of project management is the ability to establish a “chain of command” where decisions taken at the top percolate down the ranks smoothly and at the same time, feedback and on the ground information from the bottom are transmitted to the top.

This calls for smooth handling of information flows wherein “friction free” and “unclogged arteries” that facilitate such flows are the key to success. In other words, the communication channels must be clear and free from “noise”, and at the same time, the hierarchy, as well as the network, does not suffer from people issues and other such factors.

To conclude, we hope that the discussion so far has illuminated the ingredients for dealing with disruptions and has given you insights into how real-world project management happens.


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The article is Written By “Prachi Juneja” and Reviewed By Management Study Guide Content Team. MSG Content Team comprises experienced Faculty Member, Professionals and Subject Matter Experts. To Know more, click on About Us. The use of this material is free for learning and education purpose. Please reference authorship of content used, including link(s) to ManagementStudyGuide.com and the content page url.