Project Management in Practice

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Tag Archives: Wellington

How do I manage during uncertainty?

If you are in New Zealand, you have probably had enough of the earthquakes. Difficulties Christchurch faced is known worldwide. In recent time my home city of Wellington has also suffered from a magnitude 6.5 earthquake followed by several aftershocks of over 5. Fortunately Wellington appears to have escaped reasonably lightly due to its rock base and higher standard of building code, due to its location on a known fault line.

How do I manage during uncertainty

I did a lot of consulting at the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) during its trying times. I saw a lot of their challenges first hand. What I had not experienced is the frazzled nerves. I always had the option of leaving, if the going got too tough. I have no such luxury in Wellington. Our office building has developed cracks in the stairwell, enough for management to be concerned about evacuating safely in the event of another emergency. We have decided to evacuate voluntarily until an independent engineering assessment is completed.

While that happens, we are in indefinite exile from the office. After the first earthquake some of the staff were locked out without access to their laptops. For an IT consultancy missing your laptop is like missing a limb. There is only so much you can do without it. We were back in the office for only a day before the continued aftershocks resulted in the evacuation. At least this time we had the opportunity for an orderly evacuation and took with us our laptops, notes, password stores, two factor authentication devices … basically things the team needs to do its work. Thankfully our document, work and incident management systems are all internet based.

The first lesson I have learned through this experience is about logistics. We have traditionally asked staff to turn off their laptops when leaving the office to save electricity. I have since asked my team to leave it plugged in and hibernation setting turned off or to take the laptop home. This to ensure in an unplanned office closure, we can be in a position to either provide them remote access to their laptop or they have it at their disposal.

We have dongles and other forms of access keys to connect to our customer environments to provide support. We are getting a second set of these from our customers and storing them at one of our other offices in a different city. When some of the team did not have access to their laptops, we switched our service model temporarily to provide advice and on-site consultancy. Many of our staff take their laptops home, so this was somewhat manageable. This approach does not always work. What is convenient to us is not always convenient for our customers, and you have to accept that.

The second and most important lesson I have learned is the value of co-location. I have stayed in touch with most of my team on a regular basis to provide direction, progress information and in general ensure well being of the team. What takes minimal time when you are together in the office takes significantly longer over the phone. Staff do appreciate being kept in touch. There is nothing like feeling left to fend for yourself to kill productivity. Lack of access to the regular work items will do enough of that.

I organised some localised meet ups to retain some level of camaraderie. Like other large cities, not everyone can make those at the same time with disruptions to public transport, lack of parking and access to central business district. Now that some of those challenges are abated, we are organising a room where staff can have meetings and drop in from time to time. What is lost in working on your own for prolonged periods is the ability to learn from each other.

While we had been working on a disaster resilience initiative, last fortnight has proved we are nowhere near there. It has been a challenging experience running a team size of ours remotely for extended periods. I have intentionally kept this post off the topic of financial impact and insurance, as my intention is to ponder the human elements in such situations. If you have experienced similar challenges and have found steps that work well, or does not work so well, I will be glad to hear.

As with what I saw in Christchurch, I am pleasantly surprised at the resilience of the team. Human beings have an amazing capacity to adapt to challenging situations.

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How do I make sense of chaos?

Snowfall around Beehive (NZ Parliament) - courtesy

Snowfall around Beehive (NZ Parliament) - courtesy

I’m sitting in a transit lounge while I write this post. I’m heading to Los Angeles to undertake programme planning for three major pieces of work we’re delivering to our clients over the next twelve months. I was supposed to leave Wellington last night. If anyone has seen the news recently, Wellington has been hit by once in a 50 year snowfall, which has unravelled my travel plans. As I sit here in the lounge and kill plenty of idle time, it occurs to me, actually this is not too dissimilar to projects and programmes. How you may ask … read on.

If you think about it, going to LA is not really a task, it is an activity undertaken to achieve some outputs (planning for the programme of delivery). Any time you travel, one of the risks you must take into account is disruptions. In effect, it is just a project risk that I need to take into account. The fact that weather was going to be marginal, wasn’t obvious at the time of planning. However, as the travel was nearing, it was looking likely that I needed to actively monitor the risk and set out some responses. In order to transfer some of the risk, we had purchased travel insurance (corporate). At the same time, I was thinking of mitigation plans, in case disruption happened.

It appeared everything was on track, until about an hour before my flight out of Wellington. A sustained period of heavy snowfall whitened the runway and Air Traffic Control had closed all landings and take-offs. I knew I had no chance of catching my connecting flight out of Auckland even if the runways were opened again. I was straight on to the reservations to ensure I was first to get re-booked on to connecting flights for the following day. I also wanted to mitigate a further risk of not making the connecting flight again, thus rendering the travel less beneficial. This time, I ensured I took an earlier flight to Auckland, allowing me plenty of opportunity to re-book if necessary.

All done, it is now time to head back home for the night. As I come out, gale force southerly were lashing outside. There were thousands of people queued and not a shuttle or taxi in sight. I had to make a quick decision, to ensure I got home in time to get a decent sleep, so I could start my travel again in the morning. I decided to hire a rental car for the night and head off. This is no different to projects, where you have to take decisive action to ensure success.

All the planning that I do for projects and programmes, is to ensure that I don’t have to wade through this amount of chaos 🙂 Wish me luck.

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