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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

On Emergencies

Meade Rubinstein’s post about lessons for project managers inspired me to write a bit more on emergencies which are a tiny point on mindmap in the post.

The thing Meade brings is “if everything is an emergency, there are no emergencies.” Assuming you treat emergency with highest possible priority you end up with having one priority. You can call it the highest one. But it’s the lowest one too.

Typically “everything is an emergency” happens in two situations:

• There are serious organizational problems which negatively affect everyday work including quality, punctuality and communication. When first emergencies appear effort is put to clear things up at cost of putting other tasks aside. This results in other emergencies appearing more and more often. You end up in constant firefighting mode leaving virtually no time to straighten the most important things.

• Management treats every task they assign as the highest possible priority
even if importance of the task is non-existent. This is usually connected with letting things lie on management’s desks for weeks waiting until deadline approaches and then pushing them to the team. Those management-generated emergencies quickly affect everyday work and it ends in situation similar as above.

Actually no matter which story is yours it sucks. While situation when everything is an emergency can happen gradually in a series of easy steps unfortunately they forgot to implement an easy rollback procedure here. Actually the most successful tactic I know of is to create small oasis of normality which shouldn’t be destroyed even when hard time comes. These oasis should systematically take over specific task from “chaos” teams but only at a rate which allows them to keep doing quality work. This should allow to reduce a number of emergencies and to create another oasis. And so on.

Unfortunately with no support from management you will never get rid of all unnecessary emergencies but you should be able to keep them at reasonable level.

in: team management

2 comments… add one

  • Mark November 24, 2008, 12:41 pm

    I’ve actually found myself working in both of those situations between two different jobs.

    Any suggestions on detecting this “style” of management when speaking to a hiring manager? I’d like to not be in that situation again.


  • Pawel Brodzinski November 25, 2008, 2:16 am

    Unfortunately it’s hard to judge whether hiring manager tells you the truth or not. The only reasonable method to know before being hired is to cross-check it with someone who already works in the company, but it works only if you have a friend there already.

    I worked for a company which suited to both models and to be honest I don’t see how I could verify them. However if I’d had a second chance I’d have left them after 3 months. I’d have spent these months checking how things really looked like instead of putting all my energy in fixing first flaws I saw.

    If you dig deep after a couple of months you should know what is the reality and what was a wishful thinking of hiring manager. If they differ too much, well, maybe it’s time to go.

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