What to do for a Project When Your Company is Sinking

The ebb and flow of business is something as predictable as the tides. There’s an old expression that a high tide floats all boats. This refers to the fact that during a high tide, there’s plenty of water beneath every boat to keep them afloat regardless of the skill of the captain. When the tide goes out it becomes evident which boats will stay afloat in shallow water and those that become grounded.

The same principle applies to project management. During good times you can have project managers running willy-nilly through a company, making all kinds of noise and mistakes and still maintain their jobs. However, during those tougher times is when those Project Managers quickly begin to sink and disappear under water.

That’s good for you as long as you’re a good Project Manager. But, now the question is “what do you do for a project when the company is sinking?”  Good question.  Managing projects during troublesome times are very different than managing a project during good times. You will quickly find that resources are distracted, or worse yet, gone altogether. Other people may be reassigned to different projects, priorities will undoubtedly be shifting and executives in the company will be holed up in corner offices and conference rooms trying to figure out the “next best thing” to keep the company afloat.

None of the above discounts the fact that you have projects that still need to be completed. It may be for a client that has already paid, has a contract in place, or an internal project that is part of the “game changing” plan that will soon emanate from behind the closed doors of harried executives.

What To Do For a Project When Your Company Is Sinking

Here’s some simple advice to follow that is only four words long…be in the room. That’s it. You need to be in the room. That’s what you do for a project during tough times to make sure it still gets done. What does this mean?

Think about the chaos that ensues after a company may have gone through a rough patch and has to lay off a sizable percentage of their workforce. It’s like a rock that is thrown into the middle of the pond. The pond may be perfectly calm and serene and then the rock hits with a huge SPLASH! Water goes everywhere and the ripples begin to spread out from the center covering the entire pond. In a relatively short period of time, however, the ripples have become smaller and smaller, the rock has disappeared and things begin to calm down and get back to normal.

The same thing happens in a company whenever there is a disruptive event such as a layoff. However, there are forces at work that are trying to minimize the impact of the splash and the ripple effect. These forces that are at work assessing the situation, determining priorities, having meetings, and then making decisions.

You need to be in those meetings. You need to be in the room as much as possible during these times so you know what to do for a project you may be concerned about. It may be a lack of resources, lack of funding, lack of support, or a combination of all three. However, as much as possible you need to be involved in what is going on in regards to your project. You need to be in the room.

How to Be In the Room to Know What to Do For a Project

The following suggestions are something you can apply whenever your company has gone through such an event as described above.

#1. Self-manage

If you are going to wait around for somebody to tell you what to do next, you’re crazy. Don’t take it personally, but you and your projects are most likely not a priority right now. You’re an experienced Project Manager and you know what to do for a project. Now is the time to create your own path and not wait on someone else to do it for you. Find out what’s going and insert yourself into that mix. You certainly can’t barge into a Board meeting that is occurring, but you can drop in on a conversation you overhear in the hall or follow up on a rumor that you may have heard from two or three sources.

#2. Be at the right place at the right time

Part of self-managing is that you know where you need to be and when to get your job done. If all the action is occurring on the floor below yours, find a reason to visit that floor often. If you have multiple offices, and all the action is occurring in another office, find a reason why you need to get to that office. Don’t assume that anybody in this environment is going to come to you and ask your opinion. You need to be around to give your opinion about what to do for a project you are managing.

#3. Keep your head down

We’re not talking about keeping your head down for fear of getting shot or being timid, but rather keeping your head down to stay focused on what needs to be done to move your projects forward. This allows you to make progress, gain traction, and stay ahead of the curve once the dust settles.

#4. Don’t wait for an invitation to the party

It may not be politically correct and even fly in the face of good manners, but this is the time you do need to crash the party.  If you know there is a group of people working on what you are interested in, don’t wait for them to ask you to join them. You may need to even take this to another level. There may be certain people that DO NOT WANT YOU AT THE PARTY depending upon your viewpoint and opinion of what is going on with the company. These are especially the parties you want to attend. Decisions may be made at these discussions and meetings that could adversely affect your project and you want to make sure you are in the room to speak your mind.

One More Word of Advice

One more word of advice when it comes to what to do for a project when your company is sinking has to be done prior to the tide going out. You need to attach yourself to revenue. Find those projects that bring cash into the company. Work on projects that help with the bottom line. Be associated with projects that have a high potential / low risk of being the next best thing…which ultimately will bring in revenue.

It’s too easy sometimes to get in a comfort zone of working on a particular type of project. However, if you don’t take a moment to reflect on what the value of these projects is to the organization you may find yourself one of the first ones overboard. Continually ask yourself and assess your situation and ask “if a layoff happened tomorrow, would the projects I’m working on bringing enough value to the company to keep me on board?” If not, start finding those projects that will. You obviously won’t be able to change your portfolio of projects overnight, but if you consciously make those decisions you will be in a much better situation when those tough decisions have to be made.

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