Responding to a Crisis

From Project Manager 97Things

Jump to: navigation, search

Responding To A Crisis

James Graham, PMP Ta'l-Ibrag, Malta

At 3:03 pm on January 15th, 2008, Northwest Airlines Flight 1549 lifted off the runway at New York’s LaGuardia airport for the short flight to Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Airbus 320, commanded by Captain Chesley Sullenburger III, with 5 crew and 150 passengers onboard, encountered a flock of birds over Brooklyn, New York. Both engines suffered massive damage, causing a loss of thrust or power.

Listening to the air traffic audio tapes, two things stand out. First, one can almost hear Sullenburger’s brain working as he quickly realizes that the unthinkable has happened. His years of experience and training kick in. Second, one can hear the equally rapid reaction of the air traffic controller as he continually suggests options to help, in a non-intrusive way.

Over the next few minutes, Sullenburger realizes that his aircraft does not have the potential to reach LaGuardia, Newark or nearby Teterboro Airport safely, and decides to put down on the Hudson River. It must have been tempting to try to “stretch” the glide to terra firma, but this professional captain viewed the risks on all of his options and chose one that saw all on board safe.

This is an excellent example of crisis management in action.

Passengers will be comforted to know that airline pilots discuss their actions before every important phase of flight and use checklists which are developed to help them manage both usual and unusual events. This means that they are clear on the vital actions they will take, as a team, during the flight.

This crisis required the crew to work as a team, for while Sullenberger was flying the aircraft; First Officer, Jeffrey Skyles, was attempting to restart the engines to allow a runway landing; and the flight attendants were preparing the passengers to survive the ditching. Each member of the Northwest crew played his/her part in ensuring a good outcome.

If you think about your software project, can you answer ‘yes’ to the following questions?

• We have regular team briefings and increase the intensity of these before critical phases. (e.g. testing)

• We have a risk register with appropriate responses identified.
• Our risk register is regularly updated and current.
• Our specialists on the team are trained to the appropriate level.
• We have a crisis management plan, with key responsibilities assigned.
• Our crisis management plan has a clear internal and external communications strategy/plan. 

If your answer is affirmative, great! You won’t be having trouble sleeping at nights. But if not, them some immediate thinking and planning would be sensible.

Establishing clear responsibilities for dealing with crises is a good start. That is a task that can be done in advance, as can the preparation of checklists, processes, and procedures for each critical project phase. These can be incorporated in the project management plan and it’s subsidiaries, and communicated so that all the team is clear.

Flight 1549 teaches that a capable team, with well defined roles, can manage the most challenging crisis successfully.

Personal tools