At some point, you are going to get it wrong. So wrong that you can’t just roll with it, reschedule it, or bring in someone to fix it. It may be despite your best efforts or because you made the wrong assumptions or because you were hungover when you made the call. But everyone has a time when plans go to hell.
You’ll want to figure out how you got things so wrong. But figuring that out will take time & introspection, which you probably won’t have time for when things go bad.
Here are the moves to make before you grab the phone, the bottle or your car keys to try to escape. You may not be able to get everything back, but this approach will help you fully gauge your losses and make plans with a realistic chance of success.
Figure out what you’ve lost
Try to be as detailed as possible about understanding what the cost of your mistake is. Did you lose a week? Did you blow your budget? Is one of your employees going to be wearing a hook for the rest of their life?
Once you know what you’ve lost, then you can figure out how to get it back or find a substitute.
Figure out what you can salvage
On your first pass, things may look completely hopeless but you’ve probably got some things that you can keep. Look for documents that are still relevant, milestones that can still be reached, budget that you may be able to recoup by requesting refunds or credits.
Any pieces that you can reuse are a win. You’ve just reduced your losses and given yourself more to work with.
Audit what you’ve got left
Basically, you need to be brutally realistic about the value of your assets.
Some things won’t be worth retaining because they are really crap in disguise or they are not going to work with your new situation. Throw out old quotes for time or money, re-examine spec sheets (e.g. Software Requirements, Material Estimates) to make sure they are still realistic, don’t take for granted that your current team is still going to be viable.
Come up with 2 scenarios for rebuilding what you lost
- Scenario 1: What can you get done with what you’ve got left? If no new resources become available and you still have to deliver, then what can you realistically get done? Be extremely conservative and DO NOT assume you can complete 100% of requirements. Shoot for 70%.
- Scenario 2: What if you can get more time, money and people? This is your ideal scenario, but may not be such a long-shot depending on the project. Some things have to be done a certain way and you will get the resources (though you may not keep your job after you’re done).
Make a careful plan of what you need to do. Check it, double check it, then send it to someone you trust. Put together updated estimates of everything.
Tell Everyone, Everything
This is the part that will hurt the most. No one likes to be wrong and especially not when the stakes are high. But you are going to need all hands on deck and a lot of help to come back.
Tell your team what’s going on and let them give you their honest feedback. They probably know details that you don’t and they may even be able to provide some good news.
Tell your stakeholders what’s at risk. They will likely give you the most stress, but you are working for them, so deal. This is a good time to re-ask about their requirements and try to do some prioritization. If you can re-arrange deliverables with them, then that may be enough to get you through this.
Tell your champion what they need to know to cover their butt and get you the resources you need. If they feel like you are being straight with them, then they are more likely to fight for you. Of course, they may just throw you under the bus, but you have to assume the best. Make sure they know what you’ve lost and what the larger implications are. Give them the firmest numbers and dates you can.
Go Home or Take a Long Lunch
At this point, you’ve done everything you can to get back on track. You’ll likely field a lot of emails and meetings over the next few hours, days, weeks so take a breath and recharge your brain. You want to let the stress levels go down and put some distance between you and the situation for a bit. You may even find some new hopes if you do this right.
Depending on the size of your mistake, you may lose your reputation, your promotion or your job. But if you take these steps, then you’ll be able to get the project back on track. It might be small consolation to your personally, but it will mean a lot to your organization.
Featured Image from FunnyJunk