Jumping into Crisis

Mike Huang Headshot
Written by Mike Huang
on August 07, 2014

1,2,3 – Jump

Every now and again, we’re asked to help out a colleague or another team member who may be struggling and in over their heads with a project.

We’ve all seen it before — they’ve been limping along, working long hours, burning the midnight oil, falling further and further behind. They’re making only modest progress when large strides are needed to achieve their goals.

This is when you’re asked to jump in and help them out. On one hand, this can be overwhelming — you’re entering a crisis situation and will have accountability for someone else’s problems. On the other hand, this is a great opportunity to be the White Knight that comes in and saves the day.

How do you best handle this and ensure that you’re on the road to success?


Walkway to Bungy Jump in South Africa

Walkway in South Africa on the Bloukrans River, one of the highest bungy jumps in the world. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

1. Assess the situation

Look at the goals and measured objectives. What are the criteria that the team will be measured for success? What has been completed to date? Hopefully the core of what is needed is in place, but sometimes, more drastic action is required to get things back on track. Understand what’s needed to cross the finish line, and more importantly, know how far you have to get there.

2. Come up with your PLAN

Did the other team get the big pieces right, but need some cleaning up of how things are put together? Or is there a critical flaw in the execution of their vision? Or is the original vision flawed? Your plan might be as mild as helping to guide the team to finish the job themselves after helping to talk them off the ledge. Or your plan might involve scrapping most of what was done and restarting big pieces from the ground up. In many cases, starting over is significantly less work, saving both time and money. Don’t be afraid to make the call if that’s what you believe. And don’t be afraid to make the call if the scope is impossibly large. Sometimes, teams are thrown under the bus because of poor decisions before or during the course of the project. Part of what you may need to do is to clean up the scope to make sure that the goal itself is achievable. What is NEEDED should be far, far smaller than what was documented as requirements. Make sure the requirements are just that — requirements, not wants or desires.

3. Enlist your sponsor’s support

Presumably, someone else asked you to help out with this critical situation. Once you have a plan, be sure that you AND your plan have the support of your sponsor. You may need additional resources, funding, or support to make difficult decisions, such as staffing changes. Most importantly, your success will be tied to your ability to execute. The lack of a support structure for you and your team could be as detrimental to your path as it was to your predecessor’s.

4. Focus, focus, refocus

Keep your eye on the objectives, and ensure that both your plan and execution are tightly aligned to what is absolutely necessary to be successful. Keep your team free of distractions, and make sure that they are working on the right tasks that will carry them to the goal.

After all of this, you’ll want to make sure that you’re not alienating the team that you’ve been asked to help in the first place. Whether the problems that the team were mired in were their fault or not, the world (and likely your company) is too small to burn bridges.

When dealing with the issue, always be respectful of the original team — acknowledge the things that they did do right, and focus on what needs to be done, not what they did wrong. If there’s blame to go around, take the high road. Even if there was malicious intent or a near criminal level of incompetence, others around will see it. This way they’ll see that you’re focused on fixing the problems, not burning the village to finish the city.