The project manager's role in economic recovery

In the aftermath of disasters like Hurricane Katrina and tragedies like 9/11, we see the power of the human spirit. In the face of devastation and destruction, people still want to get things done. They want to rebuild. They want to re-energize their communities. They want to be the project managers of their world.

The recent crisis on Wall Street and its impact on Main Street got me to thinking about project management's role in this economic recovery -- not for government wonks and pundits, but for people like us who are working in companies of all sizes, sometimes even for ourselves. We are all engines of the economy, so how effectively we use project management at this time matters a lot.

During recovery efforts, there's always a lot written about risk management. But the execution of a risk management plan is where project management comes in. Project management is the engine of recovery because it's the place where the strategy jumps off the paper and gets into the fabric of every day.

Let's look at these key tenets of project management and see how they are especially relevant to IT professionals today:

1) Project agreements can't be carved in stone

During a crisis, documentation is even more important than normal. Think of your project agreement as living and breathing and ready to change with the pulse of the times. The more people there are who know it, understand it and act on it, the more life there is in it. If you are the only one who knows the plan, it will suffocate. Change becomes a minute-by-minute reality during volatile times, so communicating those changes to people as quickly and effectively as you can is critical. Don't be afraid of change. The only fear is silence and not communicating the immediate goals and tasks to your team.

2) A crisis can bind a team

Even in the best working conditions, team dynamics are a challenge. In a crisis, emotions intensify. The good news is that in a crisis, people discover a shared purpose, which gives them a place to funnel that emotion. The project manager should give people a clear goal that they can be committed to, opportunities to interact, and the freedom to talk openly about how they're feeling and what they are experiencing. These steps will do a lot to relieve stress. Every morning, map out a clear path of what can be done that day. You may need to establish new team guidelines and protocols that make sense in the crisis even though they were irrelevant in normal times.

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3) Successes and failures both impart lessons

Economic slowdowns often put managers in the position of trying new approaches, systems and procedures. Anytime you set off into unexplored territory, take detailed notes. Then, when the dust settles, you'll have a record of what worked and what didn't.

4) Contributions must be recognized

People need to see, hear, smell and taste success -- even small victories matter. A key to moving toward goals is to demonstrate that everyone's contribution matters. Communicate every success, no matter the size. Recognize people's efforts and celebrate loudly -- even if it's simply a rowdy cheer that says, "We're all in this together, and we're making progress."

5) People need hope

Hope comes from active leadership. Be a leader who can resolve conflict, come up with solutions and give people a way to participate. Hope ultimately comes from the actions of others that move each of us to see the possibilities of every challenge.

As I've watched the news in the last few weeks, I've been struck at how project management matters now more than ever. It's time to get in touch with the inner project manager in us all and do our part to rev the economic engine with our own passion and productivity.

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, is the founder and CEO of Cheetah Learning and author of Cheetah Negotiations and Cheetah Project Management.