Project Management

Managing Katrina: What Would You Have Done?

Bob Weinstein is a journalist who covers technology, project management, the workplace and career development.

What would an experienced PM have done if he or she were director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on August 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans? Eric A. Spanitz, president of Synergest, Inc., a management consulting and training company in Chicago, thinks he knows the answer. Spanitz is also a professor at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, where he developed and teaches a project-management curriculum.

By now, it’s no secret that strong management controls should have been in place before the Katrina disaster, and that former FEMA director Michael Brown and other federal, state and local officials botched their jobs. Many projects resulting from Katrina suffered from a lack of professional project management, according to Spanitz. One of the golden rules of project management is to have defined and measurable goals. “During Katrina, there were none,” he says.

Most of the experts and high-ranking military strategists who played important roles in the Katrina nightmare agree with Spanitz. “Good project managers need to work with the sponsors (President Bush and whomever else the project manager reports to) to define exactly what the main focus should be on or what to do first. The process starts with asking the critical question: What are the immediate problems?: ‘Evacuate all of the people,’ ‘Set up hospital units,’ ‘Fix the levees’?…

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"Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils."

- Berlioz