Project Management

Ready Or Not

David Schmaltz is a project manager in Takoma Park, Maryland.

A look at New Orleans’ emergency preparedness plan shows it was quite focused on roles and responsibilities, but had little to say about how such definitions might actually contribute to a meaningful response. Tragically, the results after Hurricane Katrina speak volumes about this incomplete approach to planning.

New Orleans' response to Hurricane Katrina was a disaster guided by an extensive, but largely irrelevant emergency preparedness plan. No doubt, small armies of civil servants, guided by the best of intentions, created this plan. And we know that no plan has ever survived any encounter with any enemy, so what was this plan intended to produce?
 
This plan focused on roles and responsibilities. It described what each role-player "shall" do to prepare without helping anyone actually get anything done. It was a plan defining responsibility, not action, and certainly not results. Rather like commanding a lamp to be responsible for lighting without considering what might provide the power. Presented in nearly 9,000 pedantic words, the plan was organized into four phases: Preparedness, Response, Recovery, and Mitigation. Its passive-tense, bureaucratic-ese couldn't have alarmed anyone.
 
The planners didn't intended to alarm anyone, but rather to guide preparation for responding to an alarm. The actual response was out of scope, and necessarily so. …

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"Life is like music; it must be composed by ear, feeling, and instinct, not by rule."

- Samuel Butler

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