By Marian Haus, PMP
We’ve all heard about those projects in crises—the ones that required a quick and firm intervention with the help of a taskforce to bring it back on track.
No project manager wants to be in such a difficult situation, especially not with her or his own project.
But how do we, as the hero of the day, handle being tasked with saving a troubled project?
First let us examine what a project taskforce is and what it is good for.
A project taskforce is a mandate allotted by the project sponsors or the upper management of the project organization to a senior project manager or a senior leader. The goal is to find the best option for resolving a particular problem in a very short timeframe.
A taskforce is a management mechanism that should be only used in exceptional situations. It generally requires disrupting other project activities and deploying the best people to solve a particular problem under possibly highly stressful and energy-depleting conditions.
So how do we handle this? Here are some tips on what an effective taskforce needs:
- One experienced lead: It can either be a senior project manager or a leader experienced with crisis situations. I put the emphasis on one, since single leadership is the key to getting the job done! The last thing you’d want in a taskforce is having two or more leads debating how to drive the taskforce. One person has to call the shots.
- An elite team: The taskforce lead will need to quickly assemble an expert team, formed with the best people who have the required field expertise to quickly understand and resolve the problem. The smaller the team, the easier it is for the taskforce lead to motivate and steer the team to finding the right solution.
- A sharp focus: The particular problem the taskforce is working on has to be clearly articulated and known to the entire taskforce team. The objectives the team will be working on also have to be clear to everyone involved. Secondly, several other project issues may come up along the way. But to be effective, the taskforce must remain focused on the main problem.
- A short timeframe: Given the urgency, plus the high level of the deployed team’s energy, a taskforce is only effective if conducted in a short timeframe (matter of hours or a few days). If efforts go on for longer, it’s likely not a taskforce, since the energy and effectiveness dissipate over time.
- The appropriate logistics: Due to the intensity and possibly a stressful situation, taskforces require an isolated project space—or war room. That entails a space that provides appropriate office materials (whiteboard, note cards, etc.) to facilitate brainstorming and for capturing the results (notes, action items, assumptions, decisions, solutions, etc.) of the taskforce.
- Options for a solution: The taskforce’s outcome should include one or more options that lead to a resolution, with a recommendation for the best option. This option, even if it is technically the best the expert team can recommend, might not satisfy the risk appetite of the person or organization that has mandated the taskforce. Therefore, every option should also provide the related pros and cons.
- Qualified assumptions: Beware of unqualified assumptions. If the identified options are building up on assumptions that are not fully validated, highlight the risks or need for confirmation before making a final decision.
- Plain outcome communication: To terminate the taskforce, its lead and the expert team will have to reduce the complexity and sum up the outcome of the conducted work (options with pros and cons, along with assumptions and their risks or opportunities). Ultimately the taskforce lead will communicate the outcome, confirm the decided solution and conclude the mandate of the taskforce.
If set up and executed properly, a taskforce can be an effective tool to resolving crisis situations in projects.
Have you ever worked on a project taskforce? What tips would you share?