Project Management

Expect the Unexpected: Turning Unforeseen Issues into Opportunities

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Categories: Disruption

By Conrado Morlan

When it comes to project management, Murphy’s Law often rings true: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. So it’s up to project leaders to be ready and willing to pivot at a moment’s notice. And it’s a lesson learned that I’ve taken from a number of projects.

In this post, I’d like to share one example. During the first wave of a regional billing implementation project in the Americas, my team and I were learning the ropes of replacing the local application with a centralized regional application.

The first stop was Central America. This region was the first choice because Costa Rica was centralizing its billing operations for the area. Costa Rica already had a dedicated team to manage the billing functions for each Central American country. But this shift meant configuring and training seven countries in a single location.

The outcome was successful, and my team and I identified areas of opportunity to enhance the implementation process for the next countries in the wave.

The next country to implement the program was Chile. We started gathering customer data, cleansing the data, and configuring the training and production processes.

The audience for the training, which lasted one week, included people from finance, billing and IT. After the training, the participants were able to practice for a week in the training environment, and my team and I addressed any questions they had. The planned go-live date was slated for two weeks after the training and practice.

During the two-week break period in Chile, my team and I went to Ecuador as scheduled to begin implementation activities.

One week before the go-live date, the Chile country manager called me and delivered the news: “All the people in the billing department resigned.” The country manager wanted to throw in the towel and postpone the initiative’s launch date. His first comment was, “I will not be able to hire and get the new hires ready in a week.” I asked him to wait before making any decision and that I wanted to discuss alternatives with my team.

I shared the news with my team and asked them to come up with ideas that would keep the program on schedule or at least minimize the impact caused by an unexpected delay. We reconvened at the end of the day and discussed some potential solutions:

  1. Hire and retrain team members. This would postpone the Chile implementation for at least one month.
  2. Implement Ecuador and Chile in parallel.
  3. Split the implementation team. Half would support Chile’s billing operation while the hiring process takes place, and the other half would support Ecuador’s implementation.
  4. Ask Costa Rica to temporarily support Chile’s billing operation.

Option one and two were similar, assuming that the hiring process would be completed and the new hires would be available for the two-week training/practice. This would also double the workload for the in-country implementation team and the support team in Malaysia.

Option three was feasible but would put a heavy burden on the in-country implementation team and would require assurance that Chile would expedite the hiring and training process to release the members of the in-country implementation team.

Option four was a bizarre idea, but this option would cover all the bases, as the team in Costa Rica was already providing remote support for the billing operations.

My team and I decided on option four. I called the billing and finance head in Costa Rica, explained the situation and asked if the proposed idea would be feasible. They responded that they would need to talk with their Chilean counterparts to check to see if their team could take on the extra workload, but, in general, they found the option feasible.

I also shared the news and the alternatives with the regional CFO and CIO, and both agreed to delegate the final decision to me.

After the call between the Costa Rica and Chile counterparts, it was agreed that Costa Rica would temporarily support Chile, and Chile committed to start the hiring process right away.

This situation reminded me of a basketball player handling the ball from one side of the court to the other and encountering opponents along the way: Sometimes the player must stop to check the conditions and pivot to the left or to the right to continue with the play and be able to put the ball into the net.

While facing issues or risks, project management professionals need to be confident making informed decisions quickly and thinking on their feet to keep projects moving forward.

How have you pivoted from unforeseen occurrences to make project progress? Share your story below.

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: May 21, 2020 09:55 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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The worst decision to make is no decision. It's good that you had 4 different options, you evaluated, and decided to go with option 4.

I've been in many situations where the team was lacking in making key decisions and causing delays to the project. Frequently in projects, we do not have 100% of the information to make key decisions. Many times, we have to make decisions based on 80% of the data. We decide to proceed forward based on that. As a lessons learned, if my team is struggling to choose a path, I work to gather as much information as I can, as quickly as I can, and drive a decision. This means we met as a team, discussed the situation, and by the end of the meeting, a decision was made and confirmed in writing.

Thank you for the article.

Thank you for reading the article. I am glad you like it.

Great post, thank you for sharing. Unfortunately, many projects and programmes are suffering because of a lack of decision-making ability. Sometimes it might be helpful to adopt an approach or framework to support this. For instance, such a simple “Know-Think-Do” framework can enable teams to immediately start making these fast and roughly right decisions.

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