Thursday, June 9, 2011

WM #9 : Plan AHEAD!

My kids always tease me that I can't keep a white shirt clean because of my preponderance to dribble whatever I eat or drink right on the front of it. It's called a shelf people! And for a buxom broad like me, well, it's an inevitable problem. My biggest (no pun intended) problem is being somewhere that I don't have a way to cover up, clean, or replace the offending shirt that has been the recipient of a recent DQ chocolate dip cone dribble or a dollop of mustard that has escaped from my Nathan's hot dog! So planning is everything and whoever invented those Tide Clean Stix should receive the Nobel Prize for invention and innovation! Whenever I go somewhere that requires some semblance of professionalism, I always plan to bring a sweater, jacket or - even better - a scarf; versatile, easily tucked away, and so many styles and designs to match a multitude of outfits. I KNOW that I will be needing something to cover any "oops" dribble if there is any beverage or food consumption in my future!

So you may be asking yourself, "what's this got to do with management?" Planning people! I repeatedly discuss this concept with students and how often managers are caught ill-prepared for difficult situations. While we cannot possibly plan for every contingency it is important to have every possible problem or mishap planned for with the hopes that it will NEVER happen. The above video illustrates a situation that likely many train engineers had hoped that they would never have to be confronted with but unfortunately, did! A tornado struck this train quickly and with incredible fierceness that serves as great YouTube fodder but think what the cost was to the train company and town for clean-up, recovery of equipment, loss of life and limb, and the logistics required to get the train track passable again. With all of the recent catastrophic weather conditions around the country (fires in SW, tornado in Springfield MA, flooding along the Mississippi) businesses must be prepared for every possible catastrophic scenario to keep their business afloat.

While working on a large project management assignment as a consultant, I was struck by the planning required to launch a complex, multi-layered, global information technology project. Included in this  project was a vast number of human resources who worked to analyze, define, develop, test, and communicate a project of this size. Hundreds of people worked on their individual piece of the project puzzle while ONE incredible woman - the program manager and my boss - kept it moving. Her job was to orchestrate the entire process. I learned a lot from her and realized that while technology is a wonderful and powerful tool to accomplish the most mundane and tedious tasks, the number of people involved to ensure that it works correctly for the end-user (like you and me) is daunting! We consumers nearly subconsciously use technology to pay our taxes, purchase shoes, or check savings account balance.

With all this technological development, contingency factors of risk must be considered. What does that mean you may ask? The "what if" scenario. "What if" the organizational network fails or is not adequately stress tested for the deluge of users on April 14th and while uploading your taxes the US Government server crashes - Yikes! What if you find the perfect Agatha Ruiz de la Prada toddler shoes at half price (regularly $85.50) for your daughter on Zappos and the server fails to upload your credit card information? Not quite a catastrophe but seriously irritating! And all of the sudden you are seeing a sudden spike in your bank credit card balance but unable to confirm it through your bank's help line because they aren't able to track down where the transactions took place because their server is down? Lack of planning and foresight on the part of the business and it's developers is what has happened. While it may not seem a train wreck, it can make or break a business.

See the next blog WM #9.5: Planning ahead (The Critical Path)

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