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Crisis management: Why “woops!” just isn’t enough

by Kristin Bent

July 12, 2010

We’ve all heard the “nothing-good-comes-easy” clichés: No pain, no gain; no guts, no glory; some things are just worth fighting for. The list goes on and on.

What these sayings lack in originality, however, they make up for in clarity. They remind us that, before achieving a goal, we are forced to identify and overcome challenges. We need to take risks, and, more importantly, we need a plan to come out on top when they get the best of us. Adding insult to injury (and evidently more clichés to this post), the bigger the goal, the bigger the risk.

Most project teams have mastered this risk-conscious way of thinking. Many have formal risk management strategies, and even utilize Project Management Offices to help mitigate risks such as budget overruns or misaligned resources. I wonder, though, how many take the next step by developing a strategy for dealing with those once-in-a-blue-moon risks that spiral out of control. A sort of “plan B” for tackling risks that have become, well, especially risky.

In his article on gantthead.com, Bob Weinstein describes project teams’ need for this exact “plan B” – a detailed and up-to-date crisis management strategy – to prepare for potentially disastrous mishaps. He uses (surprise, surprise!) BP as an example of a company that lacked a sound crisis management strategy, and is now paying for it gravely (along with the entire Gulf Coast). 

Weinstein explains:

Risk management expert Gary W. Patterson said that BP managed to make every classic crisis management blunder. Heading the list are sloppy risk assessment and lack of thorough contingency planning. Looking back on both natural and man-made disasters during the past decade, two common themes emerge. The first is that both organizations and government fail to have state-of-the-art crisis management plans in place; the second is that plans ought to be tested often. The reasons are more than obvious. Disaster criteria change, and technology improves every year. What worked five or 10 years ago may work poorly today.

As this is only Part 1 of Weinsten’s two-part article, "The Oil Disaster," and he ends by lifting at least some of the burden from BP’s shoulders (“The BP spill is far more complicated than most people realize… [the company] shouldn’t have to bear full responsibility for the horrific event”), I’m curious to see Part II. Even after only half of the article, though, one thing is eerily clear: All teams need a plan B.

Just ask the fisherman.

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