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  • Chuck Schneider

The 4 Step Survival Guide to Making Things Happen in a Time of Crisis




With all of us experiencing a mountain of changes amidst the Coronavirus, there is confusion on what companies should focus on. For those of you who need to help your company quickly address mission critical products and services, now is the time to create a tactical plan, take action and produce results.


Businesses, in order to survive, are needing to quickly adapt. New use cases, in product and service offerings, are being identified at lightening speed while others die out just as fast. Some companies are capable of quickly switching to fill these new needs while others are unable. To stay viable and provide what your customers are now needing, requires a different approach than "business as usual."


In any survival situation there is a four step process to success. 1. Assess the situation. What is your company's physical and mental state, what and who do you have on hand. 2. Create a tactical plan and how can you leverage available resources to get through the situation. 3. Take action and execute the plan. 4. Adjust as your situation changes, and celebrate the victory.


Now is not the time to ponder a 3 to 5 year strategic plan. Now is the time to determine how you can make a difference and deliver results, and that unit of time should be measured in days.


There are thousands of books on strategic planning but very few on tactical planning. Read on to learn how you can quickly create a plan, rally your resources and make a difference in a rapid, yet controlled, manner.


1. Assess the Situation


This pandemic has changed many industries from the airlines, to healthcare, to the manufactures of toilet paper. Some of the impacts are obvious, such as fewer people traveling and online retail sales booming. However, the patterns of the economy are not aways so straight forward. For example, the change in cashflow of some businesses not being able to pay their bills, to the change in user patterns of software systems, to security where fingerprint readers don’t work because the end user is now wearing gloves.


Understanding what the impact to your business is will help you to determine what is needed to react. What is needed to help your customers? It may be something completely new or a slight change in an existing product or service.


  • Engage with your customers. What do they desperately need? Chances are, they are letting you know already. If not, send a quick e-mail or make a couple of phone calls to determine what your company can do to help them.

  • For software systems, look at production. What capabilities are being being used more? Which are being used less? Are your mobile applications seeing a rise in usage? Is your infrastructure experiencing new hot spots?

  • Are there gaps in capabilities that need to be built quickly?

  • Are there completely new use cases that are now in demand? For example, how many restaurants are now taking online orders and doing delivery/pickup compared to the beginning of the year? Imagine the scramble to set up their websites to take orders and process payments.

  • Engage with other leaders across your company to get their insights. There may be a greater need in their areas than yours. If so, see how you can rally your team to pitch in and help.

What resources do you have on hand? What tools do you have? What data and reporting can you leverage? These questions can all be useful to identify needs to solve problems.


How many people do you have available? Before you answer this too quickly, think through what else has changed at the company. Some people who are now traveling less may have some availability to help. It might require a crash course in training to cover the basics, but in the end, they will have a deeper understanding of your products. Working remote can be challenging, but it also levels the playing fields. Everyone is now “virtual” so location, whether it be across the city or across the world, doesn’t matter as much. Communication is happening electronically, and teams are making it work.




2. Create a Tactical Plan


Now that you have a decent understanding of what the business and your customers are urgently needing, and an assessment of resources, you can create a plan.


Determine what is the one thing that you are going to focus on to help with the immediate need. It may be to ensure the next scheduled software release has 2 of the 5 new high demand use cases, or a campaign to let customers know you are making your products available free of charge to everyone for the next 90 days.


With a goal, now dig deeper into how you are going to achieve it. The key is focus, focus, focus. The goal needs to be hyper focused and very specific so that everyone can understand the plan and rally around it. Release new _____ capability in 14 days with 80% automated testing coverage so that customers can ______.


Evaluate your current work in progress, and determine what can you put on hold and what can you not put on hold. Articulate the impact of these decisions to ensure this tradeoff makes sense and you get buy-off from others.


With the tools you have, now is the time to squeeze as much out of these as ever. Which tools are in place and can add value quickly? This is not the time to propose something completely new. Chances are, you will not be able to provide value fast enough if you haven’t already purchased something. Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t have. Can you use an existing tool in a new manner?


Get creative. The nice thing with tactical planning is, it doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect. Although, it does have to be practical and advance the business.


Get support from others to help with the cause. This is where your networking will pay off. Maybe your contacts know a person, or have access to a tool or infrastructure you can leverage. Don’t just think internally. What vendor relationships do you have that could also help? We are all in this together. You may quickly find out which of your vendors are true partners and help if they can, and which will do nothing.


3. Execute the Plan


Communicate your plan to all of those involved. Take the time to build the context around why this abrupt change is happening. Explain the following:


  • The business or customers now need something different, or more of something.

  • The importance of the project.

  • Other projects that are being put on hold so there is an ability to focus.

  • Communicate who is going to be an active participant in the project. Be clear on who is responsible for which tasks.

  • The expected timeline

  • The successful outcome

  • How communication is going to be handled, whether it be by daily scrums or video chats at the end of each day and where to post online questions and answers.

  • Thank them for their work and focus

This should create purpose and unity, if done right. Skimp on these steps, and you'll create a new crisis and frustrate co-workers.


Action is everything, without action, all you have is best intentions. Now is the time to be bold. Don’t try to make things perfect before you begin. Tell the team that things will most likely change throughout the project. This is a part of moving fast. Don’t spend weeks putting together a plan, instead measure your progress in days. Can you assess, build your plan and start to execute in 5 days?


4. Adjust as needed and Celebrate the Victory


Congratulations, your plan is underway! You are making progress, you are engaging with your project team. In your communications with your team, ask what barriers have been identified? Brainstorm how they can be solved. What can you do to solve these so that the team can focus on their responsibilities? Adjust the plan as new information arrises but, stay focused on the goal.


Communicate frequently to the leaders outside of the project team. Keep them informed of the progress that is being made. Be transparent, communicate victories, setback and adjustments to the plan. Don’t overstate where you are on the project. In the time of crisis, there is no room for masking problems.


Be sure there is an end to the project. People like to rally around a cause but, they will become weary if you continually expand the original cause into the annual roadmap. Once the goal is achieved, celebrate it. Celebration may be as simple as sending a broad e-mail to leadership stating the success with each of the project members mentioned. A simple electronic (and socially distanced) pat on the back goes a long ways.


Conclusion


In a time of crisis those who take action are those who are demonstrating leadership and agility. Assess your situation and determine what needs to be done. Quickly create a plan that is based around producing immediate results that can be felt in days. Execute the plan and adjust the details as needed. Be sure to celebrate the victory with the team.


My call to action to you is to take action. Create a tactical plan and create immediate value!


I’d love to hear your stories and the actions you put in place. Reach out and share.


Chuck Schneider

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