When an unexpected event occurs – a problem, an issue or a crisis – you may not always have a ready made contingency plan available to deal with it. However if you follow a standard planning procedure you may increase your chances of a speedy resolution.
When to Use a Task Planning Procedure
When a problem, issue or crisis requiring an urgent response arises – and where a straightforward response isn’t appropriate – you will need to plan. The task to resolve the situation might be given to you by your manager or their manager or it may be one you have identified yourself. The time available to achieve the outcome is limited or is subject to a fixed and imminent deadline. The event is one either not normally or not currently covered by your business contingency plan. However, you need a plan with which to brief and supervise a team – and a plan will also help reassure management and stakeholders that you are in control of the situation and its resolution.
How to Use the Task Planning Procedure
Describing this thought process as a “procedure” might suggest a lengthy process that you may feel you don’t have time for. Remember, even in the most urgent of situations time spent on review, analysis and planning will help ensure a more efficient, effective and flexible response. The time you spend planning depends on the time and information you have available and the scope and scale of the problem. If you only have 10 minutes, then run through the procedure in our head and prepare a short verbal briefing. If you have longer, make notes (use the template – see below) and collect more information to help your decision making.
A word of caution - beware collecting too much information or waiting for additional information - there will come a point where there is so much information available it will actually begin to hinder decision making. Know when it is time to act - trust your instincts.
Further detail around each of these headings is provided in the accompanying mind map – right click and then “Save” here for the MindView map.
When giving the team briefing
A face-face, verbal briefing is always best. If appropriate and there is time, issue a summary of the objective, the key elements of the plan, the key roles and contact details.
Ensure delegated actions are understood by staff, together with the overall objective and intent. Ensure everyone knows how progress is to be reported and when/where review checkpoints are. Ensure everyone knows what the communication channels are. Assign someone to manage communications with key people outside the immediate response team.
This kind of crisis planning assumes that time is critical, that deadlines must be met - that an unusual situation requires and unusual response. Notice that no time is wasted searching for how and why the situation has arisen, other than where this knowledge may help a speedy resolution. The focus is entirely on planning and implementing a solution. Anyone who wants to spend time debating how this could have happened or what it might mean is not engaged with the solution - encourage to them to leave analysis of the cause till afterwards. Fix the situation first then review how it could have happened and how it might be prevented.
Full information may not be available to support decisions. Time spent waiting until more information is available may be time when more cost, upset and damage is incurred. In unplanned situations, dealing with uncertainty is a key management skill. Make whatever assumptions are needed and act based on these. Be prepared to change the course of action as new information comes to light or your assumptions change.
Don't plan in too much detail - you need to think each option through and know what you will do but you don't need to break the task down into minute detail, leave that to your team. Your plan establishes the goals for the task. The course of action you choose and initiate provides the direction your staff need to get things done. The fallback or contingency plans identify what people will do if anticipated problems actually occur. The course of action may be changed by you if new information changes your assumptions, if new problems arise or if opportunities for a speedier or more effective resolution present themselves.
Don't forget your communications - with the staff involved in executing the plan and with your management and other identified stakeholders. Delegate someone to organise, communicate and chase attendees for review checkpoint meetings or telephone conferences.
Schedule an "after action" review of the plan, its implementation and success. Document what you would do if the event or crisis were to occur again. Identify any actions needed to strengthen capability for the future. This is about improving your response when this or similar situations arise.
Schedule a review to examine how the situation arose and how it might be prevented or the risks mitigated in future. This is about preventing the same situation arising again.