Deviations from a project plan are inevitable; however, some projects reach a crisis state when the project’s critical path is severely compromised and non-critical tasks become critical. For this week’s discussion, read:
Goździewska-Nowicka, A., Janicki, T., & Wilska, E. (2017). Project management in crisis situations. Torun Business Review, 16(2), 53-62.
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Answer these questions:
- What can managers do to deal with a project crisis where the project plan has to be adapted to significant changes that stem from the crisis?
- How can organizations use the experience of a project crisis to better their project management planning process for future projects?
Use at least one peer-reviewed source beyond the text in your initial post, course content, and course readings to support your position.
Discussion Forum Deviations from a project plan are inevitable; however, some projects reach a crisis state when the project’s critical path is severely compromised and non-critical tasks become criti
Torun Business Review 16(2) 2017 53-62 53 PROJECT MANAGEMENT IN CRISIS SITUATIONS This article focuses on the presentation of the con ditions and causes of crises, the es- sence of projects, and their effective management. The major objective of the paper, howev- er, is to demonstrate how companies implementing pr ojects cope with the occurrence of a crisis situation. The observation of today’s crisis realities in proj ects and analysis of the subject literature and business journalism lead to the conclusion that crisis constitutes a serious threat to project implementation. Companies ought to gain kno wledge in that area that, if necessary, can be used in the future. Crisis is a good opportu nity to take corrective action relative to the project, due to the consent and full acceptance giv en by the team members. The potential benefits may materialize in the project, when the p roject manager along with the project team learn to observe the surroundings and analyse the crisis symptoms. In addition, the AGNIESZKA GOZDZIEWSKA-NOWICKA a, TOMASZ JANICKI b, EWELINA WILSKA c a University of Science and Technology in Bydgoszcz, Poland b WSB University in Torun, Poland c Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland ABSTRACT Nowadays, people interested in project management a re increasingly paying attention to crises that develo p dur- ing project implementation, to avoid and overcome t hem. Crises are characterized by a high probability of o ccur- rence. Therefore, it is crucial to implement measur es aimed at monitoring the effectiveness of project st ages to allow early detection of emergencies and diagnose a nd overcome them appropriately. These actions will not be possible without learning the essence of crises. Th e hallmarks of crisis are the disturbed activity of t he pro- ject, the actual or apparent loss of control over t he im- plementation of the tasks, the threatened implement a- tion of the objectives, a high degree of uncertaint y re- sulting in a significant increase in the intensity of fear among employees and a low degree of predictability. ARTICLE INFO Available online 23 May 2017 Keywords: project, project management, crisis JEL: Doi: 10.19197/tbr.v16i2.110 Agnieszka Goździewska-Nowicka, Tomasz Janicki, Ewelina Wilska 54 way in which the project manager copes with the cri sis largely depends on his/her knowledge, skills and competences as well as those of the whole team. INTRODUCTION Activities performed by companies can be classified in two key areas. The first area covers operational activities and the other project activities. The former includes re- petitive, routine activities, such as, for instance , manufacturing or providing services. The latter, i.e., project activities, are unique, temporary initiat ives the implementation of which often requires the use of an increased amo unt of resources. It should be em- phasized, however, that project management is not d evoid of difficulties. Today, while running their business activities, entrepreneurs ar e exposed to the impact of numerous factors. Those may be the increasing dynamics of th e environment, increasing competi- tion, new customer requirements or rapid technologi cal progress. Meeting customers’ expectations and needs requires companies to quickl y respond to changes and pursue new solutions on an ongoing basis. There is no doub t that the occurrence of crises is nowadays an integral part of economic life. However , efficient and skilful project man- agement is a guarantee for the successful realizati on of project, even in crises. Crises arising during the implementation of project s can be considered an inter- esting phenomenon, which should be looked at in two ways. On the one hand, crisis may cause a serious threat to the completion of the project; on the other hand, it may become a driving force for the project team to work even more diligently and stimulate action. Since such phenomena have a high probabilit y of occurrence within various types of endeavors, it is necessary to detect diagn ose and ultimately overcome them early, which, in turn, creates a need to learn the essence of managing projects under crisis conditions. It must be emphasized that crise s can arise in the sphere of technical, economic, organizational, legal, or social problems , and can concern individuals or the entire team. Today’s economy is characterised by numerous transf ormations, which often re- sult in crises in enterprises. The smooth implement ation of projects is a safe tool for implementing changes. It is worth stressing that pr ojects are mainly used to implement investments, but this approach is also common when introducing various types of inno- vation. Knowledge and skills related to projects an d their adequate management in crisis are essential in any organization with moder n management. THE ESSENCE OF PROJECTS AND PROJECT MANAGEMENT Since the number of projects executed in organizati ons is growing, the issue discussed is increasingly important. Due to the fact that the efficient and skilful project management is the guarantee of the success of projects impleme nted in companies, it is necessary to explain the meaning of the following two terms: ‘pr oject’ and ‘project management’. The definition of these key concepts is closely rel ated to the hallmarks of project. Individual authors select the most important featur es when taking into account the perspective they adopt. The elements that are most frequently referred to and charac- Torun Business Review 16(2) 2017 55 terize project include, firstly, the fact that proj ect execution is expected to allow the achievement of a specific goal. Secondly, the proje ct is a new undertaking and that has not been previously implemented in the company and thus differs from routine activi- ties. (Pawlak M., 2016, p. 19). Therefore, it is ch aracterized by uniqueness. The Project Management Institute defines a project as an undert aking of a temporary nature, which is initiated to produce a unique product or service (A Guide to the Project Manage- ment…, 2013, p. 7). This uniqueness is also indic ated by H. Kerzner (Kerzner H., 2013, p. 21). The temporality points to another feature o f the project, which is a closed inter- val. Therefore, a project should be precisely defin ed in terms of its beginning and end- ing dates and of its phases, i.e., it should have a schedule. The fourth feature of a project is its interdisciplinary nature. That means that wh at is required is the involvement of experts from various fields, due to the fact that p erformed project tasks go beyond the competences of a single organizational unit. This f eature is combined with another feature, which is the necessity to use different re sources during the project execution that are frequently limited, such as, for instance, human, tangible (materials, equip- ment, facilities), financial, or informational. It should be also stressed that projects re- quire the involvement of many people and/or organiz ational units (Young D., 2015, p. 45). In this study, the results of which will be referre d to later in the paper, it was as- sumed that a project is understood as a complex und ertaking of temporary nature that aims to create a new/modified product or service th at has defined beginning and end dates and is implemented as teamwork (Goździewska-N owicka A., Janicki T., Słupsla U., 2016, p. 143). Furthermore, taking into considerati on the subject of ongoing research, it seems necessary to cite a definition describing a p roject as a projection of ideas and activities within a new undertaking, which is accom panied by the element of risk and uncertainty (Lock D., 2013, p. 28). It is necessary, therefore, to make an effort and d etermine the meaning of the pro- ject management concept. The first to be quoted is a concise definition presented by J. Fortune for whom project management is organizing a nd coordinating the process of solving the problem (Fortune J., 2013, p. 538). The authors particularly emphasize the assignment of tasks and responsibilities to specifi c individuals involved in project im- plementation. This element is especially important from the perspective of the en- forcement of effectiveness of various project execu tion stages. A group of definitions relating to the management p rocess significantly contrib- utes to the understanding of the concept of project management. It is important to not only define schedule and action plan, but also embe d them in a specific space with the recognition of costs and the quality of the results obtained (Lock D., 2013, p. 30). Other groups of experts in the subject present proj ect management with particular emphasis on the importance of a project manager who is the person dealing with com- plex projects. Using a set of managerial activities (e.g. , job scheduling and control, or allocation of resources), the project manager leads the project to the successful comple- tion (Wysocki R. K., 2013, p. 32). The skilful use of available techniques, according to the accepted standard, within the given budget constrai nt and within a specified time, al- lows a high probability of achieving the planned ta rget. For the purposes of this paper and the study that w as carried out, it was assumed that project management is a set of methods and tec hniques based on the four main functions of management (planning, organizing, lead ing, and controlling), performed on Agnieszka Goździewska-Nowicka, Tomasz Janicki, Ewelina Wilska 56 time and in accordance with the adopted budget and requirements. The ability to man- age projects in the face of a crisis is an extremel y complex undertaking and at the same time a great challenge for the project manager and the entire project team (Goździew- ska-Nowicka A. et al., 2016, p. 144). THE ESSENCE OF CRISES At present, people interested in project management are increasingly paying attention to crises occurring during project implementation, to both avoid and overcome them. Crises are characterized by a high probability of o ccurrence. Therefore, it is crucial to take measures aimed at monitoring the effectiveness of the performed project stages, which allows to early detect emergencies and to dia gnose and overcome them appropri- ately. Taking these actions will not be possible wi thout learning the essence of crises. The subject literature offers various interpretatio ns of crisis, and the majority of them refers to the whole company or the state. From the perspective of a project, a situation which arises from the accumulation of d ifficulties and which could pose a threat to the successful completion of project ta sks can be such a deciding moment. This situation can also endanger the completion of the project and the achievement of its objectives, limit the time available to take re medial actions and surprise project stakeholders with its occurrence and create conditi ons conducive to strong pressure (Walas-Trębacz J., Ziarko J., 2011, p. 17-18). Many authors, including the ones above, emphasize that crises are associated with potential ly negative effects and difficulties with regard to the effective implementation of the project and its unpredictability. The results presented in this article relate to a s urvey conducted in April and May 2016. They primarily show the outcome of an in-dept h study, which had been preceded by a basic survey carried out on a sample of 96 com panies located in the kujawsko- pomorskie province (Poland). The sample size of the basic su rvey was calculated using the formula below (Kaczmarszyk S., 2014, p. 89): , where N is the known population size, and q = 1-p. In addition, the population (193,906 entities) comp rised all companies registered in the Statistical Office functioning in the aforement ioned region (the kujawsko-pomorskie province). In turn, the permissible error of the es timation (e) was determined at the 10% level, the proportion index of the highlight featur e of the examined population (p) equalled 50% and the confidence level was 95% (for which Zα = 1.96). The sample struc- ture reflected the population structure, i.e., the researched group of companies com- prised 92 micro-enterprises, three small, and one m edium-sized enterprise (due to the low percentage of large companies in the general po pulation, they were not taken into account in the study). The sample was drawn using t he SPSS software (Statistical Pack- age for the Social Sciences). Torun Business Review 16(2) 2017 57 It is important to consider a crisis from the persp ective of the factors that cause it, which fall into the external and internal categorie s. In this study, the respondents pointed to the factors that caused a crisis situati on in the projects implemented by them. Nearly 67% of the crises that arose in the ex amined projects had been caused by the factors from the external remote environment ca tegory. Undoubtedly, the com- plexity, variability, and a low degree of predictab ility of the surroundings have a desta- bilizing influence on the conditions of the functio ning of enterprises, which, in turn, can have a negative influence on the effectiveness of p rojects. The second largest group were the internal environment factors, which were i ndicated by every third respondent. The causes of the crisis on the side of the company resources are usually sought in in- competent management, which are then combined with, for instance, the lack of com- munication, improper supervision and control, staff turnover or an incorrect estimation of the project budget. Analysis of the responses in dicates that all internal causes of the crises in the projects occurred in combination with the causes from the remote envi- ronment category. The situation arose most likely d ue to the changes in the external environment and the lack of appropriate competence allowing adapting to the existing conditions. The immediate environment factors, whic h accounted for 17% of the total, can be sought in the relationships with clients and business partners. Typically, a crisis is not an accidental phenomenon . Before it occurs, some symp- toms can be observed that indicate the possibility of its emergence. As indicated in an earlier part of this work, the diagnosis of the cau ses and the identification of the sources of the crisis form the basis for beginning the proc ess of recovery from the crisis. Bearing in mind the fact that project management in a crisis situation requires taking a number of actions that are ignored in busin ess practice, a verification of the relevant phases was made in the context of recovery from the crisis. Fig. 1. The determined phases of a crisis Source: Elaborated by the authors based on the data obtained from the study. The results obtained explicitly show that the indiv iduals that were responsible for the implementation of the researched projects did n ot endeavour to search symptoms or warnings of an impending crisis. The managers did not focus on capturing the warn- Agnieszka Goździewska-Nowicka, Tomasz Janicki, Ewelina Wilska 58 ing signals emerging within the project as well as within the external environment. Therefore, the first phase of combating crises in t he projects, i.e., an early warning of the oncoming crisis, was neglected. However, the be nefit was that almost 83% of the respondents sought to understand the crisis situati on from the perspective of the prob- lem that had caused it. The following activities ar e normally carried out as part of the second phase: identifying and assessing the causes of the crisis, determining the type of crisis and the aftermath, determining the stage of the crisis, specifying stakeholders to the crisis, acknowledging the crisis by the managem ent and all project participants. As reported in every second project, the estimation of losses was carried out. At this point, it is important to build scenarios, wor k out a crisis-management plan, ap- point a crisis team, set the budget, schedule activ ities, and determine those elements of the system that will be subject to change. In the s ame group of projects, i.e., 67% of re- sponses, steps were taken to terminate the crisis a nd draw conclusions for the future. ACTION TAKEN IN CRISES In a crisis situation, it is necessary to take step s that will bring the desired results. Sometimes a crisis is of a medium or long duration and is characterized by a slow but gradually increasing intensity. The management has then time to take appropriate ac- tion unless they overlook the signals. However, som etimes it happens that during the project execution a sudden crisis hits that is of s hort duration but high intensity, leading to serious effects (Goodman J., Marshall J. P., 201 3, p. 348). Certain procedures or contingency plans for coping with crises had been devel- oped prior to the commencement of the project in al most 67% of the surveyed projects. As a result, when a sudden and quickly developing c risis hits, the team has a better chance of early intervention, reducing the high lev el of destruction and alleviating the negative effects of the crisis. In almost a third o f the projects, procedures or contingen- cy plans were worked out during the crisis. Half of the respondents appointed a leader that was to supervise the measures taken to eliminate the crisis. In every third proje ct, in turn, a committee composed of a group of top managers from within the organizatio n was set up in order to coordinate anti-crisis measures within the project. For two pr ojects, a leader was appointed along with the group. In 67% of cases, the project manage r took action to optimize costs as part of the measures aimed at limiting the effects of the crisis. Cost optimization is a clear example of the activit ies undertaken under the adopt- ed remedial strategy aimed to stabilise the crisis, which is in the long term to improve the situation in the project implemented in the con text of finance and competition (see: Górska-Rożej K., Rożej A., 2014, p. 207-208). In ne arly 17% of the projects, ongoing ob- servation of the environment was reported. It seems necessary to emphasize that this is an element which together with the detection of war ning signals (indicated by 33% of the respondents) should be implemented on an ongoin g basis. Regardless of the imple- mentation phase of the project and the phase of a c risis situation, it is important to look for the symptoms and observe the reaction of the en vironment to the existing phenom- enon to be able to adjust activities taken and cris is strategies implemented. Torun Business Review 16(2) 2017 59 17% 17% 33% 33% 67% 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% searching for new markets constant observation of the environment building scenarios detecting waming signals costs optimisation Fig. 2. The measures taken by the project manager a imed at limiting the effects of the crisis Source: Elaborated by the authors based on the data obtained from the study. When eliminating the crisis, the examined organizat ions, in fact, did not take ac- tion in the sphere of managing staff and entities r elevant for the project. Only 17% of them did so. Also, during the elimination of the cr isis, none of the organizations facing crises used external consultants, such as, for inst ance, crisis management experts. Companies dealing with projects and affected by som e crisis coped with it using only its internal resources. On the one hand, it is a favour able situation since it allows the de- velopment of the house staff by taking challenges a nd action in unusual and difficult situations. On the other hand, providing a full and objective assessment of the situation requires looking at it from outside, which was lack ing in the projects under study. AFTER-CRISIS MEASURES Early detection of crisis symptoms or external malfu nctions in the organization’s func- tioning as well as their appropriate analysis and a ssessment, allows preventing the de- velopment of a crisis situation. It is often necess ary to take restructuring measures allowing restoring a state of balance and completin g the project by obtaining its goals. In almost every third project, there was a decrease in the number of orders result- ing from the crisis, and consequently in one case e xpenditures were constrained, and in another the intensity of work was increased and wag es were lowered. Also, in every third project, in the wake of the crisis, changes w ere implemented in the operation of the project team. In the first case, the focus was probably on detecting the early symp- toms of amendments to make faster changes. In the s econd case, the change in the strategy of the team was probably primarily aimed a t a better flow of information and adapting the time range of the project to the needs of stakeholders. Due to crises, in one project only the renegotiation of contracts with su ppliers was carried out, in another only spending was constrained. In none of the analy sed projects the company faced the need to reduce employment, became insolvent or had a problem with obtaining credit because of debt. Agnieszka Goździewska-Nowicka, Tomasz Janicki, Ewelina Wilska 60 0% 0% 0% 17% 17% 17% 33% 33% 33% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% Lay offs Problems with obtaining credits Company insolvency Reductions in salaries Increasing workloads Renegotiating contracts with suppliers Expenditure cuts Drop in the numbers of orders Changes in the strategy of the crisis team operation Fig. 3. The most significant effects of the crisis in the implemented projects Source: Elaborated by the authors based on the data obtained from the study. Respondents were asked to indicate the amount of fi nancial losses, which were caused by the crisis hitting the project execution. In every second company, there were no financial losses at all caused by the crisis. In another two companies losses did not exceed PLN 10,000. In turn, the fourth project saw financial losses ranging from PLN 50,001 to 100,000. The greatest financial difficult ies among the analysed entities were reported by the second project, in which the amount of financial losses ranged from PLN 100,001 to PLN 250,000. An important consequence of crisis in projects is a decline in the organization’s reputation, which may translate into a decrease in income and financial losses. Half of the respondents reported that they had not suffered from a decline in reputation. A slight decline in reputation was indicated by the representatives of the second project. A moderate decrease was recorded in the case of the crisis affecting the first project, where the order was not completed, as well as in th e third one in which the problem was the lack of funds for all projects being implem ented. At this point, project managers along with other company staff are accountable for regaining customer confidence, which should constitute one of the major anti-crisi s measures. It is worth noting that in all surveyed projects, i n spite of the crisis, the tendency of organizations to keep implementing further proje cts remained unchanged. Torun Business Review 16(2) 2017 61 CONCLUSION Observation of today’s crisis realities in projects and analysis of the subject literature and business journalism lead to the conclusion that a crisis constitutes a serious threat to project implementation. Companies ought to gain knowledge in that area and, if necessary, use it in the future. Crisis is a good t ime to take corrective actions relative to the project, due to the consent and full acceptance given by the team members. Poten- tial benefits of the effect of the crisis may mater ialize in the project, when the project manager along with the project team learn to observ e the surroundings and analyse the crisis symptoms. In addition, the way in which the project manager copes with the crisis largely depends on the knowledge, skills and compet ences possessed by him/her and the whole team. At this point it is worth paying cl ose attention to one important aspect. Crisis management in projects is one of the most im portant areas of ensuring the effec- tive achievement of project objectives. However, it is usually applied to the so-called ‘hard aspects’ of a project, such as, for instance, time, costs, and quality. Crisis man- agement in projects in the context of the human sph ere, i.e., project managers, project team members, and stakeholders, is currently seriou sly neglected. We must bear in mind the fact that these people are responsible for project success. The article attempt- ed to partially fill this gap. It was also stressed that crisis is an emergency situation that necessitates taking action under time pressure and under superiors’ control, which is conducive to making errors. For that reason, the re spondents of the surveyed entities recognized that the most important features project team members should display is professionalism, as well as the ability to operate efficiently under varying conditions. Crises developing during the implementation of proj ects do not usually happen by chance and do not develop in a short period of time , either. Typically, they develop gradually, sometimes even systematically, in the wa ke of a number of events combined by the cause-and-effect relationship. The resulting possibility of an early diagnosis of the nature and sources may be a condition for effec tive remedy. The knowledge and analysis of the conditions conducive to a crisis si tuation are also crucial. The proof to the above statement is the fact that the vast major ity of respondents admitted that their crisis was predictable. It was necessary only to id entify and analyse the signals that were coming from the remote external environment. Unfort unately, the respondents admit- ted that preventing this difficult situation turned out to be impossible. It may have been resulted by an inadequate flow of information betwe en the project team and external stakeholders. Under such circumstances, a company c an only seek to alleviate the ef- fects of the crisis. It is important that the proje ct manager does not disregard the exist- ing state of affairs and attempts to efficiently id entify the reasons of its emergence, and then develop possible scenarios of overcoming the s ituation to effectively implement the best of them. The respondents admitted that the ir project teams had contingency plans in place and that they had been developed pri or to the project beginning date. Crisis may also cause a decline in economic activit y of the conducted undertaking and reduce its competitiveness. An inadequate respo nse of a project manager to the crisis, which manifests itself in making erroneous decisions, can really weaken the company and accelerate the escalation of the crisis . In the projects examined, the emer- gence of a crisis caused serious financial losses, which undoubtedly contributed to the deepening of the problems when implementing the pro ject. 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