Project Manager versus Tornado : Advice for Project Mangers and Organizations when Disaster Strikes


By Donald A. Pillittere



Headlines for most of 2011 focused on natural disasters that devastated Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.  Japan was hit by an earthquake which in turn caused a tsunami, New Zealand by an earthquake, Australia with flooding and the United States with twisters in the Southeast.  The cost of these disasters far surpassed that for Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

When natural disasters strike, project managers are supposed to be able to do the impossible – manage dysfunctional teams, deal with demanding customers and unrealistic edicts from managers.  One of the pressing questions they face are: Can they take on a natural disaster, a flood, hurricane or tornado (ranging from EF1 to EF5) and still meet the required due date?  Before you answer this question, think long and hard back to all those times when Murphy’s Law (what can go wrong will go wrong) made its way into your project – how management always, always, asked why you didn’t plan for this as part of the project.

Of course, project managers have to plan for natural disasters and perform this feat without spending extra program funds while still meeting milestones!  Isn’t this the unwritten expectation of upper management?

I can hear the conversation:

Director:  “Why didn’t you take into consideration the potential for flooding at Acme, LLC?”

Program Manager: “I expected Acme, LLC to take the necessary precautions after the previous flood in 2011.”

Director: “It’s your job to manage the project and supplier, that’s why I pay you a salary.”

Program Manager: “So, I should’ve driven two hours to the supplier and filled sandbags to protect our parts?”

Director: “Too late now, you should’ve done that already!”

This may seem a little dramatic; however, all project managers have faced assumed responsibilities from management to keep projects on schedule.  Project managers must be part Federal Emergency Management Agency, The Red Cross, The Army Corps of Engineers and mind reader or they will fall short in unique and catastrophic situations.  There are no excuses for the project manager; all problems are somehow related to his or her lack of skills. While success seems to get showered on the manager and/or team, failures get squarely placed on the project manager’s shoulders.

What is a project manager to do if he/she failed to take pre-emptive measures to prevent delays caused by a 1,000 year blizzard in Arizona that makes it impossible for a supplier to make a critical part or subassembly?

What follows are some key steps that project managers can take to recover and maybe even thrive in the face of natural disasters.  The most important aspect of these steps is that they all have to be done in parallel – slack for serial execution does not exist.  A project manager that believes one option is better at first blush will end up paying when he/she fails to deliver.


To read entire paper (click here)

About the Author

Donald Pillittere


Currently Manager of Strategic Portfolio and Supplier Quality at ITT Exelis, Donald Pillittere manages quality performance for major procurements for highly advanced subsystems. Prior to working at ITT Exelis, he was Director of Product Engineering and Program Management at Transonic Systems Inc., where he managed the development and introduction of numerous medical flow measurement products for both clinical and research applications. Previously as Worldwide Product Manager for the Eastman Kodak Company, he launched numerous award winning scanners that significantly outperformed sales projections and exceeded profitability goals.   He also has a successful track record in the international arena, with experience in Asia, Europe, Latin America and Japan, as well as North America.  Donald can be contacted at [email protected].

Donald is also the author of ARE WE THERE YET? DIARY OF A PROJECT MANAGER, which can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Are-There-Diary-Project-Manager/dp/1554890292.   His newest book, HOT CHILI AND COLD BEER FOR THE PROJECT MANAGER’S SOUL, is available through Amazon, Apple and other distributors in hardcopy and electronic format.