Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Search and Rescue

Think "Search and Rescue" when a large project failure hits.

It's a big project failure. Front page news. Tens of millions down the drain. Angry executives. Lawsuits. Etc..

The natural response is to move into Monday morning quarterback mode and demand answers. Save that thought. There's a more urgent task at hand: Stop the damage from cascading.

People are hurting now. Wrecked careers and worse are real possibilities. This is especially true for a long running project where team members have invested years of their lives. A project failure is a heart-wrenching event that usually inflicts trauma long before its ugly termination. After termination, that trauma's a 100 times worse. It's an ongoing accident scene.

The ones especially vulnerable are the young engineers. They are not equipped for this; they just don't have the life experience.

You, the senior engineer, PM, manager, (your title here) that's already suffered through one of these nightmares, need to step in immediately and stop the damage from cascading.

How to help:

  1. Search and Rescue - Find them. Listen to them. Let them know they're not alone; that all of us have a Titanic in our past; it's part of growing-up. Let them know that they probably won't be able to make any sense out of this experience for months. It's natural; part of the grieving process. Advise them not to lash out. Be patient. Don't judge. Remember how stupid you were at their age.
  2. Leverage Growth Opportunity - Make sure their next assignment is with a great team that will mentor them up. This is the perfect time, when young engineers are the most thirsty for guidance. They just want to succeed. They'll work especially hard, learn all they can, and grow into great senior engineers.

Example: My boss at IBM back in the day. After my Titanic went down, he did both and saved my career. He found a proven team that would take me under their wing. They mentored me up and the rest is history. Several successful projects. No more Titanics.

Lesson Learned - After a large project failure, find those that are hurting right away. Console them. Then leverage the experience as a major growth opportunity.