When it comes to Project Managers, there are two types: The quick and the dead.

In a recent job interview I was asked what I thought was the single most important thing a project manager can do to make a project successful. “”You need to know how to shoot your way out of a crisis,”” I said.

“”What

does that mean?”” my confused interviewer demanded.

So I explained. “”You know, shoot your way out of a crisis, just like the Sundance Kid.

There is a memorable scene in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where, after robbing banks for five years, the two outlaws are trying to go straight and get jobs as payroll guards. During the interview Sundance (Robert Redford) is handed a gun and asked to shoot a tin can. Sundance shoots and misses.

Then he asks, “”Can I move?”” And with that he puts the guns in his holster, spins around as he is drawing and proceeds to shoot the hell out the can. Then, spinning his revolvers and swiftly returning them to their holsters, he squints at his incredulous onlookers and observes, “”I am better when I move.””

Great project managers know how to “”move.”” When a crisis hits, they need to know how to think and move laterally to get out. Last year I observed, with great pain, a project manager take over a project that was running late. This chap created a 45-page detailed project plan.

He used up six weeks of his time and the time of his team to create a plan that was a very precise piece of junk. And during that time the only thing that happened for sure was his project went another six weeks late. That guy didn’t know how to move his project forward. What he should have done was rallied his team together, laid out the reality of the situation and motivated them to brainstorm their way out of the crisis.

Here’s a timely example of successfully shooting your way out of a crisis. What WestJet on the morning Jetsgo Airlines ceased operations was brilliant. By 8:30 in the morning WestJet had reacted to the crisis by offering deep discounted flights to anyone left stranded by Jetsgo. Then it went the extra air mile, offering to fly home stranded Jetsgo employees practically for free. WestJet had immediately pulled out their guns and and started shooting.

No matter what unexpected tragedy may lurk out there, you need to find a way to spin, draw and shoot your way out. I’ll bet when WestJet heard of the demise of its arch rival they quickly brainstormed about five possible responses.

They then did two things right: First they chose the right response, and second, they responded immediately and got the message out instantly.

As a project manager, you don’t have six weeks to respond — you sometimes have six minutes. And you better not only think laterally to find the right answer to your crisis. You need to draw your guns and shoot loud so everyone knows a solution is coming.

You have to decide if you want to be remembered as the guy who did something in a crisis as WestJet did, or whether you will just drive by the accident and gawk. As project managers I believe we should keep thinking laterally and not stop shooting until the job is done.

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