Communication During a Crisis

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while the problems persisted? A terrible idea.

Take away points:

  • et up and publicize a central source of status information.
  • Make sure the status is easy to find and available to everyone who might care.
  • Keep status current, even if you have no new information. Better a message every two hours saying "no change" than silence.
  • Establish a gatekeeper or editor for all broadcast communication who is responsible for assuring that content is balanced and not defensive and who explains what is happening and why. Blaming your victims for your mistakes is a truly awful idea.

I logged five trouble tickets and never received a reply. On the rare occasions when the support phone number worked, I left voice messages but never received a call back. Five days after the migration, a notice was posted to the status page reporting that all problems were known and asking customers to please stop submitting trouble tickets.

Take away points:

  • Positive acknowledgment of all incoming communication is essential. One reason for the flood of trouble tickets that overwhelmed the provider's support staff was that customers were reporting the same problem several times because they had not received a response. Customers were doubly frustrated because they felt their issues were not being recognized or addressed.
  • Precision is vital if you must broadcast a response. It is arrogant to say (and dismaying to hear), "We know about all problems." Much better to say, "We are aware of problems X, Y, and Z and will notify you when they have been resolved."

The best communication rule I've heard is "The burden of communication lies with the party that has the most to lose." Everyone had a lot to lose in this situation. The ISP may fail as a consequence of its poor migration. Customer operations were disrupted, and many lost business, data, and money. Some may be mortally wounded.

Better planning and testing clearly could have prevented much of this disaster, and better communication might have mitigated the consequences. Informed customers, most of whom gave up in frustration, might have been better prepared and more patient once they understood the nature of the problems and could see progress in addressing them.

About the author

Payson Hall's picture Payson Hall

Payson Hall is a consulting project manager for Catalysis Group, Inc. in Sacramento, California. Payson consults on project management issues and teaches project management. Email Payson at payson@catalysisgroup.com. Follow him on twitter at @paysonhall.

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