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4 Things Project Managers Can Learn From NYC’s “SnowGate…”

So…I lived in NYC for 10 years and it snows a lot in January and February. I guess it is winter in the Northeast. 

While I live in DC now and Mayor Gray and the District seemed to have the salt trucks and plows out early and often throughout the snowstorm, I couldn’t help but notice that New Yorker’s were complaining about a poorly managed response to the storm from the new Mayor.

While I am sure that politics is going to play a little bit into almost everyone’s opinion of this story, as a PMP, I think that Project Managers can learn a few good lessons from the storm and the management of the plowing project. 

1. Communication Is Key: If you do a quick Google search of NYC snow plow today, you will see a bunch of stories about gridlock and no plows on the Upper East Side and DeBlasio striking back at the 1%. I don’t care about the politics as much as what gridlock and plowing on the UES tell me that there wasn’t an effective communication strategy placed forth. Which to me means, you didn’t have a good stakeholder management plan in place. 

Here’s the thing…in NYC your stakeholders are 8 million residents, 22 million residents of the region, and who knows how many tourists and visitors. So the communication plan is huge. 

While technology is helpful, you need to over communicate in situations like this, especially when you are going to be pulling public transportation and traffic cops off the streets due to weather. 

2. Where is the Institutional Knowledge?: One thing that PMs talk about is having a good understanding of successes and failures on past projects and building some sort of institutional knowledge base. 

From the stories I was reading, there doesn’t seem to be a good record keeping apparatus in the City of New York because city officials would have done a better job of expediting school closures, pre salting, and other activities that would have made 8 hour commutes less likely.

3. Measurable Goals Help: NYC.gov has a snow plow site now. And, you, in theory, could see where the plows had been and where they had not been. This is great, but when the GPS on the plows isn’t working, it can lead people to question whether or not the project is being managed effectively. 

That’s why it pays to set measurable goals…like 100% of the main arteries will be plowed by 8PM or 95% of city streets will have had one pass of the plow by 7AM. 

Make it measurable and communicate what you are trying to accomplish.

4. Project Managers are Communicators First: 90% of a PM’s job is communication. I’d say in a project like this, that number shoots up to almost 100%. 

One of the big issues that I keep coming back to and that kept popping up in all the stories I browsed was that there was just not enough communication…that people didn’t know traffic cops were off the street, that there wasn’t anyone to help direct people away from blocked roadways, that no one really knew the status of the snow plowing. 

You have to be a chief communicator to be an effective PM. 

As with any big project that is in the news, this gives you a chance to reflect on what worked and what didn’t work. I’ve highlighted four things, but I am certain that the list could be much longer.