Your Business is Suffering Through a Disaster. What Do You Do Next?

Working out what to do right now is only half the battle.


Mike Pearce

3 years ago | 6 min read

Your business is suffering through a disaster. Shit’s on fire yo. None of your current processes or procedures are up to the task of dealing with what is happening. What is happening to you and your business is unprecedented. What should you do?

Well, I imagine you’re working through it. You’re pulling some strings, flying by the seat of your pants and trying to make the best of a bad situation. What you do now is almost entirely down to you and your business, but here are some general thoughts.

Think about yourself first

That’s right, take a breather, slow down a bit. Have a cup of tea and a biscuit. Maybe take a bath and listen to some chill beats. You’re no use to anyone if you’re exhausted and unable to focus.

Tea and nice biscuit. (Picture by author)

Think about your staff second

For sure a cliche and pretty OBVIOUS, Mike, why even say it? Because if I didn’t, you’d stop reading as you might think I am heartless toe-rag. That said, when the heads of state are suggesting that profits and the economy are more valuable than human life, perhaps it does need to be said?

Think about your clients third

What can you be doing, right now, to help your clients? They don’t need an email from you saying “We’re all in this together, we’re blah blah blah” like the 400 emails you’ve had in the past two weeks. What they need is an “I can help you with X.” Or “In the past, we did Y, it might be useful for you to do X.”. Offer tangible help, not platitudes and messages about how you’re there for them.

Now, the future

Once you’ve attended to those three things, perhaps you’ll be in a position to stop putting out fires and start thinking about the future. At some point, this once in a lifetime disruption to your business (and others’ activities) is going to end. What then?

Things aren’t going to go back to normal, not for a long time, so you need to prepare for what might be. To prepare for the future, you need a framework to help you decide what you should do when the disaster has passed enough to get back to work.

I spent some time recently talking to a close friend and colleague about just this kind of framework. His name is Aaron, and he is brilliant (also, very handsome, well dressed, funny and single). He introduced me to the below ideas. The investment prioritization and categorization elements aren’t particularly new. What the results of these steps feed into is. It will become essential for a lot of business to understand how ready their backlog is.

Framework for the future

Start by making a list of all the things you were doing that you are now not doing. Then, add all the things that you had planned to do that are now, temporarily, shelved. Finally, add a list of all the things that you could be doing — new projects, ideas and plans.

BIG ASS LIST (Picture by author)

Now you have a big list of things to do after the crisis has passed (or waned enough to get back to business). But, there’s going to be a lot on your list, and not all of it will be appropriate to do after the disaster; maybe you won’t have the money (or your clients won’t), perhaps there will be a staffing or other resource shortage.

Maybe they’re not things that are particularly important to do anymore. So, now we need to prioritize and estimate the size and complexity of these projects.

Strategic alignment

Start with investment prioritization. For each of your projects, how closely do they align with your strategic priorities? Does this project help with your strategic imperative to grow? Does it help with customer satisfaction or improving your company culture? List your strategic objectives and measure how each project stacks up against helping you achieve these objectives.

BIG ASS LIST with strategic alignment! (Picture by author)

Once you’ve done that, your projects should be prioritized based on how closely they align with your objectives. Any that don’t help at all should be tucked away and ignore for now.

Project categorization

Next, you’ll need to categories, or estimate each project. What your groups are is up to you, but at a minimum, you could start with small, medium and large. For each project, you’ll want to assign a score across a bunch of vectors to help you decide which category it best fits.

The higher the score, the higher the category. For example, perhaps a project is very risky, but has a significant impact on your clients, needs a lot of resources and involves a lot of change. This categorization would put this project into the large category. The next project requires a small team, low risk, no dependencies and will be complete in a few days; this is a small project.

BIG ASS LIST with categories. (Picture by author)

These are elementary examples of how you might categorize your projects; it’s all going to be dependent on your industry and your company. However, most projects will involve risk, resource and dependencies, so you could get a basic categorization done with just those.

Estimate of readiness

So, now you have a categorized list of projects, prioritized by how closely they align to your strategic objectives. You could stop here. You’ve got an idea of what you need to do and how much effort it’s going to take, but the next step allows you to work out which projects on your list are ripe for starting and which need some more work.

The final step is to understand how ready each of your projects is. Ideally, when the fog lifts, you want to be able to push the button and start delivering something. If your top three projects require a bunch of planning and preparation before you can even push the button, they might not be the projects that you pick up first post-disaster.

BIS ASS LIST with percentage ready! (Picture by author)

You’ll need to decide what ready means for your company. Perhaps it’s the industry definition of ready, commercial plans setup, procurement policies, the right systems in place, and the correct people identified and prepared to go. Perhaps it’s the right UX mockups, an appropriate amount of user research, appetite in the market, engineers and designers on standby. It might even be just a case of you having time if you’re a one-person company.

You want to understand what ready means given the category your project fits. Ready for a small project is unlikely to be the same kind of ready as that for a large project. But, if your large project ticks all the ready-to-go boxes and your small project doesn’t, then the large project is something you’ll start first.

Doing it this way may seem counter-intuitive — “I have a small project, surely that would be safer and less risky to do first. The turnaround on investment would be quicker!” but it wouldn’t, not really, especially if, before you can start the project, you have to make it ready first. By the time you’ve readied the smaller project, the big project that was ready to go is halfway through.

Make it so, number one

So, now you’ve got a prioritized and categorized list of things to do when the world isn’t in fire, and you know how far away each one is from being ready to go when the veil of destruction has gone. Maybe you don’t have any projects ready to go. That’s OK, you’ve got some time to bring the projects that are nearly ready up to scratch. You can start talking to clients, or contractors, collaborators or partners about what you need from them.

Talking about it in these terms will be a breath of fresh air to hear that someone has their shit together and is talking about a more positive future.


Created by

Mike Pearce







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