Project Management Institute

Making Sparks Fly

Innovation Isn't Optional; So Don't Wait Until The C-Suite Gets The Message-—Get Started With These Tips

By Andrew Robinson, PMP

Every natural disaster is different. The brutal hurricanes that punished the Caribbean and southern United States last year made that tragically clear. Hurricane Harvey dropped stunning amounts of rain on Texas and Louisiana—27 trillion gallons, or more than four times what fell during Hurricane Katrina 12 years earlier. Hurricane Irma will be remembered for its broad swipe across nearly all parts of Florida. And Hurricane Maria decimated nearly everything in Puerto Rico.

Keep adapting the delivery plan to meet the demands of those in need.

The respective recoveries across the region will be long and costly. Projects delivering new housing and infrastructure (among other things) will be unique to each storm-impacted area.

And that's where custom delivery approaches can help. I saw that up close while executing a housing reconstruction program in 2006 in Louisiana after the one-two punch of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita there the previous year.

Rapid Response

The initial federal response to Katrina revealed how much the U.S. government had to learn about disaster response. But the enormity of the damage in Louisiana caused government agencies to turn to project management office (PMO) concepts and agile approaches for longer-term recovery programs. The PMO I helped direct as part of the Louisiana Recovery Authority's Road Home Program worked to deliver unanticipated and urgently needed capabilities. For example, it identified the need for call centers and a data-entry center to handle housing applicant information—and we quickly created each in 30 days.


Houston, Texas, USA after Hurricane Harvey



Creativity matched with agility was the secret. Understandably, stakeholders in post-disaster environments are very emotional, and they forcefully advocate for change to meet community needs. Vanishingly few initial disaster recovery program designs stand up to waves of residents’ changing needs. So the PMO employed change control boards to adapt without delaying or disrupting progress. Iterative approaches are a natural fit for disaster recovery programs—fixed and inflexible program delivery structures have nothing to do with good project management in this theater.

Adapt to Revive

While traveling in Texas in September to survey the damage left by Hurricane Harvey, I saw the need for recovery teams to leverage agile. What the Texas state government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency accomplished within just 30 days to restore some normalcy was impressive. Refineries were back in operation and school buses were picking up students. But as the longer-term recovery process continues, one mantra should drive project professionals: Keep adapting the delivery plan to meet the demands of those in need. PM

img Andrew Robinson, PMP, is president of RG in Alexandria, Virginia, USA. He has worked in management consulting for over 25 years and can be reached at
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