Issue Management & Stakeholders

December 19, 2009

Our business manager was a passenger on Qantas flight QF10 Singapore – Melbourne on 17th Dec. that experienced an engine failure after take off and had to return to Singapore.

From and risk and issues management perspective, overall the Qantas response was very good. In flight the information provided to passengers was timely, accurate and relevant.

By the time the aircraft landed some 40 minutes after the incident, busses and hotel rooms were organised, the hotel had found additional staff, check-in was quick and an evening meal provided (not bad for a problem that occurred close to midnight Singapore time.

The pre-organised emergency response plans even included bright orange stickers to ware so people directing the 350 passengers to the busses, etc could identify the people from the flight. Overall, from the flight crews response to the initial problem through to the ground crews management of 350 disoriented passengers the initial response was great an clearly demonstrated a well thought out response plan.

However, once the initial issues were managed, the following 12 to 18 hours were not so good – perhaps the accountants started to worry about costs?? There was no local contact point provided, no ability to deal with individual issues such as his need to access our business systems (we had to pay for the connection) and only limited communication.

What we find really strange is the time one would have expected communication problems immediately after the engine failure the Qantas service was exemplary, later when one would have expected the situation to be under control the Qantas service collapsed to a fairly low level of customer care.

The lessons to be learned from this experience are twofold. Firstly, good risk response plans really do make a difference, and there may be a place for generic plans at the organisational/PMO level for issues likely to occur across a range of project rather than the individual project each inventing their own. These generic response plans could also identify corporate resources that can be called in to help resolve an issue.

The second, more important lesson is the effectiveness of the initial response can be seriously damaged if the stakeholder communication diminishes before the people inconvenienced by the issue are fully over the problem. The Qantas response was technically efficient, right through to flying a replacement aircraft into Singapore for the journey to continue some 23 hours later; there are only a limited number of aircraft sitting around with nothing to do…..

Where Qantas failed was in personalising the follow through to help stakeholders deal effectively with their individual issues. Just a little extra care and we would have been praising Qantas 100%, as it is we feel rather disappointed in the final outcome: a C+ response rather than an A+ and all of the grades were lost at a time when the organisation had had time to think about its reaction, rather than when the problem first occurred.

Risk response plans need to deal with more than just the technical issues. Managing people’s expectations and disappointments is at least as important if the overall damage caused by a risk event or issue is to be minimised.