The project fire drill 4 step action planIf you were to ask people involved in project and change management what is one of their biggest frustrations when it comes to a project management office, what do you think their answer would be?

The most precious commodity to most project teams is time. This means that it must be used extremely wisely. So for this reason, most project teams dread and loathe “project fire drills”!

What is a “project fire drill”?

Just in case you are new to the project world and have not heard of the term “fire drill”. This is the name used to describe a piece of unplanned work, usually with an unreasonable deadline in a response to a request (usually senior management). For those who have been involved in projects, even if only a short time, you probably have been impacted by at least one.

How can a PMO help ease the pain of a “project fire drill”?

A good PMO will always be looking for opportunities to help and support the projects that they support. The following 4 tips are methods a PMO can provide value and help ease the burden on the project team.

  1. Push back

The best way of stopping the impact is by pushing back on the person / area making the request. It is unfortunate that many PMO’s simply accept the request and feel obligated that it must be actioned.

When you receive a request, ask some simple questions to understand the reason for the request, the required outcome, importance, etc. Use the questions to assess if the request makes sense and if it makes sense. From the questions you may identify that the request does not meet the required outcome. It may even be irrelevant.

If this is the case, explain the concerns to the requester and try to get the request stopped. Word of warning, the requester may be simply acting on behalf of senior management so you will need to help provide them with logical arguments to help them to push back or, at a minimum seek further clarification.

  1. Service request centrally

The PMO should be the hub for project information. Therefore, if the request is reasonable, it is highly likely that the PMO can service the majority, if not all of the request from the data they hold.

If this is the situation, the PMO should populate as much of the request as possible and then send on to the project manager (or appropriate person to finalise).

Important: even if you can provide all of the information, make sure you provide this to the project manager to review and sign-off. Even if they trust you, make sure they are aware of the request and what you propose to submit.

  1. Early messaging

Project people like to plan and avoid nasty surprises – like “fire drills”. If are warned that a request will be coming, try to brief the project teams so that they are aware. While “fire drills” are typically unannounced and out of the blue, sometimes a PMO may start to pick up on themes emerging that may result in requests being made.

As soon as you are aware or sense a theme, communicate to the project teams. This must be done in a structured way as you do not want the teams to rush off and take action before the full details of the request are available.

  1. Consistent messaging

When a request has been made, it is important that there is consistent messaging from all team members. If a deadline has been set for submissions, make sure that all team members communicate the same timeline. It is not helpful if different deadlines are being communicated. This will confuse people and make them not trust the dates being set. This will typically result in missed deadlines.

Make sure that all teams are clear on what is expected. Publish clear guidance as this will help the teams respond. This is all linked to the theme of trying to add value and help ease the pain on the project teams. Do not simply forward the request to the project teams without reviewing and providing clarity.


It will never be possible to eliminate “project fire drills”.   So the next best thing is to have an established method to deal with the requests. The 4 steps listed above are a good base to form your own plan that will mean that you and your PMO will provide more value to your organisation.