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COVID-19: A 7-Step Response Plan for Project Managers

COVID-19: A 7-Step Response Plan for Project Managers

I don’t normally publish the contents of my Newsletters as a blog article. But COVID-19 is an extraordinary situation in my lifetime.

We are keeping this article updated, so here is a summary of the recent updates…

Latest Update: 11 September

Are you Ready to Emerge from Lockdown?

Check out our new article:
Emerging from Lockdown: Project Management in the Post-COVID World

Emerging from Lockdown - Project Management in the Post-COVID World

We’re keeping the list of resources at the end of this article updated regularly. Now there are fewer appearing, I’ll update them fortnightly. Click these links to find links to resources on:

Now, we are marking articles that are new this week with the symbol: 🆕.

Last week’s new articles will be marked 🆕ish. Then the new tag will drop off.

If you are planning to sit the PMI’s PMP exam, check-out our update here.

There’s One Thing that Dominates World News

The spread of the Coronavirus infection COVID-19 is now global. It is starting to look like many countries could see massive disruption.

Video version…

I recently made a video version of the main section of the article below. But do also take a look at the resources at the bottom of this article.

Project Managers are Familiar with Dealing with Risk

But this one is outside the experience of many of us. Societally, economically, and in human terms, the impact is likely to be huge. The likelihood of some significant disruption is now approaching certainty. And the proximity is on the scale of weeks.

As Project Managers, we Need to be Planning for this on our Projects

And as members of our communities, we should also be prepared to offer what help we can.

COVID-19: A 7-Step Response Plan for Project Managers

I have been Considering COVID-19 Response Carefully

As an educator, and with a community of Project Managers who come to me for answers, I feel a need to respond. So, here is an outline COVID-19 plan for you. Its purpose is to remind you of seven priorities, and to act as a starter in forming your own plan.

1. Protect your people

Your team, stakeholders, community. Number 2 on this list may be the first thing to do, but this is your first priority. Reduce the need for travel. Encourage more home working. Put people’s health ahead of project deadlines.

2. Put it on your risk register

Convene a project Working Group and discuss a series of scenarios. Then use each of those to identify risks and work on mitigations. Look for base case common features across scenarios and build infrastructure to handle it.

3. Consider if your project should be halted or delayed

Open a conversation with your project sponsor, board, client… You need to be the one that goes to them, rather than them coming to you – that shows you as Leading the situation, rather than just managing outcomes. You’ll need their sign-off on some decisions.

4. Key into organizational responses

Your wider organization will be responding too. Your skills are valuable, so offer your help in formulating it. Bring organization-tier thinking into your project. And also link into responses among your wider business and social communities.

5. Consider procurement commitments

This one cuts both ways. You may need to delay deliveries of materials or bringing in contracted staff, if your project will slow down. Liaise with your suppliers. But, equally, if you plan to continue work, you may choose to advance purchase decisions and delivery dates to de-risk availability of materials.

If you need to renegotiate contracts, here is some guidance from my favorite source of negotiation advice, the Black Swan Group:

6. Keep talking

In times of uncertainty, fear, and possible panic, make communication a top priority. Even if you don’t know anything new, communicate that fact. Be open and candid with your team, stakeholders, and your client/boss/sponsor. Communicate your scenarios and plans, and then update with how events are affecting your project and changes to those plans.

7. Regular review cycle to reconsider plans and responses

Set up a regular review process, to keep yourself and key people up-to-date on external facts, and allow time to consider responses. The situation may change fast. Establishing a process to evaluate changes will give you the infrastructure to adapt quickly.

And finally…

Now is the time to think about alternates. Who will step into your role, if you are taken ill? What about work-stream leaders and other key people on your project?

Convene your top team and sketch out alternates for everyone – and alternates for those, if your project is big enough. But, by the time you get to that tier, they may need to be managing an orderly temporary shut down of your project.

I am Hopeful that it Won’t Come to the Worst

But hope is not a strategy. If you have a responsibility for people and a project, you need a plan. And the time to start work – if you haven’t already – is now.

What are Your Thoughts…

about preparing your project for the risks associated with COVID-19? Please let us know below, and I’ll respond to every comment.

Learn More

Here is a selected reading list:

In ‘Charting the path to the next normal’, McKinsey offers you A daily chart that helps explain a changing world—during the pandemic and beyond.

In fact, McKinsey has consistently led all other consultancies in publishing thoughtful analysis and ideas relating to the pandemic. Now, they are launching McKinsey Live – webinars on navigating beyond the crisis and shaping the next normal that lies ahead.

Business Implications

From McKinsey & Company

From the Harvard Business Review

From PwC and their Journal, Strategy+Business

From BCG (Boston Consulting Group)

Business Response

From McKinsey & Company

If you are a technical project manager, interested in cyber-security or the role of the CIO, McKinsey has two interesting articles:

From BCG (Boston Consulting Group)

From PwC and their Journal, Strategy+Business

From the Ivey Business Journal

Leadership at This Time

From Harvard Business Review

From McKinsey and Company

From PwC and their Journal, Strategy+Business

From Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

From the Ivey Business Journal

Remote Working

We’ve just given permission to one multinational to post our article on remote working onto their intranet. Please drop me a line if you’d like to do the same. Managing Remote Teams: How to Meet the Challenges

If you are into learning and aren’t familiar with CatCat, it’s time to change that. They have just published two excellent curated learning journeys:

If you want to work within an Agile framework, BDC has an article you will like: How to Remain Remotely Agile Through COVID-19.

Trello publishes a good Guide to Remote Working.

McKinsey & Company brings us a highly relevant article for Project Managers: Revisiting agile teams after an abrupt shift to remote

10 Quick Tips to Make Remote Meetings Work from author Steven Rogelberg – 4min video

Friend of OnlinePMCourses, Elizabeth Harrin has updated a couple of her articles on working virtually. Read 4 easy tips for better virtual meetings, and tips from Nancy Settle-Murphy’s book Leading Effective Virtual Teams.

Learning about Project Management while you are at home…
With over 100 PM videos and two new ones every week, our YouTube Channel is a fabulous resource. Some are core knowledge while others offer tips, insights, or thought-provoking ideas. Check it out.

The Association for Project management (APM) has a journalistic article: ‘Covid-19 and Managing the Transition to Virtual Working’. It’s light on solid advice, but the first real contribution I’ve seen from either of the big two PM organizations (sadly).

About COVID-19

I don’t want to post too much here – there is plenty of coverage in all local news media. But here is a highly curated selection from sources I trust.

And let’s start with a professionally curated resource, from Pocket: Coronavirus: Essential Reads

Top scientists respond to the situation via the Science Media Centre

A McKinsey Analysis with compelling graphics: The prevalence of COVID-19 across the United States

Risk Analysis from De-RISK

OnlinePMCourses friend, Keith Baxter, has written an excellent and thought-provoking article about the risk of pandemics, the way COVID-19 arose, and the UK Government’s response. For anyone who has a professional interest in Project Risk Management, Keith’s article is a must-read: The Ultimate Risk: Pandemics


Week commencing 23 March, TED is starting up a series of daily talks under the title TED Connects: Community and Hope. The program will feature experts whose ideas can help you reflect and work through this time with a sense of responsibility, compassion, and wisdom:

  • Susan David, Psychologist studying emotional agility
    How to be your best self in a time of crisis
  • Bill Gates, Business leader and philanthropist
    The healthcare systems we must urgently fix
  • Gary Liu, CEO of the South China Morning Post
    What we can learn from China’s response to the coronavirus
  • Seth Berkley, Epidemiologist and head of GAVI, the vaccine alliance
    The quest for the coronavirus vaccine
  • Priya Parker, Author, The Art of Gathering
    How to create meaningful connections while apart

As the threat of COVID-19 continues, infectious disease expert Adam Kucharski answers five key questions about the novel coronavirus on TED: ‘How can we Control the Coronavirus Pandemic?’ And, if you want the full conversation with founder of TED Chris Anderson, you can listen to the full 70-minute interview.

How can we return to work without spurring a second surge of coronavirus infection? Biologist Uri Alon shares a thought-provoking strategy. ‘A COVID-19 “exit” strategy to end lockdown and reopen the economy’

What we do (and don’t) know about the coronavirus . TED Talk by David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He led the World Health Organization’s global response to the SARS epidemic in 2003.

From GatesNotes (Bill Gates’ blog): What you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine

From Scientific American: How the COVID-19 Pandemic Could End

From McKinsey:

And finally, if you have a literary frame of mind, take a look at this, from Strategy+Business: Business lessons from Albert Camus.

…and if you are wondering how this situation is changing people’s lives day-to-day, here is a very topical guide to shopping locally – something I have always tried to do. It’s written from a US perspective, but I think the ideas apply well in many places. As we become a more global community (and I hope we will again), I think we also need to be more and more concerned with our environment and proud of our immediate communities.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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  • Adamn Wilsom says:

    Wow. Due to the COVID-19 I am consuming lots of content to gain knowledge these days, believe me there is so much to learn from your response plan I must say.
    Especially I loved that part where you talked about “Consider procurement commitments” .

    Now in order to manage and collaborate with our remote team we are using:
    – Zoom for virtual meetings,
    – Indydesk for Project Management tool,
    – Teramind to monitor productivity,
    – Slack for communication.

    Thank you and I am looking forward to learn more from you.

    • Mike Clayton says:

      Adam, it’s great to hear that you have found a set of tools that are working for you. I know and use two of them, but Teramind and Indydesk are new to me, so thank to for sharing your stack.

      I am glad you found the article helpful and I wish you, your friends and family, and your colleagues all the best.


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