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.

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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.

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:

Business Implications

McKinsey & Company: COVID-19: Implications for business. This is the best business briefing I have found and it has been updated again on 16 March.

HBR: What Coronavirus Could Mean for the Global Economy

And McKinsey is already looking ahead: Beyond coronavirus: The path to the next normal

PwC is running a biweekly survey: ‘What CFOs think about the economic impact of COVID-19

Business Response

McKinsey & Company: COVID-19: Implications for business… also belongs in this section!

This is another article from McKinsey. It’s thoughtful and well-worth reading. The ideas of ‘deliberate calm’ and ‘bounded optimism’ are spot on. If you’re in a senior leadership role – or aspire to think and act that way – this is a good read: ‘Leadership in a crisis: Responding to the coronavirus outbreak and future challenges’.

Also from McKinsey, Responding to coronavirus: The minimum viable nerve center and Applying past leadership lessons to the coronavirus pandemic

BCG (Boston Consulting Group): Leadership, Resilience, and the COVID-19 Outbreak

BCG has also created a downloadable PDF Rapid Crisis Response Checklist – and our regular readers know how much we do love a good checklist!

HBR Lead Your Business Through the Coronavirus Crisis

PwC has developed a digital assessment tool, the COVID-19 Navigator, to help leaders understand the potential impact of the novel coronavirus on their business.

PwC Strategy+Business Seven key actions business can take to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 This is the latest – and matches well what I’ve suggested above. (6 March)

Here’s an article that is from the archives. Arguably a little late to this party, but one to read ‘for next time’. I presented it to the Board of an organization I was sitting on, with a set of recommendations. It’s excellent, and from PwC’s Strategy and Business magazine: Planning for the Unexpected.

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

Here’s another useful article from BCG: COVID-19 Response: Big Decisions for CEOs Right Now—and Urgent Questions About the Time After.

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

Trello publishes a good Guide to Remote Working.

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

TED

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
    MONDAY, MARCH 23, 12PM ET
  • Bill Gates, Business leader and philanthropist
    The healthcare systems we must urgently fix
    TUESDAY, MARCH 24, 12PM ET
  • Gary Liu, CEO of the South China Morning Post
    What we can learn from China’s response to the coronavirus
    WEDNESDAY, MARCH 25, 12PM ET
  • Seth Berkley, Epidemiologist and head of GAVI, the vaccine alliance
    The quest for the coronavirus vaccine
    THURSDAY, MARCH 26, 12PM ET
  • Priya Parker, Author, The Art of Gathering
    How to create meaningful connections while apart
    FRIDAY, MARCH 27, 12PM ET

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.

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.

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 ProjectManager.com 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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