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

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

The Coronavirus pandemic has been the biggest point incident in the working lives of almost every professional working today. But, as we emerge from our COVID-19 lockdown, what do you need to be thinking about, as a Project Manager?

This has been the hardest article to write in a long time

Most of the articles I’ve written are based on direct knowledge:

  • My own knowledge
  • …supplemented by the knowledge of others,
    in books and from other sources on the web

Here, we are heading into the unknown and, as far as I can tell, nobody has written about it yet.

But there have been a lot of articles about general business response to the COVID pandemic. I’ve been collating them at the foot of my earlier COVID response article.

That article started as a simple 7-step plan. But I have been adding references to the best online resources from trustworthy source. Each week, I’ve added more and over the weeks I’ve been reading (or scanning) them all. And making notes.

The other reason this article has been hard to write is the sheer volume of articles and notes I’ve made. But sorting them out…

Here’s a picture of the challenge I faced:

Emerging from Lockdown - PM in Post-COVID World

This is a mind map summarizing all of my notes!


From all of that, I have synthesized 29 questions for you to think about in preparing your project for the post-COVID world. And, more important, I have also identified 9 Core Post-COVID tasks for you.

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

Let’s take a look at the ten sections I created, to structure all this.

Although you can see that the structure is highly interconnected, I think this sequence makes as much sense as any – and more than some.

  1. Strategic Issues
  2. Risk Management
  3. Governance
  4. Benefits Management
  5. Resource Issues
  6. Physical Adaptation
  7. Communications
  8. Stakeholder Engagement
  9. Day-to-Day Project Management
  10. Project Leadership

How I’ve Written this Article

Note that very little of this article will tell you what you should do. Instead, it is very much a list of issues to think about and questions to resolve.

And there are a lot of them. But, I don’t for one moment think is is even near-complete. Perhaps, however, it will prompt you to think through the challenge for yourself. And I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Especially if you have issues or questions I have not thought of.

So, let’s get started…

Strategic Issues for your Post-COVID Project

Always start with strategy, right? And any strategic decisions you make – or your governance tiers make – about your project must be dependent on context. So, the first questtion you need to ask is;

Q1: How long is this going to last?

That is, what is our best current assessment of the timing for the different stages of coming out of COVID-19 lockdown?

Your organization will need to form a view on this question, if it is to make sensible decisions on the questions that will necessarily follow.

Project-specific Questions

And the next four questions will help you prepare the ground for understanding the strategic future for your project.

Q2: How does your project fit into the post-COVID world?

  • Is it an enabler for recovery?
  • Or is it a drag on recovery?
  • How relevant will it be?

The answers to these questions may tell you whether you need to abandon your project straight away. But if it is still a goer, you will need to answer the question:

Q3: What is the funding situation within your organization?

And how does it affect the wider project portfolio… and your project in particular? Your project may be sound – even valuable. But, if the business needs all of its available funds just to survive…

But, if your project is to go ahead, you’ll need to figure out what changes you’ll need to make. And that means answering the next question:

Q4: What will be the long-term impacts of the Pandemic, in terms of:

  • Societal changes
  • Political changes
  • Competitive changes
  • Regulatory changes
  • Legislative changes
  • Health & Safety changes
  • Economic changes
  • User-behavior changes

The answers to these questions will point you in the direction of re-structuring, re-specifying, and re-scoping your project into a new and relevant form. But it will still be in competition with other potential projects. So, you’ll need to assess…

Q5: What commercial opportunities has the pandemic opened up for your organization?

It may be that other new projects will (and should) compete more effectively for funds and resources.

Other Questions

I’ll be suggesting other questions you need to ask later, in the sections on:

Core Post-COVID Task No.1

The next question connects to the first of my core project management tasks to prepare for the post-COVID world.

Q6: What has COVID done to the business case for your project?

Too much has changed. You need a new baseline and that means that you need to re-assess the scope, benefits and costs of your project. You must re-craft a business case.

And, to do so, you will need to answer two more questions:

Q7: What are the new purpose, goal and objectives for your project?

Yes, I think you may need to go right back and re-dfine what your project is, and what it is not. And then, you’ll need to get into details with this question:

Q8: How do events impact:

  • Time-lines
  • Budgets
  • Availability of:
    •    materials?
    •    assets and equipment?
    •    contractors and consultants?

Stage Gate Review

I recommend a full stage gate review before proceeding with your project…

Everything from here-on assumes that, in one form or another, your project will continue.

Good luck!

Risk Management after COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has been pretty much a Black Swan risk event.

To understand what we mean by a Black Swan event, checkout the section on the four types of risk, in our article, Indispensable Guide to the Sources of Project Risk.

Your first priority will be an urgent one. You need to think about preparedness for and resilience towards a resurgence in COVID cases during the autumn/winter season.

This should lead you to conduct scenario planning for your project, based on a selected range of possible futures. This process will inform your answers to the next question:

Q9: What are the ‘just-in-case’ supplies you need to secure and procedures you need to develop?

Preparedness is everything. Of course, the cost of this should also feed into the Business Case review you conducted above. And it does so via three questions that flow from…

Core Post-COVID Task No.2

Undertake a complete review of your risk register.

  • How have pre-existing risks evolved?
  • What new risks are present?
  • What new actions are needed?

One of the mechanisms to manage risk is good governance. See our article: What has Project Governance Ever Done for Us? [Ans: A Lot]

Governance Post-COVID

You need to thoroughly review your governance processes. On the one hand, with so much uncertainty and risk, they need to be robust. Yet, on the other hand, with so much in flux, they need to be swift and agile. This is a true challenge!

For me, the most important step is to review how governance tiers make decisions. With so much chatter and gossip about the impacts of the pandemic…

  • Where are decision-makers sourcing high-quality information?
  • How can you counter the threat of group-think?

One way to improve decision quality under stress is to enlarge the decision-making group. It can feel like the urgency demands a smaller group. This only makes group-think more of a risk.

And, to keep your decision-makers well-informed, ask:

Q10: How does project reporting need to adapt to the changes?

I have found it hard to craft some generic advice for this, so my only tip is to keep in mind the question ‘what do we report for?’

The generic answers are simple, but for you, its the balance that will determine the process you’ll want to put in place. Tose answers areto:

  • Communicate and share information
  • Place facts on the record – an audit trail for transparency and learning lessons
  • Provide data for informed decision-making

And also ask whether there is a good data trail from the time you were in crisis-mode at the start of lock-down? If not, rebuild that audit trail as soon as possible.

Core Post-COVID Task No.3

Bringing it all together, we need to answer this question:

Q11: How does the situation impact the appropriate governance procedures for your project?

Review everything with your sponsor, from who needs to be involved, to cycle times, to meeting structures. And remember: the post-COVID world may last a fair time before we return to whatever the next normal will be. So build robust governance structures to last: not as a quick fix.

Benefits Management

Benefits Management is a big topic and one I fully intend to address in depth, in early 2021. I’m waiting to see what PMBOK 7 has to say, because PMBOK 6 treats it in a cursory – near-derisory – way.

There’s plenty of good guidance to draw from, and the PRINCE2 manual and APM’s Body of Knowledge both treat it as central fo our profession. But for here, I will stick to one important question that will feed into your revised busness case:

Q12: What has the situation done to affect the anticipated benefits profile for your project?

As soon as we talk about benefits, it brings to mind costs. And cash is merely one form of resource – albeit the master resource. So, let’s go there next.

Resource Issues Emerging from Lockdown

We’ve tackled the money issue under Strategic Issues. And I am going to assume that assets and equipment will be available as they were before the lockdown. So, that leaves us with:

  • Materials and supplies
  • People

We’ll start with the easy question (to ask) – about materials and supplies:

Q13: What will be the Impacts of the Post-COVID Situation on your Supply Chains?

This wil take some research and will doubtless feed into your risk register and scenario planning, so pop back up there for more context. If procurement is not your thing, then do take in our article: Project Procurement Management [All the basics you need to know].

And so to Your Team…

There are four inter-related questions you’ll need to address.

Q14: What new project opportunities are opening up in your organization?

  • for your team members
  • and also for you!

You need to balance your responsibilities to your people, and to your project. This links to Question 5, above.

Q15: Do you need to re-deploy some of your resources to support other areas of your organization?

This may not be about opportunities, but rather about requirements. The third responsibility you need to balance is to your wider organization.

The next question is…

Q16: Have any of your team been furloughed?

If so, you need to test the cases for reinstatement on a case-by-case basis.

All of these questions add up to one big question:

Q17: What constraints do resourcing issues impose on your project?

And this question will of course feed into your consideration of strategic issues. But, one of the features of the post-pandemic situation is the need to adapt the way we work, day-to-day. So, let’s move onto that tricky topic.

Physical Adaptation to Post-COVID Working

The most important single question here, should be obvious:

Q18: What health, welfare, and protection provisions do you need to make for your team-members?

And that throws up a whole host of subsidiary questions, as well as links to risk management and resources (including procuring essential supplies).

Possibly, the biggest shift to the way you work will come from the next question..

Q19: Space – how many people can you accommodate with 2 metre spacing? 

The details of making a workplace safe for appropriate distancing are outside my expertise. And anyway, different Governments in different countries are offering their own advice. This varies from laissez-faire policies to strict social distancing rules.

Your project must comply with minimum local standards, organizational policies, and (above-all) the needs of your team to feel safe.

All this leads to…

Core Post-COVID Task No.4

Set a team to review this question and find the right answers for your project:

Q20: What new procedures do you need to create?

And what do you need to do to inform people and enforce policies? Examples include:

  • Work-at-home
  • Travel

We’ll tackle the question of how to deal with this, as a Project Leader, in the last section, on Project Leadership. For now, let’s take a bit of a leap across to a new topic…

Project Communications in the Post-lockdown World

As we all know, communication is a vital part of project management. And, never more so than in times of crisis. So, it will be very important to consider these two questions with care.

Q21: What messages need to go out to:

  • Stakeholders
  • Team members
  • Project partners

And what channels and media will optimize:

  • Pace
  • Accuracy
  • Compliance of recipients in engaging with information

Naturally, this will feed forward into our consideration of Stakeholder Engagement. But, before we look at that link, we have another question and a core Post-COVID task.

Q22: What will be the new heartbeat rhythm for your communications?

It is likely that you will need to increase the rhythm and communicate more than previously. Under stress, people need:

  • Clearer messages
  • More repetition
  • Candid assessments
  • More frequent communication

So, this leads us to…

Core Post-COVID Task No.5

You must consider your priorities to include:

  • Maintaining a flow of information about current actions and anticipated changes.
  • Ensuring that team-members learn of things before other stakeholders.
  • Contextualizing information to each recipient/group. Help them to see how each chunk of information is relevant to them, their interests, and their work.
  • Showing how decisions and actions conform to Government and healthcare guidance (or, if not, be clear about the reasons).
  • Transparency and condor. Do not hide stuff from the very people who can help you fix problems or who can make them worse if they catch you on a lie. (This is something our political classes can learn from too!)

Stakeholder Engagement after the Virus

I don’t have a question to ask you here. Just a simple, essential task.

Core Post-COVID Task No.6

You need to re-engage with stakeholders to understand what their new perceptions and priorities are. You must ask them questions and listen carefully to their answers. Then, you will need to feed your insights into the Strategic Process.

Day-to-Day Project Management beyond Lockdown

At last, we come to the day-to-day management of your project in the Post-COVID world. The questions here will lead us to a simple core task.

Q23: What are the new project priorities and sequencing?

Yup – it’s time to think about re-baselining your project plan. And new challenges may require new skills and approaches.

So, review your project resource allocations. Identify new skills your project will need. To supply them, will you:

  • Bring in new people, or
  • Train your current team members?

And, for your team members, a quartet of questions…

Q24: What will be the impact on physical travel for your people and on your project?

Q25: What are the management implications for increased virtual team-working?

Q26: What new technology do you need to invest in to support the next-generation team management and project oversight you will need?

The last of these has an obvious connection back to your review of Project Governance. But the culmination of all of these questions will be…

Q27: What changes will you need to make to the equipment you provide to home-working team-members?

Core Post-COVID Task No.7

Build yourself a Re-launch Plan. Engage your team in the process and use it as the basis of a suitably socially-distanced/virtual re-launch event.

At this event, you will have a chance to reassert your Project Leadership role.

Project Leadership

This is a big topic, that will give us our last two core Post-COVID tasks.

Project Culture and Your Leadership Style

Take an intentional approach to evolving your project culture and your own leadership and management style.

The first leadership question to address is:

Q28: What mindset will you adopt?

It seems to me that there are three broad approaches you can take to leading a re-launched project:

  1. Continuity mindset
    Continue as if nothing much has happened.
    A ‘long weekend approach’.
  2. Re-start mindset
    Pick up efficiently from where you left the project.
    A ‘re-sharpen our tools approach’.
  3. Start-up mindset
    Re-examine the situation with fresh eyes.
    An ‘out-with-the-old approach’.

Leadership Themes for your Post-COVID Project Management

Whichever mindset you choose, I think your key leadership themes are likely to include:

  • Greater levels of adaptability (agility).
  • Encouraging more autonomy for people working remotely.
  • Increased alignment and co-ordination with other active projects.
  • People first – a renewed focus on the talents of your people as your primary asset.
  • …leading to a greater emphasis on developing a T-shaped Team.
  • Acceleration of adoption of digital SaaS tools for your project
  • Reasserting a sense of community

There’s a need for some deep thinking here. But it should lead you in the direction of preparing for:

Core Post-COVID Task No.8

You need to answer the question…

Q29: How can you adapt to virtual working for more of your project team?

You need to research and develop effective practices. Do take a look at our article: Managing Remote Teams: How to Meet the Challenges.

Focus on what really matters

One important priority will almost certainly be to re-evaluate your daily leadership priorities and ditch any tasks that do not directly bear on the successful leadership of your project.

You must also prioritize your own health, wellbeing, and resilience. If you don’t, you will not be able to properly serve your people. Avoid the temptation to fall into ‘hero-mode’.

Which brings us neatly to our last core task.

Core Post-COVID Task No.9

As a leader, maintaining morale and protecting your people are your top priorities. Under this heading, I would include:

  • Reasserting the vision for your project and the shared purpose of your team. Focus the team on the certainties that exist, so they can better navigate the uncertainties that seem to dominate.
  • Re-building a sense of community among your team.
  • Setting up day-to-day support mechanisms for your project team – maybe buddy-pairing.
  • Celebrating small successes as they arise.
  • Remaining calm, confident, and prudently optimistic in the face of setbacks. You will have them. The test is not whether, nor how many. It is how you handle them.

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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