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?
Most of the articles I’ve written are based on direct knowledge:
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:
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.
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.
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…
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;
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.
And the next four questions will help you prepare the ground for understanding the strategic future for your project.
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:
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:
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…
It may be that other new projects will (and should) compete more effectively for funds and resources.
I’ll be suggesting other questions you need to ask later, in the sections on:
The next question connects to the first of my core project management tasks to prepare for the post-COVID world.
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:
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:
I recommend a full stage gate review before proceeding with your project…
The COVID-19 pandemic has been pretty much a Black Swan risk event.
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:
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…
Undertake a complete review of your risk register.
One of the mechanisms to manage risk is good governance. See our article: What has Project Governance Ever Done for Us? [Ans: A Lot]
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…
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:
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:
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.
Bringing it all together, we need to answer this question:
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 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:
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.
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:
We’ll start with the easy question (to ask) – about materials and supplies:
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].
There are four inter-related questions you’ll need to address.
You need to balance your responsibilities to your people, and to your project. This links to Question 5, above.
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…
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:
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.
The most important single question here, should be obvious:
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..
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…
Set a team to review this question and find the right answers for your project:
And what do you need to do to inform people and enforce policies? Examples include:
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…
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.
And what channels and media will optimize:
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.
It is likely that you will need to increase the rhythm and communicate more than previously. Under stress, people need:
So, this leads us to…
You must consider your priorities to include:
I don’t have a question to ask you here. Just a simple, essential task.
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.
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.
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:
And, for your team members, a quartet of questions…
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…
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.
This is a big topic, that will give us our last two core Post-COVID tasks.
Take an intentional approach to evolving your project culture and your own leadership and management style.
The first leadership question to address is:
It seems to me that there are three broad approaches you can take to leading a re-launched project:
Whichever mindset you choose, I think your key leadership themes are likely to include:
There’s a need for some deep thinking here. But it should lead you in the direction of preparing for:
You need to answer the question…
You need to research and develop effective practices. Do take a look at our article: Managing Remote Teams: How to Meet the Challenges.
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.
As a leader, maintaining morale and protecting your people are your top priorities. Under this heading, I would include:
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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