Reset, Refocus, Redefine and Deliver: Be a winning Project Manager in post COVID-19 world

“There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” – Henry Kissinger

The COVID-19 crisis has met the organizations totally unprepared for an event of this magnitude. Even the most experienced and skilled Project Managers would have failed to anticipate and capture this risk into their risk registers, leave apart the mitigation plan.

The disruption caused to business due to resulting lockdown, decline in sales and overall liquidity crunch has affected the project business critically. The June 2020 report from KPMG highlights the impact COVID-19 has had on the world economy.

Source: KPMG report on “Indian auto components industry post COVID-19”, June 2020.

While many of the companies have already started their operations in a phased manner, organizations and business need to have a clearly chalked out roadmap to deal with the situation and slowly recover from the huge economic shock brought by COVID-19. It’s a big dilemma. On one hand we need to move forward, but on the other hand we realize that in crisis, trial and error are direct way into insolvency and bigger catastrophes.

The courage to stand up and prepare ourselves to deliver in this new normal will be foundation of the economic recovery. We not only need to make progress on our projects, but also rejuvenate our people with new vigor and purpose.

As we ready ourselves for this “new normal”, the very question rings in everyone’s ear is How should organizations and Project Managers respond to it? The Project Manager’s role has become more important then even before. Every Project Manager is faced with two challenges right now:

  • Survive the crisis
  • Prepare ourselves to be successful when the recovery begins

Leaders cannot sit idle and simply postpone decisions to avoid errors. They will have to step up and lead through the crisis. While there is no single remedy to all the project problems, here are some tips to be considered by Project Managers to win the race in the post COVID-19 era.

Demonstrate empathy. In such dire times, this must be the first and foremost responsibility of a people’s manager. Be there for your people, listen to their problems and empathize with them. Everyone is dealing with different problems and the least you can do is to empathize and be available to help when needed. While employees who are able to work from home are dealing with problems like concerns on health of elders, managing kids due to closure of schools and sometimes even poor internet and “Zoom fatigue”, blue collar employees are facing unfortunate pay cuts and layoffs, while small vendors and contracts are on the verge of insolvency.  

Revisit the Project portfolio and Business cases. The Coronavirus crisis has surely blown away the original project plans. The project which previously was a high priority pre-COVID, need not necessarily remain the same now. Revisit the project portfolios and determine what can be done, what need not done now and what needs to be done first. Revisit the business cases of the projects and prioritize the resources towards revised strategic objective.

Study the project contracts closely. Focus on risks and opportunities and check for any risks can be avoided and any opportunities that can be exploited.

Constantly communicate with Stakeholders. Communicate more with your stakeholders specially customers to understand the current priorities. Take an economic view on decision making and demonstrate agility to ensure that team is working on activities which are of high value to the customer. For example, while supplying equipment for a Power Plant project, understand what is going to be the erection schedule and which equipment they would need in order of priorities. Imagine manufacturing an equipment putting all the resources and realizing that the customer is not going to lift for next 4 months. Keep your project sponsors too aligned on the order of priorities and secure management support you would need to deliver them.

Take care of your Vendors and Contractors. Since not all businesses can move into virtual space, small vendors and contractors are the most badly affected links of the supply chain. Their effective management becomes very critical to delivery of the projects and hence they should be treated as Business partners:

  • Many vendors and contractors operating with limited cash flow are on the verge of insolvency due to limited order inflow and delayed payments – support them by easing out payment terms.
  • At the same time, be very vigilant about first signs of bankruptcy before awarding any new contract to them.
  • Finalize contracts based on Vendor’s capability to “complete” and not “compete”. While there will be a rat race to snatch the Orders and secure the business, only a few of them would have the capability to execute them in right time, and with right quality.
  • Inspection and expediting visits are on HOLD due to organizational policies of travel bans in COVID-19. Develop an environment of trust & transparency so that vendor shares correct status.

Work on Team Building and upskilling. Keep the communication channel open with your team. Demonstrate compassion, helpfulness and understanding. Use the time of less work to ready the team for future demands. Due to extended remote working, people tend to become depressed or detached. Try and book some slots with the team for team building activities. Keep some space for humor in the day-to-day project work.

Do not micromanage. Checking on the members’ away time and taking stock of every minute detail of their work is not a good idea. Rather create an environment where they are motivated to do their work when nobody’s watching.

These are challenging times and a Project Manager must step up to lead the change in approach. A silver lining though, in this crisis is that you will have a chance to take business critical decisions that cannot be thought of in other times. Remember, application of business acumen, informed decision making, and a lot of empathy will help to win the race in post COVID-19 era.