How has lockdown affected the way project managers need to think about their work?
The challenge has been primarily two-fold: first, technical and, second, how to do project management when the workforce is distributed.
The technical challenge is about whether the tools available are capable of supporting remote working. For example, how well can project managers use video conferencing to share plans and facilitate collaboration – and adapt to the tools quickly!
Secondly, having people located separately means there is less of the useful interaction that usually happens accidently. A lot of good collaborative activity occurs this way and it has certainly been a missing element.
When such an important information flow has completely disappeared, that means project managers and teams have got to do things more deliberately; actively instigating everything that’s important including the softer elements of being a team, such as having a weekly online chat which isn’t about work. Things like this help to build and maintain relationships and shouldn’t stop just because you can’t be in the same place.
Getting the work done and PRINCE2
When it comes to allocating work in the current circumstances, PRINCE2® offers good ideas about setting up appropriate and clear ways of working.
For example, identifying work packages, establish the content, obtaining agreement, reporting progress and completion and having sensible tolerances.
If your environment is agile, having agile stories that are well written, pulling work from the backlog and ensuring the flow of work is visible.
Using the PRINCE2 method gives project managers a flying start for ways of working that everyone understands.
Operating in the new normal
A combination of full-time, part-time, virtual working and hybrid working staff will probably typify the new normal.
Project managers and their teams will want to balance and adapt the newer ways of working from recent months with the desire of some people to resume the pre-lockdown normality.
At a corporate level, there will probably be an examination of existing projects (what should continue, what should re-start, what should stop) and – for the project manager – what happens will be analogous to a PRINCE2 stage boundary. This involves reviewing what’s been done and what should happen next, while considering the current/future impact on the business case and project plan.
Training and development
For organizations returning to a hybrid workplace, technical training will likely hinge on developing skills for the new normal, such as using collaborative software.
However, having more people trained in well-established, proven methods such as PRINCE2 is more relevant than ever before. The guidance is built to be tailored, so is just as pertinent to the new normal as the old.
For project managers, the single most important responsibility is to build and lead teams. Therefore, understanding how to manage a completely virtual team and mastering collaborative environments will be vital. The project manager’s primary value is facilitation; the better able to do that, the more the team can achieve its goals.
And what leaders shouldn’t forget is that people’s experience in recent months will be very different, based on their individual exposure to ill-health, loss and how much they think of this period as a positive new opportunity or a period of difficulty and sadness.
Listening with empathy and responding appropriately will be important as we all think about the best ways to move forward in the new normal.