Projects carry some inherent risks, and part of the purview of project management is anticipating, preparing for and minimising (or even eliminating) these risks. Some common risks in project management include cost, schedule and performance risks.
However, the very real risks posed by a pandemic like COVID-19 are just now being understood in the field of project management. So the question here is: What have project managers learnt from this experience? And what will project management education and training be like in the age of COVID-19?
Lessons from COVID-19 for project managers
Without a doubt, no country and no manager was ready for the onslaught of COVID-19. The impact of COVID-19 is massive and continues to permeate all industries and institutions, even as vaccines are already being rolled out in different countries.
In the project management arena, the consequences of the global pandemic tested the mettle of project managers in various fields and industries. Projects and conventional work in general had to be delayed, cancelled or changed. COVID-19 has, without meaning to, magnified even the smallest issues and inefficiencies present in processes and daily work. It brought to fore the need to recognise, study and understand what’s missing and what could still be improved.
In fact, COVID-19 tested company and staff resilience severely, as big and small companies devised ways to achieve a modicum of continuity in the absence of access to safe, communal workspaces. Remote work or work-from-home (WFH) arrangements became – and still are for most – the norm, with some companies becoming more successful in the transition than others.
For those who have succeeded (or failed) in their endeavour toward attaining business continuity amidst the pandemic, there are three important lessons to remember:
- Communication and collaboration are key.
Whether you’re working or managing projects face to face or remotely, communication and collaboration are crucial to facilitating work and attaining one’s objectives for each project.
Of course, the limitations set by the pandemic have forced managers to be creative in their approach to communication. Managers learned to stay on top of developments within their teams while avoiding unnecessarily disrupting and micromanaging their people.
- Digital technology and data centralisation are crucial to project success and business continuity.
Companies that have always prioritised using available technology, such as the cloud and cybersecurity, to centralise data access and protect their data assets have transitioned more easily to new workplace setups.
Their quick adoption and streamlining of new processes have also made them more successful in pushing through with their projects, albeit at a smaller scale in some instances.
For companies that have yet to achieve this, adopting a project and portfolio management tool can make it easy to add, update and track projects in real time, in person or remotely. Collaboration tools like Slack, Trello, Google Drive and the like can be used by teams depending on the nature of their projects and their communication needs.
- Efficient monitoring strategies ensure productivity.
In general, companies can’t afford extra costs, project delays or resource inadequacies, which can all translate into massive ROI losses. Therefore, project monitoring is key to project management efficiency.
With the right communication, collaboration and data centralisation tools or technology, efficient monitoring and reporting should be easier to accomplish. Through synchronised monitoring and the use of a secure, centralised data access system, you’ll get updated information in real time, so you can take action as needed.
With COVID-19 in the picture, the public and private sectors realised that what were once considered nice to have, like having the right technical equipment, cybersecurity and centralised digital data access, could actually be the lifesavers when a crisis as big as a pandemic makes an appearance.
Impacts of the pandemic on project management education and training
If there’s one thing that the pandemic has taught project management professionals, it’s that one doesn’t know everything. Even when you’ve received project management education and training in recent years, continuing education is important to developing skills that you can use whatever industry you’ll be involved in. This includes traits or skills that are critical to project management in the middle of a pandemic, such as resilience and agility.
Some key improvements in project management education and training would focus on the following:
—Highlighting the role of digital technology in project management, especially tools for data centralisation, project management communication and collaboration.
—Studying the role of cybersecurity in project management, as cyber crimes continue unabated before, during and, most likely, even post-COVID.
—Recognising the value of remote leadership – what it is or what it entails to improve and enhance those skills required to work with remote and disconnected teams.
—Training project managers to work efficiently and in harmony as part of a distributed or remote workforce, in anticipation of future similar crises where WFH arrangements become the norm.
—Facilitating remote project management and monitoring where all aspects of the process and resources are clearly documented and updated in real time.
Training in disciplined agility as a key practice element during crises like COVID. This requires a flexibility in outlook on project activities, the ability to manage risk and implement rapid scope change. It also entails skills in ensuring certainty, even during uncertain times, through the implementation of clear, achievable documented plans and the use of relevant project control documents, no matter how chaotic the environment or setting.
Project management education and training will always be a valuable asset for any kind of professional. And with the challenges brought forth by globally disruptive crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, current and future project managers would do well to upskill or reskill themselves continuously through formal learning in this practice. This way, they are better equipped to lead their teams and handle crises, whatever the scale.