The world was ticking along like a well-oiled machine till Coronavirus threw a spanner in the works and derailed established norms and processes almost overnight. The pandemic forced us all to get creative, and nearly all industries and organizations pivoted quickly to new ways to ensure business continuity, both for their customers and for themselves.
While the technological challenges were overcome with hard work, creative thinking, and logical execution, the human part of remote working was harder to comprehend, coordinate, and control. The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown up many new challenges for our Project Managers. These range from ensuring the established routine is either continued or reworked to avoid delivery disruptions to new and unexpected HR-related challenges that our PMs had to take on.
Here’s a deeper look at how we delivered continually and on-time through the pandemic –
Business Continuity, of course, was the first challenge that organizations had to tackle. Most IT organizations met this obstacle head-on by shifting their teams to remote working processes wherever feasible. Our PMs have had to quickly equip their teams to work and deliver without interruption. Apart from facilitating and coordinating this change in the working model, PMs are also now responsible for putting in place a slew of controls to monitor the quality and timeliness of their teams’ delivery.
Rebuilding Trust – We were ready to deliver high-quality work on time, but it wasn’t just enough for us to know we could do it; we had to assure our customers that the new model would work. Along with setting internal operations, we also addressed our customer concerns around delivery, quality, security and so on.
We managed this by having transparent and empathetic conversations with customers; we not only analysed and addressed these concerns but also took on advisory roles when needed. There was no magic wand to solve all problems, and PMs worked with our teams and customer teams to come up with solutions. They kept communication channels with customers open at all times and have been transparent about challenges and constraints to ensure optimal resolutions were achieved. We genuinely feel that in the long run, this has helped us strengthen our partnerships with customers.
Policy and Process Redefinition and Control – A significant part of a PM’s work is to define policies and processes and build in control mechanisms, to ensure a project team can work in a structured manner and deliver the right product and quality at the right time. These processes and controls also help organizations meet their own quality, productivity, and financial targets. During the pandemic, PMs redefined these processes and controls to adapt to a remote working team spread out across the country (or countries, in some cases).
A case in point is security policies. The policies defined for a co-located office environment would no longer work in the new remote working scenario. Defining new policies that meet our customers’ security needs became a priority. Similarly, putting in processes and controls to ensure schedule adherence, expected time spent on work, bench management, change management, and risk assessment and mitigation became vital during this time. We have had to look at new tools to help us gain better visibility and control over our work.
People Management – Another big part of a PM’s responsibilities is creating and maintaining a cohesive, well-bonded, well-motivated, and productive team. Teams being co-located and PMs being able to connect with team members in person goes a long way in creating such teams – it makes participating in organizational level team events easier, aids team bonding, and allows Project Managers to discuss problems and take corrective action quickly.
Now, as teams become largely invisible, PMs have to work harder at ferreting out and addressing these issues. Remote working, though seemingly good for productivity, has its own challenges. Take the case of the silent worker – one who, even when working in an office environment, mostly keeps to herself and quietly chips away at her work. It becomes more challenging to engage with such team members in a remote working environment. Our PMs have to be empathetic to concerns about extended work hours, stress and other fall-outs of the new ways of working. Social factors such as team-bonding can get ignored when we are focused on delivery. Training and skill development is another challenge, and it requires more planning and recalibrating in the current environment. PMs now have to be more proactive in reaching out to their people and maybe even divining issues and working with the HR department or other teams to resolve them.
Innovation and Ideation – Apart from the routine of delivering a project, an essential aspect of a PM’s job is to innovate and find ways to provide more value to customers and organizations. Our PMs are now tasked with finding new ways of working, creating opportunities for innovation, and facilitating ideation. They are working with HR and leadership teams to ensure we don’t lose steam in our efforts to promote innovation and inventiveness.
PMs during the pandemic have to bring into play all their skills of communication, coordination, people management, stakeholder management, facilitation and innovation – and the use of some new tools – to deliver value to the customers.
Once the new normal turns into the old normal, we will be able to better assess the disruptions of the black swan that was 2020. However, we suspect that many of the lessons and changes we implemented will remain embedded in business processes. Virtualized workforces will remain a big part of almost all industries, and the Project Management learnings of the pandemic will become the foundation of managing remote teams. We can say with certainty that our PMs – who rose beautifully to the challenging circumstances of 2020 – will lead the change in the next decade as well.