The PLAN-demic PM
Marianne Hang, Senior Project Manager
November 16, 2020
Today’s organizations are faced with the biggest crisis that has ever jeopardized Project Management and Organizational Change. The world came to a grinding halt with little warning and no rulebook on how to deal with it. COVID 19 is a crisis that has seriously impacted both our work and personal lives as we knew them. Every organization, every project, every family, every group, and every individual had to deal with the impacts and learn to survive. The crisis changed the way we live, the way we interact, the way we work, and how we view ourselves and one another forever. We will never go back to the way it was, which is a blessing in disguise. So much needed to change and each of us has an opportunity to make changes for the better in the wake of this crisis.
Successful Project Managers can help organizations adjust their project portfolios through these critical times. Organizations need to figure out how to survive in a changing economic and political world. The PLAN-demic PM may be just what all organizations need right now.
Issues Impacting Project Management
Several issues have transpired that didn’t seem to be noticed prior to COVID-19. My own experience tells me that these issues weren’t necessarily new, but their magnitude during the crisis was overwhelming. Furthermore, the number of issues grew exponentially, and the recovery time between issues became dramatically reduced. In very short order, project management had to focus nearly exclusively on issue management as every day brought new challenges resulting from the crisis and the worldwide response to move forward effectively. As issues raged, change management was summoned to adapt and support quickly. Organizational Change Management (OCM) became a necessity, and many Project Managers had no choice but to step up their skills immediately, specifically in OCM.
Many projects stopped, paused, or were delayed. Project KPIs shifted in response to the new working environment. Project resources were lost, redeployed to crisis management activities, or simply unavailable as health issues skyrocketed. There was a lack of, unclear, or delayed leadership response, including Project Sponsor support and direction as people struggled to get their feet under them and their organizations in order to determine effective go-forward strategies. I was sorry to see co-workers who were afraid, disengaged, angry, selfish, scrambling for work, underhanded, manipulative, insecure, sad, overworked, frustrated, exhausted, and feeling isolated as social interactions evaporated overnight and the challenges of working remotely became the new normal for many. OCM was faced with massive organizational upheavals, overall confusion, lack of clarity, lack of transparency, and the need for short response and mitigation timelines. In some organizations, people took a backseat to profits.
Project Managers were thrust into a leadership role more resolutely than ever before. There was a division between those who would rise above the situation and those who would not. Those who chose to step up were called upon to lead with purpose, lending a hand in many diverse situations – often without notice or opportunity to prepare. We were called upon to be a voice of reason, provide a moral and ethical compass, support every resource, and take on more work. We needed to be empathic, provide order out of chaos, balance friendship and understanding with the need to keep projects on track, and be effective communicators. We relied upon the foundation that comes with experience and maturity to be reliable in a crisis, hold teams and people together, and roll with the changes in order to keep moving forward.
Many Project Managers had little support and had to assess their self-care as they became exhausted, sick, frustrated, overwhelmed, and pressured to find solutions when there seemed to be none. Project Managers needed to make things happen, and help their organizations and teams survive – while staying healthy themselves. It’s been a true test of those qualities that, in times of crisis, must rise to the top in order for us to be successful. In fact, Project Managers had to develop and bring to bear “power skills” during the crisis that had more clout than soft skills in normal times.
Project Management will never be the same – it has become clear that power skills are critical to successful project delivery. These power skills include self-awareness, emotional intelligence, interpersonal communications, change forecasting, and organizational change management. Within each one of these power skills are so many qualities that support and build upon one another, and come together for an overall package of skills that – when combined with a solid foundation in the more technical and best practice areas of project management – provide the ideal parachute that a Project Manager can rely upon during a crisis situation. Add to this package some experience, forgiveness, tolerance, an ability to see the silver lining, and lots of patience, and individuals and organizations can get through a crisis with grace, fortitude, and peace of mind that they’ve done their best.
Some Questions to Reflect Upon
The crisis has hit the world hard. It has had an impact on organizations and their future. It has also had an impact on Project Management. The following are some questions to reflect upon.
• How did you manage the early days of the crisis for yourself and for others? What have you learned since then and has how you manage things these days – in both work and personal life – changed?
• Have your power skills been given a workout throughout COVID 19? Was it difficult for you to segue into those skills or was it more intuitive for you?
• How did those around you at work and at home respond to your focus on power skills? Is there support in your organization for effective power skills? Do you think this support will continue over time? Do you want this focus and support for power skills to continue?
• Have you changed as a Project Manager? Is there less division between you as a PM and you as an individual because of how you’ve dealt with the crisis? Will you continue this way in the future?
• Do you think that OCM skills are important in the Project Management role? Are your OCM skills mature enough to support project success or do you need more training, coaching, and support? Do you think that OCM is or needs to be a key part of the Project Management skillset?
• How did you, in a Project Management role, interact with the overall organizational change in your work environment due to the crisis? Did the project change synergize with organizational change? Did OCM support projects and Project Managers?
• Have you seen that of the three key components of OCM – people, process, and technology – the people component is the priority? If we don’t look after people in the rush to manage processes and technology, we will never be truly successful during a crisis or at any other time. This is because behind all processes and technology are the people who develop, implement, maintain, and support those components. Without people, processes and technology are empty.
These questions are important to think about because they help us gain more insight into who we’ve become as Project Managers in this past year and what our go-forward paths will look like. The questions make us think about what our priorities truly are and if we’re exemplifying them in our work. People are behind every project deliverable, especially during times of crisis. Putting the well-being of people first is always the correct focus in Project Management and OCM. It could be said that this past year has been a project in itself. We’ve gone through many of the project lifecycle stages and while that lifecycle continues, we’ve had to develop new risk logs and mitigations, communication plans, go-forward plans, issue resolutions, KPIs, etc. It’s taking everything we have to be successful in this biggest project of them all. Remember that you have what it takes to get through this and that everything that has served you well in your career as a Project Manager will also support you going forward during this worldwide change.
Ms. Marianne Hang is a Senior Project Manager affiliated with IT Architects in Calgary, Alberta. IT Architects (www.itarchitects.ca) is an information consulting firm specializing in business process optimization, system evolution planning, and the deployment of leading-edge technologies. If you require further information, Marianne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 403-815-7505.