How do you successfully manage projects during a global crisis? Here, our Senior Project Manager, Helena, gives her view.
Most experienced project managers will have had to handle a crisis happening on their projects. If you’re lucky enough not to have encountered a crisis, or are a fairly new project manager, I’m sure you’ve seen others tearing their hair out when things have gone really wrong. As a project manager, you’re used to anticipating what could go wrong and having to problem solve when they do. But how do you continue to manage projects amid a crisis outside of the realms of your project? What if something serious happens in the wider organisation? Or what do you do if there’s a global crisis, such as the pandemic situation we currently find ourselves in?
This is something that I, along with many other project managers, have been grappling with recently. I’ve been managing projects for clients in the public and third sectors. This means that they’ve had to drastically change they way they do things and reprioritise rapidly, which has made managing projects that were already ongoing more of a challenge. Suddenly my project sponsors and workstream leads have more, different and very urgent priorities to attend to elsewhere, which has meant keeping projects on track can feel like a bit of dance.
I’ve been thinking about how we as project managers can adapt and try to help keep projects going whilst also being aware of, and sensitive to, the other pressures project sponsors and leads are facing.
How can you keep projects going?
One of things you can do in these circumstances is to pay more attention to communication. Things may have to change but you need to ensure you keep communicating. It’s good to ask yourself ‘does this really need a call/meeting?’ and consider if you can send one email instead of several. Try to keep your communications concise and to the point; don’t send your project leads lengthy emails when short bullet points will do.
It’s also important to consider communicating on the wider project. You need to acknowledge that the crisis has happened and be honest about the potential impact on the project. This may be a good time to ask people for their ideas and encourage innovation and suggestions.
People and organisations are undergoing unprecedented times of change. This has in some cases shown how much we can achieve when we really need to, so this might be a good time to encourage ‘bigger picture’ thinking on what could be done differently.
Try and establish an understanding of the impact of the crisis. Try to ascertain what this means for individuals, the organisation, the project and the way the organisation operates. Some details may be unclear, and the situation may be fluid and evolving quickly. However, the more you understand about the situation, the better able you will be to face reality, envisage other scenarios, and act quickly when there is more clarity.
Finally, you should use your contingency planning skills and experience to factor in the changes your project leads are dealing with into how the project is run. Work with them to think of alternatives. Identify areas of the project that can be done differently, or where timescales and deadlines could be moved, extended or contracted to adapt to the new environment and resources available.
Times of crisis are naturally challenging for everyone, but it’s really important that as a project manager you keep a cool head and maintain some realistic optimism. Try to identify any silver linings you can take from the situation. If that’s difficult, then remember the old English proverb: ‘a smooth sea never made a skilled mariner’. It will be hard, but dealing with challenges is often an opportunity to do some of your best learning, even if it is from when things didn’t go to plan.
Do you have any experience in managing projects during times of crisis? If so, let us know your thoughts and tips for how to get through and keep your projects on track. You can get in touch with us by email or on any of our social media channels.
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