The year 2020 has been challenging so far. We started with the potential war between the USA and Iran. We have an extreme bushfire in Australia, Indonesia also experienced massive floods and landslides, and now we have a pandemic around the globe.
Covid-19 or Corona Virus Disease 2019, started in Wuhan, China, is now officially a global pandemic as declared by WHO. At the time of writing, we have more than 1,4 million confirmed Covid-19 cases with more than 81 thousand deaths.
In the effort to decrease the virus spreading, governments around the world have ordered a full or partial lockdown. This means people’s movement is limited, stores and business activity are closed, and only essentials services are exempted.
This brings a significant impact on projects, and as a project manager, you need to build a strong project resilience.
This document tries to help project managers by providing a list of activities that are important and relevant to the current condition. You need to assess the list and select which applies to your project.
This list is developed with a focus on customer projects or profit-center projects. In other words, a project that is performed for a customer as part of a contractual agreement (1). However, some activities or concepts may still apply to internal projects or cost-center projects.
This list of activities is by no means complete, and you should select and perform activities that apply to your project only.
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One thing for sure, we are not going back to the previous way of working. Let’s face it, this is the new normal. Covid-19 pandemic has become the most effective agent of change for digital transformation.
Human is a highly adaptable creature. This unique capability has been the key reason why human is currently at the top of the food chain.
So, as a project manager, you are no longer have the luxury to assume that the changes in the way your project team working are temporary. There is a considerable probability that people find that working from home or remote location is still useful in getting things done, and it will become the preferred way of working.
However, we also need to realize that working from home is tough, especially for extrovert that needs to socialize and meet people. For some people, working without direct supervision can be challenging, and they find it hard to focus on the job.
As a project manager, you are expected to use your leader hat and help, mentor, and coach your project team so they can be successful in doing their job remotely.
Of course, not all tasks can be done remotely, some tasks need to be done physically on site. We understand that we have to complete the tasks. However, your project team safety should be your first, second, and third priority.
Changes are hard, and most of the time, it needs to be done iteratively. You need to perform a retrospective virtual meeting with your project team. This would be the appropriate event to discuss how everyone thinks about the new way of working, what works, and what needs to be improved.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, not only do we need to adjust the way we work, we also need to change the way we communicate in the project.
Since we don’t meet our team physically, the need to communicate closely is becoming more critical. That’s why a routine daily check-in or virtual stand-up meeting is highly recommended.
Daily check-in Meeting Tips
- Keep the meeting short, put a time-box of 15 minutes if necessary.
- Focus on discussing what your team has achieved, what they are going to do, and what obstacles they might face.
- Discuss the details separately only with the relevant team members.
- Perform the meeting at the same time consistently.
With the implementation of social/physical distancing, you need to convince your clients to move the weekly/biweekly/monthly meeting to a virtual meeting. Although this already should have been the standard practice by now, you would be surprised that some people still insist on having a face to face meeting.
You should also communicate and inform all the relevant stakeholders on the adjustment of communications in the project. It should be clear, what changes and what is not, and how it will affect them.
Covid-19 pandemic brings a lot of impact on business and society as a whole. This enormous impact might also change the priority for organizations.
As a project manager, you need to check with your client if there is a change in the project constraint. For example, before the pandemic, your client asks that the project needs to be completed before a set of a fixed deadline. However, circumstances have changed, and maybe now, your client is more focused on making sure that the project is completed within the budget and no longer pushing for the fixed deadline.
Because of the circumstances, you may need to discuss with your project sponsor and your clients, and confirm if there is any new requirement or change requests. You will then process the new requirements and change requests according to your choice of project management framework or methodology.
You will probably also need to discuss with your client on how to adjust some deliverables that require physical presence. For example, training could be part of the project deliverable. On the project plan, the training was going to be held in a hotel; however, with the new circumstances, that plan may be no longer feasible, and you and your client need to agree to adjust by performing the training using a video conference platform.
Even without Covid-19, periodically reviewing the risk register should have been second nature for project managers. With partial lockdown and social distancing practice in place, the project risks will escalate quickly.
Think about the probability of shipment delay from the vendor, increase complexity due to working remotely, numerous implications from the partial lockdown, and many more.
Identify all those new risks, assess the impact and probability, and plan for response and calculate the contingency cost.
These additional contingency costs may potentially devour all the available management reserve. You will need to discuss with the project sponsor about the usage of management reserve and potential project budget overrun.
Make sure that you also communicate the revised risk register to your project team and other relevant stakeholders. This will show project resilience and bring confidence to the project.
Project Supply Chain
According to Bloomberg, the world’s supply chain is facing root-to-branch shutdown, unlike any seen in modern peacetime as efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak hit everything from copper mines in Peru to ball-bearing makers in Germany’s industrial heartland. (2)
This will have some impact on your project, be it a small or significant impact; as a project manager, you need to stay on top of it.
Call the selected vendors and ask if there are potential delays in the shipment of materials or products that are required for your project. It will certainly help if you know the supply chain of the material or product and identify bottleneck upfront.
You should also develop a list of potential vendors or suppliers, just in case your selected vendor fails to deliver. It wouldn’t hurt if you already call them for availability and price information. Usually, there will be a premium price when the supply is low, and that price difference should be included in your new contingency cost calculation.
You should also take into consideration the currency rate volatility, as this might be one of the potential reasons why your selected vendor fails to deliver.
As we still have no idea when this pandemic situation will be over, our assumptions and estimates that you have used when developing the project schedule may no longer be valid.
You should work with your project team to identify the invalid assumptions and estimates and assess how it will impact your overall project schedule. The critical path may already look very different
After you develop a new project schedule that reflects all the changes, discuss this with your project sponsor and your clients, and consider if there is any contractual and/or legal impact.
The last aspect that we will discuss is how this pandemic will impact your project budget. We have identified several elements that might have an impact on the project budget, such as the supply chain impact, risk & contingency cost changes, and other potential additional costs.
After you have aggregated the changes and establish the new project budget, you will then have to present and discuss this with your project sponsor and seek their approval.
If the changes are too significant, your organization might have to escalate to the client and discuss it for a workable solution. As a project manager, you might need to join the conversation to provide insight on how the pandemic impacted the project and how the proposed solution might offer desirable outcomes.
The abrupt disruption to social life and business practices by the Covid-19 pandemic has been astounding and shocking. It tests our readiness, and we have clearly failed.
The best thing that we can do right now is to be agile, nimble, and adaptable. We are adjustable with whatever condition upon us.
Most importantly, we have to view this as a learning opportunity and come out with more resilience than ever.
- (1) Lehmann, Oliver F. Project Business Management. CRC Press, 2019
- (2) Donnan, Rauwald, Deaux, King. March 20, 2020. A Covid-19 Supply Chain Shock Born in China Is Going Global on Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-20/a-covid-19-supply-chain-shock-born-in-china-is-going-global