In early March, public schools began closing in the state of Georgia. Employers with the means and flexibility adjusted to allow their workforce to telework. This move helped keep employees safe, as they could practice social distancing, and it was practical due to the lack of childcare. Not everyone had the luxury or the infrastructure to accommodate this transition to the new norm. Being in the consulting industry that provides solutions-based deliverables to our clients, I was one of the fortunate few to be able to transition to the telework environment. Even though the circumstances were different, there were three key project management lessons that were reinforced during this exercise.
Communication is the Key
As project managers, at least 80% of what we do is communicate with stakeholders, be it: our team, colleagues, supervisors, subcontractors, vendors and customers. When communication goes well, it leads to great outcomes. However, a lot can go wrong rather quickly and set you back, if done incorrectly.
As I transitioned my projects to full time telework, I found it helpful to revise my communication protocol for all stakeholders. I reached out individually to my stakeholders to understand their preferences for communication during this unprecedented event. I made adjustments regarding who needed to hear what, by when, and through what mode of communication. Some of my staff preferred daily check-ins, but others found it burdensome. I listened and found a solution that worked for all of us. Some of my clients preferred weekly email updates, while others wanted regular phone calls, and a few wanted no changes to our current communication protocols, except transitioning all scheduled face-to-face meetings to conference calls.
All in all, it only took me a few hours to take the extra step to determine my role as a communicator and to follow through on any changes my stakeholders and I agreed to. This simple step saved all parties added anxiety and frustration.
Project scope, schedule and cost will change
Change is inevitable. Therefore, it matters how you manage change. When was the last time you completed a project that went exactly as planned? Few of us will be able to think of such a project. As project managers, when we initiate a new project, we understand that scope may deviate from the original plan. However, if we do not have a systematic process for managing change, the probability for the project to fail greatly increases.
Travel restrictions due to social distancing impacted my project scope, schedule and cost. I worked with the project staff, subcontractors and customers to brainstorm alternatives, and we worked as a team to provide best and worst case scenarios. As the project manager, I made the best recommendations available to us and proceeded to update the scope, schedule and budget to reflect the changes. Even when I thought I had the best plan, I had to ensure I had buy in from the necessary stakeholders along the way. This recent exercise reinforced the tenet, if the right folks are involved at the right time, even with the loss of co-location, our project change process can go smoothly and be successful.
Consult the experts at your fingertips
During an interview, I was once asked, “What do you think makes a great project manager?” Even back then, I knew that great project managers did not have to be the smartest person in the room but needed to know how to understand a project scope in order to hire the smartest person to do the job. Sometimes, we think we need to solve all of the issues on our own and fail to consult others until it is too late.
I was impressed at the reach back I had with my team, subcontractors and customers in solving an urgent challenge even when we had some seemingly unsurmountable obstacles that impacted our project scope. I did not need to solve the problem on my own, I only needed to guide the process, ask the right questions, set parameters and work with the team for us to agree on the best solution. Stakeholders felt valued for providing their expertise and were even more committed to the project outcomes than they were before.
Even during stressful times, we can rely on key foundations of project management, and it can be very gratifying to successfully navigate unforeseen events.