Every situation teaches us a lesson. The pandemic was one such situation that caught the companies by surprise.
Companies went remote overnight. They had to undergo digital transformation at a pace they had not anticipated before.
Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, said that the company saw two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months. Reports indicate that over 97% of companies sped up their digital transformation processes during the COVID-19 outbreak.
For a digitally-native company with a remote working culture, the outbreak did not have as significant an impact as those trying remote work for the first time. Companies that were working fully remote for the first time faced several challenges. The project managers had to maintain project continuity and ensure that there were no communication gaps between the teams that could delay the project delivery.
Project managers handling large teams or leading a confidential project had additional responsibilities. For example, the project managers of projects with a large team had to streamline processes and communication. Those working on highly confidential projects had to find a solution to safeguard remote infrastructure to prevent breaches and information leakages.
There was tremendous pressure on the project managers to deliver the projects on time. They had to maintain tight deadlines and regularly report the project status to the management.
We were no different. But the experience has taught some important lessons to project managers, which most plan to continue implementing even after the teams start functioning normally.
Establish best practices
Our project managers had to tackle the conundrum that was created when their teams started working remotely. They had the task of ensuring that the infrastructure was set up properly and security policies were followed correctly. They had to communicate the best practices that the team members had to follow to ensure business continuity. New hires had to be trained too. The typical tasks also had to be tweaked to adapt to the new way of working. Project managers had to always be available to address the queries of their team members and those who were new to remote working. Considering the uncertainty looming around, they had to prepare contingency plans to continue work in case of any disruptions.
What we did and how it helped us – To maneuver through these challenges and complete the deliverables on time, save time and communicate the new processes and common queries, we documented everything– from tools to use, SLAs, communication matrix to new workflows and FAQs in detail. We established a few best practices and shared that knowledge with every team member. It helped the project managers to align their team members with a common goal and ensure hassle-free project completion.
Communication is critical for timely and effective project delivery. Typically, teams sit together, collaborate and exchange ideas in real-time. However, when everyone started to work remotely, communication became asynchronous. Project managers had to spend a lot of time coordinating and following up with the teams.
What we did and how it helped us – Instead of doing micromanagement, our project managers began using video conferencing tools such as Skype and Zoom, collaboration tools
, and project management tools to communicate in real-time and track the project’s progress. They also started conducting one-to-one online meetings with team members to understand their challenges and ensure they were sufficiently supported to complete their tasks on time. Considering that the usual water cooler conversations and team outings had to be discontinued due to social distancing, project managers started conducting virtual coffee breaks and fun sessions with their team members to keep them motivated. The pandemic taught us the importance of empathetic and open communication. It helped us replicate the synchronous communication setup in remote working and enabled us to keep the teams connected and deliver the projects on time.
Efficient monitoring and execution
As all team members were working from different locations, project managers had a tough time collating information from everyone and reporting it. Sometimes the information was incomplete or fragmented. Lack of real-time information impacted the project delivery further as project managers did not have enough information to make the right decisions.
What we did and how it helped us – We started using centralized systems to collate and synchronize real-time information from various teams and monitor the deliverables. This enabled the respective stakeholders to get complete visibility of the project milestones achieved, deadlines missed, and the productivity of the team members. This also helped the project managers to delegate tasks equally to the team members and allowed them to plan the execution in a way that the deadlines were met. It gave them greater clarity on the challenges the team members could be facing in achieving the deadline and addressing the issues at an early stage.
We are in the third year of COVID-19. The pandemic has changed the way businesses operate and how people work. It has introduced long-term changes and improvements in project portfolio management (PPM). It has taught everyone, especially the project managers, to plan for contingencies and pivot quickly according to the situations for business continuity. With many companies contemplating continuing remote work or adopting the hybrid working style, the tactics learned during the pandemic will continue to guide the project managers in their future projects. It will help them complete the projects in a more streamlined and efficient manner as they are now well-equipped to manage a remote workforce.