At Sciforma, we have been successfully working remotely for over 25 years. So, basically, it was in our DNA long before the spread of COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders. However, for some organizations, project management in times of COVID-19 can appear as a real challenge. Especially if your company has been forced to experiment with remote work, without preliminary arrangements. It may also look insurmountable if your company deals with big projects, portfolios or programs that involve hundreds of people.
However, with the right tools, methodology and organization, it is not that formidable an obstacle. According to Global Workplace Analytics’ analysis of 2018 American Community Service (ACS) data, 5 million employees (3.6% of the workforce) currently work-at-home half-time or more and regular work-at-home has grown 173% since 2005.
Actually, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis could invite a welcome reality check for project management. As it magnifies all those small issues and inefficiencies that we usually tolerate in our daily work, it can help recognize and understand what could be done better, and it could provide the nudge we need to start solving them, paving the way for tomorrow’s better, more efficient project management strategy. Remote project management issues… are no different from usual PM issues
Amidst this madly uncertain context, there are, at least, some familiar faces: your PPM problems. Even if your team is now geographically spread, most of the issues you will encounter are the same old pain points you have been experiencing before. Because, guess what, even in the office, project managers, PMO or program managers just can’t be on top of everything, all the time (unless they’ve got superpowers or something, and if so, don’t ever let them go). Sure, you now have a physical barrier, but the issues will remain the same, you just have to learn how to manage them remotely.
From our viewpoint, there are 3 keys to successful remote project management:
- Clear communication & collaboration
- Data centralization
- Efficient monitoring
How to Solve Project Management Issues When Working Remotely
The good news is, you can solve all of your issues with just one or two tools. You know where this is going, right?
A solution that sounded like a nice-to-have yesterday could actually be a life-saver for your company in 2020. Don’t get this the wrong way: this implies that your team has the right technical equipment (computer, Internet connection, remote access to company softwares), that the work CAN be done remotely and that the scope of work and responsibilities are clearly defined (for both team members and managers).
Clear Communication & Collaboration
Without regular status meetings, without seeing colleagues every day in the office, the chance to ask or answer questions or to “just check in” doesn’t present itself as easily. This is the opportunity to try and use other means of communication. However, don’t compensate by sending 10,000 emails a day. This would defeat the purpose, and just frustrate your teams. The idea is to build virtual teams that feel connected and stay in touch regularly.
At Sciforma, we have significantly reduced the number of internal emails. For simple questions, that do not require extensive answers, we use our chat. There is no point in sending an email if you can get an immediate response. We are not very fond of incessant phone calls either, as the chat allows our colleagues to manage their time and respond at their own pace.
For regular meetings, use a simple video conferencing tool like Zoom, Skype, or even Google Hangouts (which is free). It recreates the atmosphere of the conference room, facilitates communication, and maintains connection between team members that can easily feel isolated.
With constant communication, as a Project Manager, you’ll easily be able to identify and solve issues, which will enable you to meet your deadlines and deliver on time.
TIP: Don’t forget informal meetings. Schedule “coffee and tea chitchat meetings” so you can recreate the coffee break and maintain the bond without limiting the interactions to work. It will help keep your coworkers motivated in the long run.
One of the biggest problems that our clients face is missing or unreliable data. Each team works on a different Excel sheet, so the primary need is to be able to collect and synchronize all these data. With the current lockdown context, organizations have no other option than to centralize the information (communication, work sheets, reports, documents). Without a centralized information system, there can no longer be proper project management.
The solution here is pretty simple: a Project & Portfolio Management tool. The Project Manager should be able to log in and immediately see everything that is happening in real time, and to track the progress of each project to ensure that everything goes as planned. You could, of course, use collaboration tools like Google Drive, but if you don’t adopt organizational processes at the company level, you’ll still waste time looking for documents in the maze of individual project folders.
Keeping everything in a shared location ensures all team members know what they’re responsible for and what they need to work on. No one can claim they haven’t seen task assignments or didn’t know something was due.
TIP: Project Managers are among the people responsible for keeping your tool or your tracking system up to date. See to it that, within their weekly schedule, they take time to make sure all tasks are completed, deadlines are met, and resources are not overloaded (or, take corrective action). Project maintenance is important for all team members, including managers.
Just like with data centralization, the context forces us to monitor project status more closely. Most companies can’t afford extra costs, delays or missing resources that would translate into massive ROI loss throughout the year. Even within a conducive economic context, a one-day delay could spell the loss of thousands of dollars. More than ever, monitoring is key to efficient project management. With a good data centralization tool, you should be able to achieve efficient reporting. Your monitoring and centralizing systems should be synchronized so that you get real time information, enabling you to take immediate action when necessary.
Define your KPIs, build monitoring dashboards and make sure you can visualize them in real time. For instance, in Sciforma, each project can be tracked using a Health Score which gives each Project Manager, PMO Manager or stakeholder an idea of where the project stands at a specific time. Make sure to set notifications and warnings for potential issues or risks.
Summary: COVID-19 and Project Management
You’ll see that these 3 factors are interconnected. Without efficient communication, you can monitor as you please, but you’ll never be able to act on issues. Without centralized information, there’s not point in monitoring partial or wrong data. Finally, you can’t do anything if you team does not feel connected, supported, and empowered to make sure that the projects move on.
Getting these 3 success factors right can not only help you weather the ongoing COVID-19 storm, but also drive long term project portfolio management improvement in your organization. If you were considering Project & Portfolio Management solutions, now could be a good time to dig deeper. Taking action now would enable you to start reaping the benefits in the coming months.
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