On April 30, 2020, Jeff Allen joined Simplilearn’s Teaching Thursdays webinar series to discuss how self-isolation has impacted work and project teams. Jeff is a project management consultant and trainer and Agile transformation coach. He has conducted more than 325 training sessions on ASM, PMP, CBAP, PMI-ACP, and PMI-RMP Exam Preparation for more than 6,000 participants.
Jeff gave his advice on how to keep project teams productive and on track during the COVID-19 lockdown.
What Challenges Arise for Project Teams During Self-Isolation?
Jeff described his specific circumstances when the lockdown essentially shut down air travel. He was on a business trip far from home, and his return trip was rescheduled later-by four months. In the meantime, he still needed to manage a complex, geographically-distributed project that included 11 project teams divided between Chennai, India, and Washington, D.C., USA. This is a scaled Agile transitioning project that spans multiple years, so it could not be put on hold until the pandemic ended.
Jeff set up a base of operations in a rented room in Washington, D.C. He set up his laptop with two additional monitors, Jeff’s traveling office equipment set already included the monitors, a laptop docking station, a wireless mouse and keyboard, webcams, and a USB hub. The only other specialized piece of equipment he invested in was a comfortable, ergonomically correct office chair.
To communicate with his project team and monitor progress, Jeff uses various communication software tools. Skype, Webex, and Zoom provide video conferencing. Microsoft Teams and Slack integrate project team communication and task tracking. To share actual activity on screens and to document work, his project team uses Snagit for screen capture and Camtasia for video capture of screen operations. The main engine of the project work is Azure DevOps, allowing the project teams to develop and deploy software continuously working together.
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How Do You Keep Projects Moving Forward When the Project Team is Scattered?
The key to keeping a geographically-distributed project team on task and on track, Jeff says, is to be agile. Using Scrum to organize and drive work, the project team can stay focused on the right work at the right time to make consistent progress toward customer goals.
Jeff applies the same kind of discipline to his own time management, which has become more important than ever in self-isolation. He applies the Agile Scrum technique of timeboxing to allocate his work time in manageable chunks. He uses the discipline of timeboxing to say no to outside distractions like email, calls, and messages while he focuses on a particular task.
When project team meetings become necessary, Jeff assigns a Facilitator to keep the meeting on task and a Scribe to document what information and agreements develop in the meeting. Jeff establishes ground rules for each meeting that include a commitment to active listening, keeping the pacing slow enough for everyone to follow, and achieving consensus on each agreement.
What Long-Term Impacts Will This Crisis Have?
Jeff believes that the pandemic is likely to result in an extended rise in unemployment. At the same time, people will need to adapt to working remotely for the foreseeable future.
To avoid being one of the long-term unemployed in the pandemic economy, you need to be prepared to fill your current position more effectively while at the same time preparing to find another job if your situation requires it. Skills certification and upskilling will enable you to stand out from your peers, both to your current employer and to other prospective employers. Acquiring soft skills, such as active listening and facilitation, will help you to be more effective in your job.
To prepare for the possibility that you will need to find a new job, make sure your resume is in order (and that it highlights your new skills certifications). Spend time and effort on networking with your personal and professional contacts, and make sure your social networking profiles (especially your LinkedIn profile) are up to date and professional-looking.
If you feel you are ready to take on courses to help future-proof your career in project team management, take a look at the courses and programs, Simplilearn offers. You can learn and gain certifications in PMP, PMI-ACP, Agile Scrum Master, and a variety of other digital economy skills and disciplines. You can construct a learning path that fits your needs and budget.