Webinar Wrap-Up: Project Management Work in the Post-COVID Era

On July 7, 2020, Tim Jerome joined Simplilearn’s Step Into the Sunlight webinar series to discuss how self-isolation has impacted work and project teams. Tim has over a decade and a half as a PMP® and Project Management trainer. He is a leader in the Project Management Community and is a well-known speaker and mentor in the field.

Tim gave his advice on how to help project teams emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown and how to adapt to the changes that will persist after the lockdown ends.

How Is Project Management Going to Evolve as We Come Out of COVID?

Tim observed that there is a greater acceptance of remote management by business leaders, managers, and employees. Part of this was forced upon us by the pandemic and the lockdown when remote management became the only mode available, but the experience has taught us that it can work and work well. However, it means that we must rely more on leadership skills – influencing, motivation, emotional intelligence, and organizational politics – to make the remote mode of management work.

We now have to have greater respect for the unknown. The pandemic is the latest example of a “black swan” event: something that happens so rarely that people have forgotten that it can happen. To be agile enough to survive and thrive during these kinds of events, whatever they may be, we need to rely more on general preparation instead of specific planning. We need to practice more what-if thinking, more estimation of potential error, and more discussion of risk (what ‘might’ happen, backed up with analysis).

Because we are no longer working face-to-face, with corresponding ability to read body language and collaborate spontaneously, we need to have an enhanced focus on communication as a primary tool. We need to select the communication tools we will use for our projects and teams - tools like Zoom and Slack - and we need to be disciplined in how we use them to communicate with each other effectively and efficiently.

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What Will the “New Normal” of Project Management Look Like?

Project management now consists of building and maintaining relationships daily while doing the general work of managing projects over the timeframe of the project and its subdivisions. Monitoring project progress against objectives and milestones is a necessary function. Still, the project manager has to be able to organize, motivate, and facilitate the teamwork that accomplishes the work towards those objectives.

Through relationships, exploration of risk, and analysis, issue management will be the primary aspect. “We don’t know what we don’t know” will be a discussion topic. We will need to be on the lookout for new challenges that may require us to change our plans and even our business models, and we must also be prepared to address these issues as they arise - without knowing beforehand what they will be.

The daily push-and-pull of negotiation and influence will focus on ensuring information and support are maintained continuously, as unpredicted issues and risks are quickly brought to the surface and managed. There is a tension between the need to operate efficiently and the need to innovate so that our products and services remain current with customer needs and wants.  

Which Areas in Project Management Will Have an Increased Focus?

The business focus areas for Project Management include exploration into new revenue streams (new business, products, services) and investment into more flexible infrastructure (move from brick-and-mortar).

In times of challenges, we need to be able to see the opportunities that emerge. Sometimes the opportunities are a matter of survival for our business, where our old business model doesn’t work any longer, and we must adopt a new one. Sometimes, the challenge can open our eyes to a new way to make our products and services more valuable. Tim used the example of flour mills during the Great Depression of the 1930s in the USA. They noticed that some families were using the cloth sacks that the flour was sold in for fabric to make clothes. Some flour mills started selling flour in sacks printed with pretty designs and washable labels so that the flour sacks could be used to make attractive clothes. This earned the flour mills goodwill from their consumers.

An important part of changing business models in response to current challenges is the shift away from traditional brick-and-mortar businesses. Consumers who are restricted by lockdown from shopping in the conventional way need ways to shop online. Businesses that have delivered their products and services face-to-face now need ways to conduct business online. Online models may not be exclusively online, but they may involve a hybrid of online shopping and physical delivery in ways that minimize face-to-face interactions for safety.

What New Expectations Will the Customer (Your Stakeholder and Sponsor) Have?

“I am scared” will be a message from the customer. If you can interpret “I am scared” not just as a statement of fear but as a guide to what they are afraid of, you can assist in identifying the threat and propose collaboration in solving it.

Customers will rely more on interaction with the project manager and team. To meet the increased demands from customers for information on the product or service and the status of its delivery, we will face more direct questions from the customers. We will need to have more interactions internally and externally to keep that communication flowing.

More mission-critical projects will be handled in-house. This trend was already in place before the pandemic, and it continues at a faster pace. The challenge of interacting remotely with contractors or vendors and the need to assert more control over things that directly affect revenue generation mean that businesses will choose to source critical applications and processes internally, and project managers will assume a more vital role internally because of it.

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What New Challenges Will Project Managers Face as Organizations Resume “Business as Usual?”

The challenges that will face project managers will be the same issues they faced from their clients and end-users pre-COVID - there will just be a bigger volume of them.

Clients want a one-time solution: ‘tell me what to do.’ They like to order turnkey solutions that fill their requirements and work right out of the box. But the pace of change means that what they require today may not be what they need on the day they take delivery.

Clients need a new mind-set: ‘I need you to tell me how to think and problem-solve.’ Clients need to be part of the solution team so that as their needs evolve, they communicate those needs to the project team and understand from the team what solutions are possible.

Students preparing for the PMP exam want the list of things they need to memorize, but that approach is obsolete. What they need now to succeed in the PMP exam is knowing how to approach problem-solving.

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What Expectations Will Businesses Have of Project Management?

Businesses now are realizing they need skills for business resilience. What worked yesterday won’t necessarily work today. The entirely human response to that is, “we need to figure this out once and then move on.” That’s the wrong response, however. Problems evolve, so they need a dynamic process of problem-solving and solutions delivery.

Businesses are also gaining a gradual understanding of the need to hire for problem-solving over a pure “hire-for-skill” approach. Having the technical skills to do the work at hand is critical, but in addition to those skills, businesses need people who have problem-solving skills that let them find the right solutions as needs evolve.

Tim addressed many live questions from the audience. You can hear his answers when you watch the webinar replay:

If you feel you are ready to take on courses to help future-proof your career in project management, take a look at PMP, PMI-ACP, Agile Scrum Master, and the other courses and programs Simplilearn offers. You construct a learning path that fits your needs and budget to learn and gain certifications in these and a variety of other digital economy skills and disciplines. 

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