Project Managers Must Pivot Quickly in Pandemic Economy

The worldwide pandemic has caused companies to shift priorities, nixing some projects, products, and portfolios and fast-tracking others. The ripple effect has created an opportunity for some project managers to take on more responsibility as high-stakes projects become mission-critical. For others, the shift in priorities and projects – as well as a #workfromhome mandate – has caused chaos where some employees have found themselves in the project manager role for the first time or their cadre of projects have been thrown into disarray, and they must adapt to new expectations and timelines.

Virtual Project Manager

When is virtual PM support needed?

In recent days, we’ve seen that project managers and PM teams are struggling in six areas. This is where virtual project management support can accelerate learning and performance.

Challenge #1:
Taking a Project 100% Virtual

If your team is now geographically spread, most of your project, program, or PMO managers just can’t be on top of everything, all the time. Plus, before the pandemic restrictions, many initiatives planned or started may need to be re-planned, restructured, or even deferred to meet new business realities.

How this challenge might affect you:

The current work environment and the need to manage initiatives remotely require organizations to review their strategic goals and determine whether their initiatives need some scope or timeline adjustment.

How virtual PM support can help:

Virtual Project Management support would assess existing and new projects to determine which projects could achieve goals quickly, mainly when managed virtually. The project manager receives “Go to Green” direction and support to ensure timely deliverables despite a virtual or disparate team, as well as coaching on issue resolution and escalation, and resource balancing. These steps would give the PM a clear schedule of virtual reviews along with a scorecard outlining priorities. These tools would empower the PM to measure, assess, and affect improvements in a virtual project/portfolio environment.

Challenge #2:
More Work, but Less PMs

Managing projects virtually in these times can catch some organizations off guard where they don’t have enough PMs — experienced or inexperienced — to carry out all of the work. This is particularly true in the current scenario where project priorities are in flux, and a PM team can be easily overwhelmed.

How this challenge might affect you:

Not having an adequate resource level of PMs is compounded when available PMs might not have enough experience or specific skills to meet the moment.  Additionally, these PMs may not be familiar with best practices and the organization’s processes and procedures, hampering progress, and performance.

How virtual PM support can help:

Virtual PM support would provide critical coaching and mentoring to ensure every PM is ready to take on the next challenge and level-up to the project at hand. Additionally, virtual PM support could also provide project management to fill competency and capacity gaps, dislodge bottlenecks, and ensure projects stay on track.

Challenge #3:
Missed Deadlines and Project Underperformance

Many factors can contribute to projects going off the rails and underperforming, including lack of experience, inadequate capacity, ad-hoc processes and procedures, and issues with authority, communication, and demonstrating adequate leadership. Mainly when a project is managed virtually, it’s easy for communication to break down and expectations to misalign, causing rifts within the PM team and customer disappointment.

How this challenge might affect you:

Missed deadlines and underperformance have a ripple effect on leadership, company performance, and customer satisfaction. High-profile projects escalate to executive management, launching difficult discussions with the clients who are particularly sensitive and risk-averse during times of disruption.

How virtual PM support can help:

Successful projects build confidence and trust with customers and executives. Incorporating virtual PM support is a strategic move that ensures your organization delivers what was promised and stays focused on projects that matter most right now. One of the best ways to turn around troubled projects or launch successfully is to institute standards and healthy project habits that require a disciplined approach within a virtual work environment. Establishing a communication plan and schedule that keeps check-ins, performance reviews, and communication at the forefront will head problems off and ensure the team and client are aligned.

Challenge #4:
New or Inexperienced Program Management Leadership

Right now, reorganization and project management shifts are constant. Many individuals are being moved into leadership roles without fully understanding the role and expectations. Inexperienced project managers may not have adequate support and leadership to develop their skills and provide guidance when issues arise or need to be escalated or remediated.

How this challenge might affect you:

Weak or inexperienced project management can quickly derail an entire team and alienate vendors and clients.  New managers need to establish their authority with the team soon, have a sharp plan and vision for the project, and clear expectations for results and collaboration.

How virtual PM support can help:

Virtual PM support ensures that new PMs create a robust plan, and are prepared for the nuances of the role. Having a seasoned PM professional as a resource will provide as-needed coaching and oversight while offering guidance on how to remediate issues effectively.

Challenge #5:
Inconsistent PMO Processes & Inflexible PMO Structures

A consistent, standards-based Project Management Office gives all PMs the foundation to ensure that projects are built and executed on best practices and processes that are consistent, modern, and using proven tools and templates. The PMO ensures that PMs are consistent across teams, using approved methodologies, processes, and procedures. This is particularly valuable when teams are working and collaborating virtually. Standards, references, and repositories create the backbone on which all projects stand.

How this challenge might affect you:

Project chaos and ad-hoc approaches are acutely damaging during times of disruption. Managing projects virtually exacerbates this by highlighting the lack of standards. While there may not be a playbook for managing projects virtually, a solid PMO provides structure and rigor to build a virtual PM team. Inconsistencies and rogue approaches, when infused into a virtual working team, leads to confusion and quickly demotivates a team.

How virtual PM support can help:

Instituting virtual PM support to create or solidify a proper PMO provides standards that all project teams can rely upon no matter where they’re working. An initial assessment of existing PMO processes highlights strengths and areas for improvement, including a new process that may be needed and gaps or risks that must be addressed. A PMO development plan would include training and coaching to ensure standards are disseminated, understood, and implemented.

Challenge #6:
Project Scope Creep

Scope creep is a big issue for many organizations. Taking projects virtual could easily exacerbate scope creep as in-person meetings evaporate, and commitments and deliverables seem harder to nail down. Coupled with inexperienced or newly-promoted PMs, and it can be tough to prevent scope creep and ensure firm deadlines are met.

How this challenge might affect you:

When managing projects virtually, it can be easy for vendors or clients to take advantage of distracted or overwhelmed teams and add more deliverables to projects. Organizations with a minimal number of PMs, high PM turnover, or shifting PMs from project-to-project increases the risk of scope creep exponentially.

How virtual PM support can help:

Virtual PM support can stop scope creep by incorporating a standard in scope remediation.   PMs would receive training to ensure they are capable of holding boundaries around the scope and how to deal with new requests or customer requirements diplomatically. Some of the skills needed are related to leadership and communication, while others center on the standards and discipline to ensure sign-off, artifact management, and change control methodologies.

Project Managers Must Pivot Quickly in Pandemic Economy

As your organization adapts and flexes throughout the pandemic and recovery, your projects, priorities, and people must succeed. That’s where virtual project management support ensures your PM team has the right training, tools, and guidance to be effective and deliver portfolio and project value.

Contact SDLC Partners to discuss how virtual project management would accelerate your project goals.

John Sandonas
John Sandonas
Senior Manager

John is a senior information technology professional with over 30 years of demonstrated systems, IT, program/project, and team management experience. He is organizationally savvy with proven strengths in creating exceptional client results, interdepartmental coordination, and collaboration. 
His program and project leadership focuses on developing and mentoring strong, results-focused teams that continually exceed business goals and objectives. Some of his most significant contributions come from demonstrated strengths in strategic planning, revenue generation, team development, and alignment of technology with business and financial goals.  

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