The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has been disruptive to our business environments to say the least. We have all been forced to change the way we do business. Now that we’ve had some practice in dealing with this challenging pandemic, what have we learned? And which project management strategies has proven to be the most helpful?
by Willem Ehlers
To curtail the spread of COVID-19, NWE Engineers was forced to temporarily close our physical offices and to work remotely. Thanks to the level 3 regulations, we have been able to return to our offices and continue providing professional services to our clients.
In terms of project management (PM) – COVID-19 has also forced us to change the way we interact and efficiently manage projects. Amidst all the new OHS regulations linked to the pandemic, most of the general PM principles and problems remain the same. However, one key challenge demands our best efforts: management of the physical barrier.
A solution that sounded like a nice-to-have yesterday could actually be a life-saver in 2020. Access to the correct technical equipment (computer, WIFI & internet connection, VPN remote access to Cloud base data etc.) is now vital for project teams. Thankfully technology is on our side and project teams can pick and choose between various PM software and helpful innovations to get the job done remotely. Using technologies like drones for site inspections, might even lead to more accurate results. These useful tools might present somewhat of a learning curve, but now is not the time to be adverse to change and they almost definitely will enhance productivity in the long run.
Clear communication of the scope of work and responsibilities within a signed and approved project charter remains vital no matter how we choose to interact.
We’ve found the following 6 keys to successful remote project management helpful:
1. Safety First
For most professional service businesses like us, people is our most valuable asset and their safety should remain the top priority. Reduce the need to travel to and attending face to face meetings. Encourage more home working together with ad hoc printing of plans & documentation at the physical office. Put people’s health ahead of project deadlines.
Remote project managers must understand that they need to develop a strong sense of trust in their project teams and each individual member’s capabilities. The key is making sure that a company hire team members who are highly disciplined, have strong communication skills, and are self-motivated.
3. New policies & project risk management
A project working group must identify virtual work concerns and best practices for the current pandemic period and beyond. These new project execution policies will need to be included within the company’s QMS system.
4. Clear communication & collaboration
Without regular status meetings, and seeing colleagues every day, the chance to ask questions or to “just check in” doesn’t present itself as easily. This is the opportunity to try and use other means of communication – without sending 10,000 emails a day which defeats the purpose. The idea is to build virtual teams that feel connected and stay in touch regularly.
Using video conferencing for “coffee breaks & Friday afternoon chitchat meetings” will also recreate the physical office break scenario and maintain a continued bond between project team members and keep all role players motivated in the long run.
5. File sharing & synchronization
On-line file sharing and data synchronization has become a daily necessity and key project success factor during the execution of projects.
NWE Engineers currently utilizes online programs such as Smartsheet, Google’s G Suite, OneDrive, WeTransfer, Dropbox etc. This provides our team and clients peace of mind with access controls, audit trails, messaging, and collaboration. Some of these tools also provide encryption, search filters, and workflow management. Your teams can share files from anywhere around the globe in seconds.
6. Monitoring & reporting
In general, there are many cloud-based tools that give remote teams around the globe the ability to communicate, track, collaborate, report project status, share files, video chat, and do all of the regular face-to-face activities required. Many project portfolio management(PPM) solutions like Changepoint, and project management tools including Trello, and Wrike, also offer apps to facilitate on-the-go activities to help remote teams get their projects completed on time from anywhere and from any device.
NWE have found the following tools helpful to ensure projects are monitored efficiently and executed safely within the constraints of time, cost and quality:
c) Drone executed site inspections
d) Ad hoc on site COVID-19 OHS regulated site inspections
No business is immune to changes in their environment as unexpected as this disruptive pandemic. In many ways business might never be ‘business as usual’ again. Working remotely is only one of the coping mechanisms businesses had to embrace, but in our opinion, the true innovators and tech enthusiast among us will surely find the journey a less bumpy ride.