The Corona pandemic is keeping people around the world on tenterhooks. Read the interview with our Executive Director Reinhard Wagner about what he advises to emerge out of the crisis. One thing is certain: it takes a lot to survive as a company in the end. Resilience, change ability and solidarity are only the beginning. Reinhard Wagner tells you which further steps will be necessary and what you must keep in mind.
How did you and your Tiba colleagues experience the Corona pandemic?
Reinhard Wagner: There were first indications of the danger of the virus, but the force with which the virus hit us in Germany was astonishing and no one at Tiba had expected such rapid development. As a service provider, we were also unable to escape the effects. Several seminars in March and April were canceled or postponed indefinitely. Many of our employees were no longer able to provide their consulting services at the customer’s site and had to do their work from their home office. The Tiba “PM-Tage”, planned at the end of March with more than 200 decision-makers, had to be postponed to the coming year. Plus, Tiba couldn’t avoid applying for the reduced-time work program for their employees.
In countless conversations that we are currently having with our customers, we get similar scenarios. Many companies are currently experiencing a 180 degree turn towards virtual communication and working methods. Face-to-face seminars were quickly changed over to online formats, concept and project work for customers was no longer (only) carried out on site, but from the home office, without any travel activities and costs. Our “Digital Training” competence center was suddenly exposed to a rush of questions from our customers and employees: “Which tool can I best use for an online seminar? What needs to be considered when using the well-known “Zoom” tool? What are the advantages of “MS Teams”? How do I prepare for a video conference with many participants and what should be considered when moderating a virtual session? During this time, customers clearly benefited from the know-how of Tiba to conduct seminars and other forms of meetings digitally.
At Tiba we are currently experiencing an unprecedented phase of creativity and incredible cohesion. The exchange is livelier than ever, and everybody at Tiba is working across departments on new, innovative solutions for our customers. I think this crisis will change society and its values long term.
What do you advise companies to do now that there are signs of easing of the exit restrictions?
RW: The main thing now is to act calmly and prudently and to prepare in depth for the reactivation of the business. After the initial restrictions primarily focused on cutting costs as quickly as possible in order to maintain liquidity, cash flow must now be watched closely. In other words, the main activities that should be started are those that quickly generate income. I would personally advise against high investments in the current situation. As a consulting company, we therefore recommend our customers to focus on project portfolio management and to control all activities via a “Kanban” board. A Kanban board offers you a structured overview of your activities and allows you to act faster, more strategically and systematically in times of crisis.
In order to get the best, most strategically meaningful added value out of your projects, it is important to define criteria for prioritizing activities and projects and to evaluate the entire portfolio of activities and projects. There are activities that must wait. These are simply “parked” and reactivated next year. Of course, there are also projects that absolutely must be continued and have top priority in resource planning. Most of the portfolio will be somewhere in between. In principle, it is “drive by sight”. A weekly reassessment of the situation helps to “start-up” successive activities and projects again. It is also certainly helpful to assess available resources. Which resources are a bottleneck factor and need to be planned in detail, or which resources can you possibly help yourself quickly and overcome a bottleneck situation? In this situation, the project portfolio and resource management tools prove extremely helpful.
Some experts warn of a deep recession. What is your view?
RW: There will surely be a time of uncertainty, waiting and adjustment in the next few months. In my experience (and this coincides with statements of economic experts), the economy will recover relatively quickly in broad areas. Even now, there are a multitude of new impulses: digitization will experience an enormous boost, companies will realign themselves strategically and, given the experience, pay attention to resilience and more sustainability. Companies must become more adaptable, which affects organizational structures, mindset and corporate culture. All of this will create an economic impetus, which we will experience in the business figures for the fourth quarter. That is why I advise (especially now) to look at the strategic direction of the company from a certain distance, to re-adjust if necessary. Use the time to try out new business ideas, working methods and approaches.
That sounds like Change and Transformation?
RW: Sure. In times of crisis, it is definitely an opportunity to remember the true strengths of the company, to try new things and to start the time after Corona with fresh impulses. In the future, meetings will presumably take place more virtually, and future training will also be offered in accordance with the “blended learning approach” as a combination of online and face-to-face formats. Rigid forms of organization will have to change or dissolve significantly and the general mindset will also evolve towards greater adaptability.
It is one of Tiba’s key areas of competency to support managers and employees in change and transformation programs, especially when it comes to improving the adaptability of an organization. With our proven approaches, we have helped many customers in challenging situations in the past, especially when it comes to preparing employees for the changes. A key success factor and guarantee for competitiveness will be the transformation ability of companies in the future. Above all, the introduction of agile methods and scaling as well as the digitization of the entire company will be decisive for the survival of many organizations. It is precisely these aspects that need to be addressed as a priority after the Corona crisis.
What has become of the discussion about climate change and sustainability? Tiba has also written a lot about sustainability in project work in recent years.
RW: During the Corona crisis, the topic of climate change took a back seat to general discourse. However, climate change will be on our mind again very soon and, above all, will follow us over a very long period. In the long term the effects on us humans are more serious than Covid 19. Perhaps the current challenge will help us to deal with climate crisis, as we learn what focused cooperation between all levels of society, companies, politics and all of us can achieve. Above all, I would like more resilience in commercial companies, starting with the design of the corporate strategy, the project portfolio of the coming years and concrete measures in preparation for and mitigation of the consequences of events such as climate change, pandemics, natural events and trade barriers, to name just a few . However, resilience not only requires a strategic answer, but also a rethinking of the organizational structure. A hierarchical organizational structure with a functional division and assertive executives will find it difficult in the future to be an attractive employer for young talents and to prove themselves in a highly volatile environment, as well as to create enough new business ideas that will advance the company in a competitive environment. In cooperation with you, we are here to help you find a suitable strategy for you and plan the measures necessary for implementation
And yes, the Tiba has extensively dealt with sustainability in projects and project management in recent years. We are concerned with a broad concept of “sustainability” – at the level of the individual, the project team, the company and at the social level – and the responsibility that goes with it. In working groups, we collectively discuss numerous concepts, both at Tibia and in working groups with customers, experts and other interest groups. Talk to us to get new impulses.
The last question ties in with the previous question. What have you done in recent weeks to strengthen the sustainability of Tiba and our society?
RW: In mid-March I decided to go to the home office. Those who know me and know that I am a frequent flyer, may understand that it was a difficult adjustment process for me at the beginning. Customer meetings, trips and events that had already been agreed had to be canceled, postponed or held with the help of virtual tools. I saved my trip to the office in Munich, but the number of online appointments suddenly sky-rocketed and the days were filled to the brim. The entire Tiba team is currently reorganizing itself, developing innovative approaches to help customers during this time. At Tiba we all use the time to create concepts on behalf of the customer, e.g. for blended learning, for PM academies, project analyzes and potential for improvement for the time after Corona. Work continued in the construction sector and the need for support, particularly in the energy or infrastructure sector, continues unabated. Instead of vacationing at Easter, we were able to secure some very large orders in this area for Tiba.
Besides this, I supported the PMO Global Alliance’s Covid 19 “hackathon” as a mentor. A very exciting and, for me, new experience in an international environment, in which almost 500 interested people worked on various project ideas. In my opinion, this can be used as a modern form of creative work at Tiba and will certainly also help our customers to unleash talent and creative energy for innovative solutions. This is proof that new opportunities can arise from crises. With this in mind, I wish everyone a good restart and good luck with what they are doing.