I don’t know how you feel, but from my point of view, project management had already changed significantly before Corona. However, in retrospect, we have to ask ourselves whether changes in project management should not have been even more substantial. For example, the adjustments were mainly related to methodologies and tools for project management, more towards agile approaches and a greater use of digital tools. Corona disrupted a lot of things and significantly increased the need for changes in project management.
At the beginning of the Corona pandemic, we were all in a state of shock at first, watching in disbelief what was coming and how all the activities in our society were slowing to a halt. Project plans and risk lists had not taken Corona into account and messed up many plans. Since projects are primarily about people working together across departments, organizations, and national borders, from one day to the next the projects were cut off from their very existence. Those involved in the project were, in a sense, in a state of shock and were preoccupied with existential matters. Only gradually did project activities resume with the help of virtual meeting tools.
This is where the first, real advancement of project management begins, namely the change in the form of collaboration. During Corona, the awareness prevailed that not every meeting has to take place face-to-face, not only time and money can be saved, but also more focus and concentration on the essentials can be achieved with this form of work. I don’t mean to say that all meetings should now only take place virtually, not at all. Interpersonal meetings are still important, if not more essential than ever, for building and maintaining relationships. However, a large number of meetings will certainly take place virtually in the future and facilitate collaboration.
In the meantime, it has become widely recognized that project management has so far placed far too much emphasis on detailed plans and “anemic” risk management. What do I mean by this? Plans serve long-term orientation and preparation of the participants throughout the project life cycle. However, you should not try to go into every detail and plan down to the “nuts and bolts”. That will not get us anywhere in the VUCA world in which we live, and that was brought to the forefront once again by Corona. With an open view/outlook to the future, we should evaluate possible development scenarios concerning their impact on the project and thus establish a sensory system for change that keeps us responsive.
And yes, agility, or better yet, adaptability, is an important competence in times such as the Corona pandemic. What we talked about before the current crisis has become a bitter truth. Agility does not (only) mean the use of agile methods and tools. Rather, it is about the entire organization or the network of project participants becoming agile. This starts with the alignment of strategic priorities, continues with agile project portfolio management, and culminates in the iterations of a project. Only in this way is it possible to ensure that project activities are synchronized with the ever-changing environment. Leadership also has to play a new role. Managers should not get bogged down with the details of their instructions but focus on providing hands-on support in the context of the project. Finally, they should also ensure maximum transparency through communication, often only made possible by digital tools for collaboration.
Last but not least, the Corona pandemic makes us realize that we need to think more about what projects we should actually realize, the how and the what for. Projects are an effective way of solving societal challenges and providing a service for the common good. Project managers should be putting much more effort into developing tangible solutions, such as a new vaccine and its global distribution, in order to defeat the pandemic. Project management will also be needed for many other societal challenges, such as preventing the climate crisis, addressing poverty, migration, and many others. Let’s use the Corona pandemic for reframing project management, now is the time to do it!
Author: Reinhard Wagner, CEO of Tiba