What projects can learn from Covid-19

by Nicolas De Greef ©

Have you heard of #coronachallenge?

Well, it’s a challenge to learn or start something new you’ve never done. Or tried before while in lockdown. So as for my #coronachallenge: I’m trying to start blogging. So here we go! Step 1: set a topic. That’s an easy one: Covid-19. But where do I as a project manager and agile adept add value here? That question gave me the idea for following subtopic: what can projects learn from the Covid-19 crisis?

What have these two in common you might ask yourself? Quite a lot, if you ask me. Let me explain.

Projects include times of change and uncertainty. We have changed our way of life. We have a high level of uncertainty with regards to the outcome and the “to be” situation. I don’t know about you, but even though I’m a true optimist about everything, I feel quite uncertain about a lot of things at the moment. Will I be able to go on holiday this year? How will the 1,5m of social distance work at the customer site? Will we be forced to work from home much longer? And more.

With large projects – and Covid-19 might be the biggest project in human history – you have a governance board (in this case the national security council) who meets at regular basis and makes their own decisions without direct input of the stakeholder (in this case everyone of us).

Looking at our governance board and the way it communicates, I learnt a few things.

First of all, involve your stakeholders as much as possible in the project you’re undertaking. They/we have input that is of great value for the board. More over, we’d love to give input, as shown by the participation in weekly university surveys.

Second, I learnt that communication and clear decisiveness is crucial. Nothing so frustrating as being left in the dark or receiving information that is ambiguous or even contradictory. When you communicate, make sure that it’s clear and that all decisions are actually taken. As in many projects, it’s possible that you have to communicate without having worked out all the details. A great example in this regard is the reopening of shops during the Covid-19 crisis. The Belgian government hastily announced it will reopen the DIY-stores without saying which ones are qualified. This leads to confusion and contradiction. If you don’t have a list of which stores may reopen, just say so and buy some time by saying that you’re finalizing the list. Don’t rush and communicate half truths. 

The third important thing I learnt about projects is the status reporting and drop out. You must find the perfect balance in reporting the status of a project. Too little? Then stakeholders get stressed. Too much? Then there’s a risk of drop out. Stakeholders will lose interest in the project and status reports will become like lottery numbers.

Status reports will become like lottery numbers!

And finally, however important your project, there will always be stakeholders who will resist. Even if it is of critical importance to them, such as staying alive. Just make sure that the measures you take, keep enabling the people that do everything it takes to make the project succeed. In this regard, to avoid a possible extension of the lockdown.

Some projects can’t be planned to the end on an waterfall model. But that’s not an issue. Apply an Agile way of thinking and project management. More of that in my next blog, so stay tuned! And more important, stay safe.

Nicolas