Isobel Rea

Associate Partner

  • Digital Transformation
  • Operating Model Design
  • Future State Technology
  • Architecture & Design

– 04 May, 2020

Leading Projects Through Crisis And Beyond

Whilst for some organisations, remote working and an agile approach are part of their DNA, for others, particularly in the public sector, this has been a drastic change in business as usual. For these companies, the sudden and ongoing impact of Covid-19 requires a change to how leaders are seen and how they lead.

Amid this crisis, Chaucer delivered the successful go-live of a new IT system for a government organisation. The additional challenge was the requirement for elements of the programme to run in parallel, with system design taking place without a clear view of the future operating model. The successful delivery of this project has revealed four key areas where project leaders could consider adapting their approach to address the “new normal”. Previous examples have shown that it is during extraordinary and challenging times that real leaders thrive.

1. People first

A sudden change in day-to-day business can have an almost instant impact on people’s mental health, and with Covid-19 even more so. We witnessed many of the team feeling extra stress and under increased pressure and we faced concerns about how to deliver a demanding project from home whilst entertaining their children and dealing with other commitments. It was therefore important to lead with empathy, putting people first, give the team confidence that the project was still under control and deliverable, and encourage connection, positivity, and a sense of humour. With the changing needs of employees in mind and by making the work as enjoyable and inclusive as possible, we were able to relieve some of the anxieties.

2. Communication

Without daily visibility, we had to be much more proactive around connecting with all stakeholders. The downside of this approach is that calendars become very busy, so good meeting management is essential. Calendar management is imperative, ensuring sufficient time for 1-2-1 feedback and coaching, team management, and reporting whilst also scheduling in time for lunch and breaks. With changing home demands, it is good align on working hours with the team, considering members’ personal commitments. Look for opportunities to create simple user guides for those not as tech savvy with online collaboration tools.

3. Improve clarity

To mitigate for the lack of face-to-face interaction that can leave things open to interpretation, we strengthened the structures within the project. We had detailed documents capturing roles, actions, and issues, which were used on a daily basis to provide clarity. We gave each team greater clarity on their role within the programme, set clear objectives. This had the added benefit of reducing stress levels. We assigned two people to each key activity, with one in a supporting role. Doing this ensured that the team had a point of contact with whom to discuss ideas and mitigated the risk of a team member having to take a sudden break due to illness or due to the everyday impact on home life.

4. Flexibility

The first reaction to a crisis is to push back project milestones in order to re-evaluate, re-prioritise objectives and allow for the disruption. However, it may make sense to stick with existing timelines, implement some innovative thinking and instead adjust the overall scope or approach. On this project, we had to be creative in terms of how to support users with the go-live of new system when not in an office environment as originally planned. We used couriers to deliver hundreds of new devices to people’s homes, we enabled access to online training sessions, and rapidly set up a remote support network. Re-phasing the go-live reduced risk and enabled new users to join online each week.

Covid-19 has proven the nature of crises are unbound to geographic, policy or industry borders. It has required leaders be more transparent and many lessons have been learned. When leading a team unfamiliar with remote working in a time of crisis, adjustments are made, but project goals are achieved. Learning best practice from organisations already familiar with remote learning certainly helps but the fundamentals of project management remain relatively unchanged, if adjusted slightly. Helping mitigate against the crisis-driven impacts on your projects proves a crisis does not have to result in a project cancellation.

Isobel Rea

Associate Partner

Isobel is passionate about helping companies become more efficient and effective, and is known for her strong project management skills and pragmatic approach. With over 15 years of experience as a change consultant and project manager, she has a wealth of experience and insight.

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