Project management in the COVID-19 era

The challenges we faced…

The COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to rethink their business models and shift to remote working or a work from home (WFH) format. While facing a global crisis situation like no other, they also had to learn on-the-go to steer their businesses through this style of working. As project managers (PM), we too shifted to the WFH model, but navigating it came with the following challenges:

  • Our modes of communication were limited to calls, emails and WhatsApp messages, which was a challenge in itself. In the pre-COVID era, we conducted meetings with teams, clients and stakeholders in-person. This helped the PM form the right team, understand customer requirements better and discuss feasible methods of project execution. Similarly, it helped the customer to better understand the project progression, from planning to execution.
  • Owing to the new health protocols put in place, our technical teams could not visit operations sites, locally or overseas, for the installation and configuration of hardware.
  • While our technical teams would usually work on-site at the customer’s location, the pandemic brought about new rules and regulations on a nation level, as well as by some customers. For example, some businesses restricted access to outsiders. Our teams had to improvise or obtain special permissions to utilize customers’ VPN connectivity in order to directly link to their systems and servers.
  • There was an urgent need to create dedicated workspaces in our homes to conduct official online meetings.
  • We were obligated to arrange special transportation for critical technical teams to visit client sites during the mandatory lockdowns.
  • Office access was granted for certain project teams in order to obtain the necessary equipment for their work.
  • Printing of project documentation was done using office printers to maintain quality, while binding and transporting them to customers was also done in-house.
  • We had to obtain digital signatures from customers and project teams for project documentation.
  • Coordinating overall team activities to work as a single unit became a task in itself.

How we overcame these challenges?

It was a challenge to adopt to this new way of working overnight in March 2020. We had to navigate the country’s restrictions on movements and adhere to changing health guidelines, which was something entirely new for us. Here are some actions we took to overcome the challenges:

  • We conducted daily meetings and stand-ups with the project teams, and had frequent online discussions and phone conversations with our respective subgroups to monitor project tasks.
  • We were able to obtain special approval from customers to visit them onsite for location-based implementations. Our company also required us to keep track of visits to external sites via a new contact tracking system.
  • The technical team required VPN connectivity in some cases, which was duly provided by the customers as the best safety net for the employees of both companies. In other cases where VPN permissions were not obtained due to critical secure systems, we were able to organize isolated spaces within the premises for our resources to work on the project.
  • With the assistance of our transportation team, we arranged special transport for some individuals during the lockdown, and the contact tracking system was maintained.
  • The company provided clearance for key resources to visit certain sites for critical projects with assistance from the customer.
  • Staff within the office premises assisted us in many tasks, from obtaining the necessary hardware to printing and binding project documents.
  • We learned to adapt to using modern communication tools extensively to connect with our teams, as well as customers.

How did you change your management style to adapt to WFH?

When addressing these challenges, we had to change our style of managing projects and teams as follows:

  • Changes in the mode of communication from in-person and direct to online and distant, including adopting various audio and video communication tools.
  • Managing customers from a distance.
  • Working on operational tasks such as procurement, delivery of hardware, project expenses, etc, from home.
  • Delivering status reports to client sponsors via online communication tools such as MS Teams, Cisco Webex or WeMeeting.
  • Learning to manage all our daily office activities from one location.
  • Adapting to and using new processes for online client meetings, including using a single corporate background.
  • Organizing training and knowledge sharing sessions for stakeholders via online platforms.

Gayathri Perera

Senior Project Manager – Delivery & Customer Success