How project management has changed

The pandemic has changed project management forever and how we plan to move forward in a post-covid landscape says Jackie Glynn

Since March 2020, organisations across Ireland have had to cope with and adapt to unprecedented changes. The way we live and work has been changed, in some ways, forever. For businesses to survive in a post-pandemic world, effective project management is more crucial than ever. 

From disrupted supply chains to the sudden shift to remote work, economic instability to stalled projects, for project managers, there have been seismic changes and increased risks over the last 12 months.  They have had to draw on and develop their skillsets – the ability to manage change, adapt to external and internal disruptions, and continue to deliver projects that perform, within budget and on schedule. Usual processes and approaches to collaboration and team had to be updated to the remote environment quickly and decisively. 

While there have been challenges, it has also shone a light on new ways of working. The pandemic put a lot of things in focus, forcing project managers to concentrate only on what was necessary and business-critical. Wasted investment due to poor project performance e.g., missed deadlines, overshot budgets, and scope creep declined to 9.4 per cent from 11.4 per cent, according to The Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession 2021. 

So what are the lessons learned from the pandemic and how has the project management sector changed for good?  

  1. Organisational flexibility  

Fortune favoured the flexibility during the pandemic, with those that could pivot ensuring their survival. 

While many projects were delayed, others were adapted, with organisations identifying and capitalising on new opportunities. Although for some, this flexibility was a necessity rather than a choice, it has led to sometimes unexpected positive results. 

The Project Management Institute found that more flexible organisations reported higher levels of organisational agility, more standardised risk management practices and less project scope creep all contributing to better project performance. These ‘gymnastic’ organisations tend to focus more on outcomes and the best way of working rather than on the process, balancing structure with the need to pivot on demand. 

This adaptability will be vital long-term, especially in an uncertain economic climate. Give your team the tools to thrive on change. Once a strong foundation is in place with effective leadership and a culture of collaboration, change is no longer scary, it’s exciting. 

  1. Digital transformation 

Yes, the digital transformation has been spoken about for years but 2020 accelerated it like never before. From the move to the cloud to connecting with customers globally, organisations have had to speed up their digital transformation. Any organisations that were slow to take on digital tools and work processes before we’re forced to – and many found they adapted more successfully than they would have previously thought. 

For project managers, this will have a fundamental long-term effect on monitoring projects, collaboration and communication with team members. Emerging technologies such as cloud-based systems, AI, automation, data analytics and project management software will be crucial to long-term success. Project managers will need to upskill themselves, ensuring they can manage technology teams, analyse data, develop critical thinking skills and be prepared to make judgements on complex decisions so that they and their teams can stay ahead of the curve. 

  1. Empathy and transparency 

With team members coping with the effects of the pandemic, whether that be caring for children at home while working to dealing with burnout, empathetic leadership was enormously important during the pandemic.  

Employees needed open and clear communication from management about what was happening, good and bad. People appreciated the honesty. By committing to being open about the problems you might be facing within a project, or at a more macro level, you will increase support and buy-in from your team.

This is something team leaders should strive to retain, not only for the inherent value of being a kinder leader but in order to support your team so they can become better at what they do and deliver better results. Emphasising the human element when managing a project ensures you understand where people’s skills and weaknesses lie, allowing your team to become more effective. Combining different skillsets from leadership and innovation to customer service and strategy builds a cohesive stronger team. A Business Solver study also found that 76% of employees said greater empathy drives greater productivity. 

Another lasting effect of working through the pandemic will be the greater emphasis on transparency. At the start of lockdown, there was so much uncertainty and misinformation. Employees needed open and clear communication from management about what was happening, good and bad. People appreciated the honesty. By committing to being open about the problems you might be facing within a project, or at a more macro level, you will increase support and buy-in from your team. 

Being transparent ensures time isn’t wasted – everyone is clear on the challenges, objectives and what needs to be done to achieve the end results.

Building and managing blended teams 

For many project managers, the sudden shift to remote working tested their ability to effectively manage change within their teams. For most, it has been successful, and it is likely to be a permanent facet of work into the future as employees will be reluctant to give remote options up completely.  A recent survey from CIPD Ireland found that one in two businesses in Ireland plans to adopt remote working in some form on a permanent basis. To stay competitive in the Talent War, employers will need to ensure they are offering flexibility in working hours and location. Post-pandemic, there will be less of a focus on how people work and more on what they achieve. One benefit of this will be the ability to hire the right candidate regardless of their location, allowing you to create optimised project teams. 

With some in the physical office and others working remotely, project managers will need to prioritise open lines of communication using digital tools, set clear expectations and goals, and deliver direct feedback. Strong decision-making skills will also be necessary in order to act quickly, mitigate against risks and retain a competitive advantage into the future. 

There is no doubt that Project Management has been changed forever. The events of the last 12 months have secured the profession an integral place in organisations post-pandemic as the means to get things done efficiently.

Jackie Glynn is President of the Ireland Chapter of Project Management Institute.