Project Management

Leading Your Project Team During a Crisis

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Categories: Crises, Disruption



By Wanda Curlee

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is bringing international markets to their knees and threatens to cripple project progress at every turn. Each of us has a different response. Some are afraid, some are wondering what all the fuss is about, many are devastated due to loss or quarantine, while others are on the front lines. And I am sure there are many other reactions. How we as individuals—and a global community—react to coronavirus has implications that ripple beyond our physical well-being and mental health. And its impact on projects cannot be underestimated.

For all project professionals, the coronavirus is now a project within your project or program. Based on what your country or business decides to do, a response is inevitable. The response might be shutting down the project (permanently or temporarily), requiring personnel to work from home, ensuring staff has proper safety equipment, reviewing processes that may need to be changed or relaying the latest information from credible sources, among other actions. In the face of coronavirus, project leaders must step up to manage expectations and guide their teams across finish lines that may be shifting. It’s a tall order—but it’s not impossible.

Empower Your Team

As a leader, you must set an example. Setting an example means that you need to acknowledge the situation and demonstrate urgency, while maintaining control over deadlines and team morale. Inside you might be overwhelmed—and that is alright. But be careful not to project those uncertainties.

Lean on the team to determine what needs to be done. Empowering team members will help them to feel like they have some control. Are there individuals who may need to go remote before others? Do they have what is required to go remote? You, the leader, need to make sure that your team is taken care of. 

Make a Plan (and Stick to It)

Does your company have a business continuity plan? Do they have a crisis plan? If not, do you have one? Look at the business continuity plan and the crisis plan. Did you overlook anything? We are all human and there is a lot that can be forgotten. Make a plan and follow through.

Once the initial response is made, and the team is working again, make sure that the team has what it needs. Focus on running the project or program, but also put plans in place in case the unfathomable happens: Members of your team contract coronavirus. Maybe you will be fortunate. But you can’t rely on luck. What happens if you get coronavirus? What if other team leads end up with the virus? Have you thought of contingencies? What happens if you have to shut down the project or program? Who in the company needs to know? What will be the plan of attack to try to bring the project or program back to life?

Anticipate Next Steps

Finally, how will the project or program team transition back to the work environment? Will everyone, one day in the near future, show back up in the office? Will it be done in a staggered fashion? How will you handle those employees who still may be sick? How about those who still have kids out of school? Will processes need to be updated based on the lessons learned?

Remember, while this may never happen again, another crisis that may be localized, national or worldwide could arrive sooner than you’d expect. Don’t be caught off guard!

How is your project team navigating the challenges that come with coronavirus? Share in the comments below.

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: March 16, 2020 05:52 PM | Permalink

Comments (31)

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Inspiring article and words
Business continuity plan is a must for organizations projects, programs.

While most of us are put out the fire, next steps anticipation for the day, week, month and year is more important than ever.

keep your projects safe from home

Hello Tiago - Thank you for your comment. You are correct, we need to look further out than a day or a week.

Working from home may become the new norm!

Thanks for sharing! This crisis is very complicated and I think there are very limited number of countries, organizations, people have ever spent time to think about contingency plan for this case. It is very costly to do that. Witnessing the response actions around the world recently, we see that most of response actions are unplanned actions; even the attitude of people about this crisis have been fluctuating up and down and the level of important and urgent is very different from region to region, country to country, culture to culture, company to company and even project to project. As project managers, we have very limited resource to cope with such complicated EEF factors. Hope we are all safe to continue projects when this crisis over.

Thanks for sharing

Thank you for sharing this

Hello Eduin - Thank you

Hello Nguyen - I do agree with you. But, what countries that have the pandemic later (eg the US, Europe), they should take into account lessons learned. Hopefully, these lessons learned will be incorporated in contingency plans for years to come.

Hello Esther - Thank you

Hello Amir - Thank you

Great article. Thanks!

Michele - Thank you

Clearly, we have more questions than answers but we must not lose faith. We have to keep thinking we can succeed and not lose hope either. Good luck and manage your projects as a leader.

Hello Carlos - With this crisis, which we have not experienced since the 1800s with the Spanish Flu, we clearly do not have all the answers and we may never have all the answers. But as you say, we must stay hopeful. Thanks

Very good articulate to look at future while we deal with Corona-19 pandemic situation on hand.
Firstly, self care and then ensure safety of our team members and society as whole, which can make social distancing as a compulsion; but in this hard moments we learnt very new lesson which neither situation could have taught us.
As project manager, we are pushed to find ways to deal this risk and disastrous situation with true spirit of human unity and remotely work together with collaboration to reach towards sustainable development.

Many thanks for sharing this article which explain challenges to prepare all of us at the right time.

Hello Makarand - Thank you. You are correct, we as project managers we have to ensure self-care as well.

Our company has the business continue plan. LIMT group have regular meeting every week and declare their conclusion to company wide every Friday for next week instructions. We employee feel engaged and more comfortable. We've been working from home for 1.5 month now from China and more offices are joining this practice given this global wide spread for the pandemic.
For project perspective, we keep using zoom to have standup meeting and discussion meeting. More and more virtual meeting/webinars are going on. We should embrace this change. And keep on track on the project progress to take necessary actions if any risks.

Great article especially now.

The team is now working from home and we uses messaging and video calls services to communicate. Other conversations include how the team are doing in terms of the their health monitoring and how they are feeling at the moment.

Thank you for sharing the article.

Thanks for sharing. I like the point that addresses concerns of working parents, since educational institutions are on an extended lockdown. We've begun teleworking, which helps staff balance family time and work commitments, and the return to office hours can be phased out to enable people to stay employed and productive. I'd rather everyone stay safe and self-quarantine to avoid spreading it further. More importantly, this panic-buying has got to stop, because essentials take time to be restocked, making people under the low-income group even more vulnerable. Here's to everyone using their schooling wisely to protect themselves, and others!

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