Project Management

How to Avoid Overloading Your Team During the COVID-19 Crisis

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By Mario Trentim

 

In a previous article, I discussed the COVID-19 crisis from a risk management point of view. As PMOs around the globe work through the pandemic, unexpected challenges continue to arise. Countries are implementing several restrictions, as extreme times call for extreme measures to contain the disease.

 

It is expected that many teams will be working remotely for at least four to eight weeks. In a push to stay connected while working remote, PMOs are relying on communication and collaboration tools. But is it enough?

 

Working from Home Is Different Now

Although many organizations are accustomed to flexible and remote work, this marks the first time that we have seen virtual teams operating on a global scale. And we’re not talking about the traditional home offices we once knew. Project professionals are quarantined, which means they are working with their spouses and kids nearby—and sometimes even babysitters, nannies and home maintenance staff are part of that equation. Keep in mind that your team members are very concerned and stressed at this time. And while they may be out of the office, they are part of a completely different team at home, which comes with its own set of challenges and needs.

 

In a meeting with my team this week, I level set with them. I don’t expect my team to put in exactly eight hours each day. It is okay if their kids show up during conference calls and meetings, and they can set an unavailable status in case they need to take care of personal or family duties. Cultivating a great team spirit and reinforcing an environment of accountability strengthens team morale.

 

Operations and Projects Must Go On

If we all stop working, companies may not survive. In fact, a number of companies have already shuttered their doors for good ahead of the pandemic’s peak. Everyone is forecasting difficult times ahead. And it is our duty as directors and managers to make rational decisions and to plan diligently for the future. That said, what happens to our projects?

 

From a portfolio management perspective, we are going through deep reevaluation due to major strategic changes. Projects were canceled or paused and investments were postponed. But we also have incoming and extremely urgent projects.

Organizations implemented their business contingency plans, and many resulted in additional projects. It could be a project related to supply chain and vendors, IT systems to enable remote work or new product development, among other initiatives. As the crisis looms, these projects become even more urgent.

 

Be Realistic When Planning for New Projects

As we plan for these urgent new projects, we must be very careful. We must take into consideration high risk and uncertainty and pay attention to the estimates.

 

Remember that people are not only working remotely (which is already a challenge for some organizations), people are quarantined. I advise you to develop a solid plan based on requirements and deliverables prioritization, understanding you might have to adjust planning to overcome bumps along the way.

 

Estimates and buffers are crucial. Something that takes two weeks to get done when we are collocated might take more time virtually. Therefore, during this period of quarantine, plan for more execution time.

 

Capacity Planning and Resource Utilization Are Crucial

During this crisis, capacity planning and resource utilization are extremely important. Imagine your team as traffic on a highway: When traffic is high, a minor crash might severely impact traffic flow. Now imagine all the people are distracted and in a hurry at the same time. You might end up with multiple minor crashes that add up to total failure in delivering the urgent project you need right now to overcome the coronavirus crisis.

 

In order to be successful, PMOs and project managers are tracking resource utilization with more details during the pandemic. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Determine capacity of resources available
    1. Calculate the number of people available to do project work, taking into consideration qualifications and skills (categorization).
  2. Determine hours of availability
    1. Convert the number of people into working hours and derive a true representation of availability. For example, let’s say you have:
      1. 10 Engineers part time (50%) = 800h/month
      2. 20 Technicians part time (50%) = 800h/month
      3. 50 Developers full time = 1,600h/month
  3. Set utilization targets
    1. Calculate utilization targets for all project resources below 80 percent as a best practice. Use that data to limit the number of active projects. While resources working below the target may seem inefficient, resources working above that target are likely to introduce costly delays and errors into the projects.
  4. Limit or modify the queue
    1. After conducting careful planning and estimates for every project, you are good to go with the authorization if there are resources available. Monitor and balance the portfolio as needed.

 

The aforementioned steps aren’t some big secret. They are more sensitive now. Unfortunately, some organizations are responding to the crisis with too many uncoordinated initiatives that will result in more harm than good. If we want to overcome the project impact of COVID-19, it is time to conduct:

  • Realistic planning
  • Diligent prioritization
  • Careful resource management
  • Frequent monitoring, controlling and balancing

 

To conclude, do not forget that your team members are quarantined. It’s not business as usual. That means lower productivity and some availability obstacles.

 

How is your PMO navigating the COVID-19 crisis?

Posted by Mario Trentim on: March 23, 2020 12:14 PM | Permalink

Comments (18)

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Thanks for sharing your points, but I am not sure if with the slowing of the economy, the opposite will not happen, removing specific sectors such as health, and certain services that provide essential goods. In fact must of the cases are preparing to make layoff , sectors like tourism, and all that is related like events, night activities etc ... all is stoped, most of the factories in my country reduced is production by half.

Alexandre

Thank you for sharing. You say, "During this crisis, capacity planning and resource utilization are extremely important." I totally agree. And I see many people tend to estimate resources based on 1 FTE = 8 hours/day (100% of their time being spend). I think that the conservative side would be 1FTE = 6-7hours/day (80%) to be sustainable in any case but especially during this time (mostly need to work in virtual team setting). Also, the project phase (has the team developed or still in the forming phase) may affect the resource planning and estimate. Your thougths?

It was extremely interesting article. But i disagree with the point that being remote means lesser productivity. It varies from case to case. Myself i am experiencing more productivity working remotely. This is may be due to right set of remote tools like TaskQue, Zoom, Evernote, Todoist , focus and motivation to survive our business under covid 19 outbreak challenge.

It's great to see more and more encouragement toward treating your team members and employees like the humans that they are with lives outside of the work that they do. Who knows what the future of this industry will look like if we prioritize supporting our most important resources?

A fantastic effort!
truly appreciate that!

Very good article! At these moment it highlights were the PMO can add value to organization as it highlights that we need to work smarter, not harder or not working at all.

Hello Mario: I work as a remote project manager for many hospitals implementing IT projects. This has worked for me for years. It has been interesting to now meet with teams who are all working from home vs. being in the hospital environment. I have gotten used to hearing their dogs barking, kids entering the room - etc. In a way, it has made everyone more "human". I've been asking their dogs name or learning more about their home life. These type of conversations are making our connections even stronger. I appreciate how you level set reality with your team about their pets or children. It is very important right now to have more compassion for one another. I appreciated your post very much. Thank you.

Thanks for sharing. Really a good article.
I'm wokring for a fertilizer company, in one of the largest plants in the world (more than 24.000 people). And let me tell you that we have found a very big problem in managing this crisis after our country declared the 10 first cases of COVID-19.
This have one simple reason and it's we haven't had a crisis management plan previously.
It's a rough and cruel lesson for all of us. Each one knows now how the Risk Management is important but unfortunately it has been a little bit too late.
We were lucky and we have no contamination in the plant, but if we assume the worst, I'm sure, the situation would be tougher and the consequences louder than we can support.
To conclude, I think that every company should think about reinforcing its risk management departement, puting plans to manage such kind of crisis in order to preserve its workers and its continuity.

Thanks for a great article!

Thanks for writing about this aspect of remote work. I think it would be very valuable if many of us at least try to use the good old https://kanbantool.com/kanban-guide/kanban-fundamentals/limit-work-in-progress rule, including the teams/companies that don't use Agile normally. To my mind, this rule is like being created especially for times like now.

So relevant and useful right now. Another thing to consider is that everyone is experiencing "quarantine" differently. Introverts might be rejoicing, extroverts might be panicking. Single parents are trying to juggle a thousand new roles and uncertainty, DINKS are trying to coordinate two working partners home at the same time. Encourage empathy and flexibility from all levels of the organization.

Thanks for this good article and viewpoints.

While I agree that capacity planning and resource management is important (isn't it always?) however, as I have mentioned in other comments today, if we lose sight of our people and their health (psychological and physical) we risk losing more than a little bit of productivity.

Frequent 'check in's' with remote resources are imperative. These are NOT status meetings....they are 'hey how are you doing?" "What do you need?" If our people feel valued, their productivity will not suffer.

Thanks for the article. Hope the COVID-19 Pandemic is considered to be under the clause "Force Majeure".

Thank you for sharing your insights. Working remotely means for me more productivity but it depends on people. The point about obstacles is good: for instance, network availability/speed might be an impediment.

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