By Dave Wakeman
My editors always say I bring an interesting perspective to project management and leadership. I like to think it’s because I come to project management from fields that are not often associated with project management, such as marketing, politics and sports.
Even though project management touches every field.
As I’m writing this, I’ve been at home acting as chief teaching officer to my 9-year-old son, chief sounding board for my partner, chief shoulder to a lot of mentees and chief play toy to my bulldog, due to the spread of the coronavirus and the actions of governments around the world to protect their citizens and mitigate the damage of this new virus.
While many of us are physically distanced from each other, I’ve had a lot of time to watch the responses and observe them as an exercise in project management.
And, to be quite honest, if many of the leaders around the world were working as project managers for the organizations I work with, a lot of them would be fired.
But … I think all of us can also learn a lot from this moment, and I hope we do. Here are three things I’m learning about project management from the coronavirus crisis:
1. Leadership matters: I was in Australia in November, and I remember standing in the airport in Melbourne with my colleague the first time I was made aware of the coronavirus.
Since then, we’ve seen many leaders around the world downplay COVID-19, lie about their knowledge of the disease or try to pass the buck for their poor response as the people impacted by the coronavirus continued to grow.
Across the globe, this lack of vision, urgency and direction has marked the response to the coronavirus.
That’s a lack of leadership.
In normal situations, we know that leadership matters and that having vision, providing guidance and supporting your team is important. In a crisis, the importance of leadership multiplies exponentially.
This is why we have to recognize that our role as managers is to lead—to bear the brunt of knowledge, direction and action. That’s been missing in so many places throughout the pandemic.
2. Communication is king: In general, 90 percent of a project manager’s job is communication, up and down the stakeholder map. That doesn’t change no matter what kind of project you are leading.
As we work through the impacts of the viral pandemic, we must consider what makes communication effective, and that includes things like timeliness, consistency and truthfulness.
We’ve seen the timeliness of communication from leaders be pretty good, at least over the last few weeks. Though, if I were the leader of these projects, I’d default to communicating and explaining things earlier.
As far as consistency, we’ve seen a number of leaders around the world change their messages and directions to citizens almost daily, which isn’t a very effective way to generate the best results.
Finally, truthfulness. I know from experience that you can’t tell your teams and stakeholders everything all the time, due to legal exposure, security or other issues. But the malleability of the truth in the face of a once-in-a-lifetime event has been quite alarming.
All three of these inputs are extremely important to the success of your communications with your team and stakeholders.
3. Teamwork is essential: As project managers, we lead teams of people with diverse skills, agendas and needs. Our ability to get these folks moving in the same direction, if only long enough to complete their part in our project, defines our success or failure.
In the global reaction to the coronavirus, we have seen a disjointed response with each country and continent going their own way.
Lack of teamwork is harmful in this case, obviously. We haven’t taken coordinated efforts to reduce travel, slow infections and increase production of necessary medical equipment.
But the larger point is that if you are leading a team and no one is working together, your ability to achieve your goals and positive results seems to deteriorate rapidly.
That’s on display today.
Overall, I’ve been disappointed with the way leaders around the world have responded to the coronavirus outbreak. We mustn’t discount the lessons learned as we witness governing bodies across the globe either rise to the occasion or falter in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments.