Project Management

Introducing the Crisis PMO

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By Mario Trentim


Although we expect most organizations to have a crisis response plan in place, very few actually do. As the COVID-19 crisis continues to develop, organizations are trying to keep their heads above water as distractions and urgencies create barriers to effective decision-making. But this is not the world’s first crisis—and it won’t be the last.

Is it too Late for a Crisis Response Plan?

First things first: Every project professional needs a plan. As organizations realize they’re wasting time and resources with hasty solutions, project teams are realizing that they have to go back to the drawing board and set up a plan. A consistent and structured approach is needed to successfully deal with a crisis.

What does your PMO have to do with all of this? A PMO is uniquely positioned to solve problems that the project managers cannot solve themselves. On top of that, some PMOs are responsible for portfolio management, and they also support decision-making and the strategic planning processes within an organization.

In fact, because of the COVID-19 crisis, organizations kicked off a number of urgent projects all at the same time. These projects were created to enable remote work, fix supply chain disruptions and more. At the same time, many other projects were terminated or paused without careful analysis.

Whatever phase your project is in due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is not too late for a crisis response plan.

Now what?

If you are a PMO manager and you don’t have a crisis response plan, you must create one now. It does not have to be perfect or extremely detailed. Follow the seven steps below:

7 Elements of a Crisis Response Plan

  1. Consider various scenarios: Identify a broad range of potential scenarios in order to get the big picture. Use simulations where possible and document all assumptions and constraints.
  2. Develop a set of responses and alternative solutions to the scenarios: Account for facilities lockdowns, evacuation, public relations and more.
  3. Combine scenarios and responses into a plan: Although it is not possible to imagine all scenarios, by combining scenarios and responses you are laying the foundation for decision-making when it comes to facing real world scenarios.
  4. Define the chain of command: I cannot overemphasize the importance of a clearly defined chain of command during a crisis. It is time to refine your organizational structure and check if roles and responsibilities are complete and clear.
  5. Establish a war room and backup locations: There should be a place that can be rapidly converted to be used by the crisis response team. Pay attention to connectivity, lines of communication and infrastructure in case the team needs to stay there for days or weeks.
  6. Determine communication channels: Establish effective communication channels throughout the chain of command and with external stakeholders. It is very important that people know where to get official information and that they stay tuned to these channels.
  7. Conduct regular debriefs and post-crisis reviews: Regular debrief sessions, continuous improvement and analysis, iterative planning and post-crisis reviews should be conducted as the crisis evolves and the environment changes.

When you and your team are playing out the potential scenarios and alternative responses, re-think the organizational strategy for the long, mid and short terms. As you pay attention to strategic shifts and changes related to the organization’s objectives, try to uncover how this information impacts the current portfolios and projects.

In order to truly be helpful during this crisis and stay relevant, your PMO needs a very clear chain of command, a war room (even if it is a virtual) and clear communication channels. Shorten the planning cycles and adopt a streamlined feedback process.

Keep in mind that during a crisis, a different type of PMO is needed: a Crisis PMO. In a time of great uncertainty, you should drop all those heavy processes used during stable times and put in place a nimble and flexible crisis response plan.

Let me know how your PMO and projects are doing during the COVID-19 crisis in the comments below.


Posted by Mario Trentim on: April 01, 2020 05:24 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Two important things to remember. Not only does the business of project management need to continue, but communication, guidance and mentoring needs to ACCELERATE in times of crisis. Dial up your outreach to your PM's, be sure they are okay personally. They are remote working personal contact is critical in their well being.

PMO leadership needs to focus less on the processes and control and shift their focus to emphatic support of their resources and stakeholders.

Very interesting summary of activities. I too agree with Bob Patrino comment about communitation.
I think best practice in virtual projects will be an interesting point a PMOs can produce for the organization.

If the company has a regular business continuity management team, as a PMO you can focus on supporting and providing a knowledge to project managers to enable them to better deal with the crisis.

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