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The Project Manager’s Survival Guide to Leading Teams During a Global Pandemic
Categories: Project Leadership
By Marat Oyvetsky, PMP
Global companies often struggle to get international projects across the finish line because they have to mitigate risks or issues that are outside of typical budgeting and resource availability constraints. In many cases, companies must work through issues such as language barriers, cultural differences, varying time zones and international team cohesion. All of these can cause serious delays in successful project completion.
However, when a global pandemic strikes that quarantines a large portion of the planet, new risks are introduced that can completely derail or destroy a company’s international projects.
While the COVID-19 pandemic introduced challenges in completing many international projects on time and on budget, it didn’t completely eradicate the finish line for many international projects.
Here are a few tips to consider when working to successfully complete global projects during a pandemic:
1. Seek out executive sponsorship: Every project has stakeholders who will be the main champions for the project’s successful completion. During a global pandemic, it is even more vital to ensure that there are executive sponsors involved in the project. The crisis has affected global manufacturing, the global supply chain, banking and a horde of other institutions that projects and project teams depend on to complete tasks and reach milestones.
During the pandemic, executive sponsors can provide support and quick approval for additional budgets and emergency funding that can help projects stay afloat and allow the most vital projects to be funded to completion.
2. Adjust hardware lead times and balance international resources: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every business around the globe, from slowing down the supply chain to completely shutting down many factories. This has impacted hardware lead times, from computers to network systems. Instead of measuring shipping in days, companies were finding that lead times for hardware delivery had either been postponed indefinitely or been delayed by weeks or even months.
Reviewing all lead times across every global project, project leaders can work to prioritize projects that are vital to the company as well as those that have workable lead times and can still be completed, even with an extended deadline. Working with executive leadership, project leaders can also prioritize which projects need the most resources globally and help refocus attention to those projects to help drive them to completion.
3. Increase team meeting frequency: When running international projects, many project leaders manage resources in a matrix environment globally. This means that there are resources on the project team that are internal company resources as well as external customer and consulting resources. Communication is vital to ensure that all tasks and milestones are coordinated and completed efficiently within the planned time and budget.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown extreme chaos into project timelines and budgets. Project leaders can communicate more effectively with the global team by planning shorter but more frequent meetings. Increasing the recurrence but decreasing the meeting duration can improve communications between all company resources. Tasks and milestone assignments can be reviewed quickly, assigned or reassigned, as well as updated and forecasted to ensure that the entire team is not only in lockstep daily and weekly, but is also prepared for the extended lead time durations, project timeline baselines and changing budgets.
4. Balance the portfolio: COVID-19 has impacted nearly all global project timelines due to its effect on the global workforce. Project leaders will need to work with executive leadership to identify projects that fit into two categories: projects that are vital to the business and projects that can still be completed, even with increased timelines and dependency lead times. Once these projects are identified, project leaders will need to work with their teams to ensure that resources are balanced appropriately across the portfolio, targeting the most strategic projects with the most realistic completable timelines.
While the pandemic has crippled the global workforce and economy, project leaders are still leading international programs and projects to successful completion with global teams working together through extended timelines, adjusted budgets and augmented requirements.
Share below: What are your lessons learned from leading international project teams during the pandemic?
By Marat Oyvetsky, PMP
Organizations often hire consulting project managers to help move their large, strategic projects across the finish line.
However, many companies still hold internal leadership planning sessions to discuss proprietary information that cannot be shared with external resources. This presents a risk, as external talent needs to be part of these discussions to plan for proper budgeting, shared resources and overall dependencies that may exist with other strategic projects.
It happened to me this year when a company hired me as an external consultant to manage a portfolio of their strategic programs and projects. The organization needed leadership planning sessions to properly balance resources and finances to reduce risk and align deployment with its 2020 business objectives.
The dilemma: Whether or not to include me on their internal strategic discussions, as I was not an employee of the company. In the end, the decision was made to include me, and I was the only non-employee who was invited to the leadership discussion table (with proper NDA signatures).
If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are a few tips on how to build trust with the client to get a seat at the table and help craft the future strategy:
Executive Leadership Sponsorship: As an external resource, consulting project managers need to work diligently to build trust with the customer executive leadership and stakeholders. Align with each executive stakeholder to ensure that the portfolio dependencies that you are managing are all documented and managed per their expectations. Each leader and stakeholder has a clear vision of their territory. As a consulting project manager, you must maintain a view of the entire field that includes all areas for each leadership team and stakeholder.
Communication: Create recurring meetings with all executive leadership stakeholders to ensure that they are aligned to the execution of the portfolio that you’ve been hired to lead. In this instance, over-communication is key to ensure that all leadership questions are answered, and all executive stakeholders know the status of each relevant project.
Reporting: Create an executive dashboard outlining all timelines, budgets, commitments, accomplishments and risks. Each executive stakeholder will have their own reporting requirements. You should be able to tune each dashboard to communicate the desired information in the format that meets each stakeholder’s requirements. This will help build additional clout with each executive stakeholder.
Fiscal Alignment: Align with the chief finance officer and chief accounting officer for all strategic projects. This will help provide transparency for the funding that they are currently spending on each project and help them plan for future projects and deployments.
By aligning with all executive leadership stakeholders, consulting project managers create the necessary communication, reporting, management and fiscal transparency that is required to get a seat at the leadership table for future planning discussions. These actions will help make you part of the leadership team and build trust with the client that you’re supporting.
What are some of the ways you work to get a seat at the table with your clients?