by Wanda Curlee
Saying COVID has changed the way we do business is an understatement. Some companies accelerated their projects, pivoting to quickly to support clientele. Others had to overhaul processes because of virtual or hybrid working environments. One thing was certain: Standing idle in the face of uncertainty was not an option—and that has translated to big changes to how portfolios are managed.
Some projects or programs may have to be canceled or moved in the sequence or scope deleted. Any of these in a typical environment may be useful—but during COVID, that could be the end of a company or cause a severe financial burden. When projects and programs remain unfinished, the company’s goals aren’t met. Not meeting the company’s strategic objectives may mean the company gets beat in the marketplace or that they don’t have a new product to introduce or that they can’t meet an internal need. And the list goes on.
Restaurants, service companies, construction companies and many others impacted by COVID had to move quickly. Leadership and portfolio managers had to shift with the changing economy. Those that pivoted with intent by thinking of alternate ways to move the company had a better chance of surviving. Within the restaurant sector, some establishments leaned into personal catering more, for example, while others sold off their meats and vegetables along with seasonings to locals as family dinner kits.
Some portfolios went into overdrive to meet demands. The ones that come to mind in the U.S. are large retailers, supermarkets and fast-food companies. They were all considered essential. However, they also had to pivot. They designated shopping times for the elderly and those with medical conditions, for example. And many large retailers rolled out a variety of options for customers to get their merchandise: same-day delivery, curbside pickup and parking lot deliveries.
Leaders in many companies believe the world will go back to business as usual after getting to herd immunity via the vaccine. While I expect a sense of normalcy to emerge at some point, I don’t believe we’ll ever return to where we were before the pandemic. Even as the business landscape stabilizes, portfolios will still have to pivot quickly. It may not be a pandemic, but there could be a shift in the economy, politics or industry. Now more than ever, you must document the successes and failures within your portfolio—and use the information the next time you need to pivot.
What are some lessons learned you’ve gathered about managing a portfolio amid such uncertainty?
by Wanda Curlee
I recently came across an article by consultant Melanie Nelson about project management and situational awareness. In the article, Nelson argues that project managers need to be more than just technically savvy.
They must also be able to see the bigger picture and understand the context they are working in—including industry culture, employee pain points and the other projects and business goals competing for attention in the company. They must hone their situational awareness.
Situational awareness is the ability to understand what is happening around you, why it is happening and what you need to do or not do in reaction. Some call this a soft skill, but I believe it goes further than that.
As rookie project managers, we learn about which processes and procedures are done in what order. However, project managers with situational awareness may question, for example, whether or not all steps in the process need to be completed, what processes must be changed to accommodate the needs of the organization or even if the correct methodology is being used.
For a software project, that could mean questioning if agile or waterfall is the best approach or if lean should be used instead. To paraphrase Nelson, she loves Kanban but she knows that it is not appropriate for all projects.
Situational awareness is a skill beyond understanding earned value management, creating status reports, or managing conference calls and client meetings.
It is about asking, for example, in those client meetings questions such as:
Do you have the attention of the client? Are the right people in the conference room? If not, why not? What will you do about it?
It is not easy and takes a lot of practice.
Do you have the situational awareness needed for your project?