March 31, 2020

Virtual project management strategies promoting successful project outcomes during COVID-19

Ceridian's Heather Sneed, a director in Professional Services, shares strategies to help project management teams adapt to achieve success amid change and uncertainty. 

If you are a Project Manager, or you know a Project Manager, you are probably aware that most PMs like to take control. Take it from me, I am one of them. Many PMs now have to lead their project teams who are working from home and re-think how they are “controlling” their projects. 

I recently published an article sharing tips for establishing a productive work from home environment. Now that everyone is starting to flex to their “new norm”, this article is geared towards Project Managers and strategies to continue to lead their project teams to a successful outcome, with as minimal disruptions as possible.

A Project Manager’s primary focus are three critical pieces of a project: Scope. Time. Cost. What sits right in the middle of those three? Quality. This also known as The Triple Constraint. Project Managers are constantly watching these in their projects because if one of these areas increases, so must the others to either avoid impacting quality or to accept the associated risk(s) as a result of not changing them.

But what’s happening to your project teams now? Distractions, potentially personal COVID-19 impacts, and worry about the future – all while working remotely and away from their PMs and fellow colleagues. These reasons could lead to project delays and potentially project scope and cost. 

Remember what is happening

What can you do? Remember what is happening. At the beginning of your team meetings, either internal or with your customer, ask how everyone is doing before launching into what tasks have been completed. This doesn’t need to take over your call, but a few minutes at the beginning will go a long way.    

If you do sense an issue and feel comfortable reaching out to that team member individually, you can refer them to your company’s work-life balance program or suggest that they speak to their manager.

Re-evaluate your project schedule

You may already be a little bit behind at this point. Maybe your customer has needed to prioritise COVID-19 related projects over yours. Identify where you might be able to fast-track in certain areas of the plan or see if you can procure additional resources to support the tasks in front of your team. You may also need to have a transparent conversation with your customer to discuss where they may be facing similar challenges.

Additionally, there may be a need to “show mercy” as everyone is trying to adapt to this situation both personally and professionally. Insert your ability to flex to your project team’s needs while also balancing the state of your project. 

Revisit project governance

Project Managers love project governance, but when something like a global pandemic hits, it’s going to throw everyone off kilter for a bit. You should be able to keep your status calls in place, but I would highly encourage that you begin taking advantage of videoconferencing tools, if they are available. This makes a huge difference when leading virtual teams. It promotes presence and just about eliminates multi-tasking. I would also recommend a gentle reminder to your team members to ensure they are proactively providing updates to you as well as communicating immediately if they sense a deliverable will be late. 

Take advantage of video and teleconferencing tools

Remote teams are likely using tools such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom to conduct their virtual meetings. Use these to screenshare your agendas, meeting notes, and project plans. Some of these tools have whiteboards that you can use if the team needs to brainstorm ideas. Alternatively, you can also share your screen in Microsoft’s OneNote to capture notes and then easily distribute to your project team. If screensharing is new to you as a PM (or even if it isn’t), always be cautious to ensure you know what you are sharing, so that you don’t accidentally have an IM pop up on your screen that everyone in your meeting also sees. 

If your teams and customers are participating via video for the first time, it is a good idea to communicate with them the “etiquette” around using video teleconferencing. Here are a few examples: 

  • Test where your webcam faces before joining a call to ensure it is on your upper body and face and distractions that might be around (e.g. ceiling fans) are out of view. 
  • If attendees need to be on their mobile phones, they should try to be stationary as much as possible, so they do not become a distraction to the meeting. Typically, if I need to be on my mobile device, I am not on video. 
  • Behave as if you were in a conference room. Eating, multi-tasking, checking your phone are not activities you would typically do if you were all physically in one room. All this extra “movement” is very apparent on video calls and will become a distraction to the other attendees. 

Another useful tool for effective communication with your internal project teams is to establish a group instant message (IM) chat. If you have multiple projects running, which you likely do, you can typically give each chat a name (e.g. Project ABC) so that you can easily keep track of your teams’ group IMs. It’s an effective way for the team members to quickly communicate progress with each other without flooding everyone’s inbox. 

Flex to your team

If you haven’t already, take the time to understand how to best communicate with each of your project team members as individuals. Do they respond better via email? IM? If you used to have to stop by their work space in the office to facilitate the best conversation, you will now likely need to call, or better yet, video conference with them. This step is critical to every PM at the beginning of each project to ensure you know the right way to work with your team members as individuals. 

With your project team working from home now, it is important that your communications with them are effective and nothing is lost in translation.

If you are navigating through virtual project management for the first time with COVID-19, I hope that my suggestions are helpful to you. I have been a Project Manager, PMI certified since 2003, and have led the Project Management Team within Professional Services at Ceridian for the past 8+ years. Leading a work from home team has become second nature to me after working virtually for the past 16 years. 

Read next: Productivity tips from a leader who's worked virtually for 16 years

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