Sara Ulrich, Resilience and Wargaming Expert at PA Consulting, talks about what project professionals should be doing right now to up project resilience.
Project management has never been easy. But for many, it’s never felt quite so uncertain. It’s an environment that means those involved in projects and programmes need to deliver not just project success but resilience: the ability to protect, detect, withstand, handle and recover from disruptive events.
Our new survey, The always-on advantage: how transport leaders can embed and elevate resilience, found that 88% of leaders believe resilience is now a strategic imperative. But 79% also told us that sporadic, ad-hoc responses to incidents and disruptions are no longer sufficient.
Instead, true resilience needs to be an always-on priority during good times and bad. This means project professionals need greater awareness of resilience-building projects within their organisation, stronger and more permanent resilience in their own projects, and greater awareness of internal and external events that could jeopardise delivery.
Three top tips
The good news is that those involved in projects have improved their resilience levels over the past few years. While our research focused on transport modes across Europe, it indicates an uplift in resilience awareness and interest across projects and programmes of all types, and across all sectors.
Given the current climate and the strategic importance of resilience, it’s now a key time for project managers to seize the learnings of the past few years and ensure they permanently root resilience in their projects and programmes.
Our research identified three ways they can do this.
1. Embed a project resilience mindset
Organisations rely on project managers to provide continuity during periods of change. They’re also, based on the hard-fought battles of the past, the least likely to be susceptible to optimism bias.
However, our research found that three-quarters of respondents believe the importance of resilience is already waning. Project managers have a key role to play creating a permanent level of resilience, not just one that is activated on-demand. A resilient project environment is one where people feel psychologically safe to speak up, share ideas, ask questions and raise concerns without fear of negative repercussions.
2. Train your project resilience muscle
Always-on project resilience calls for speed and structure. Protocols, rules and frameworks can help keep resilience front-of-mind, and to respond in a coordinated, flexible way. Any plans should be tested and stress-tested in wargaming exercises — making them real and testing absorption capacity against multiple incidents at key project and programme milestones or gates. Plans need to be in place across all time horizons, factoring in both traditional project risks and the wider array of evolving threats.
These immersive wargaming sessions are also a great way to focus on finding where investment is needed and to test and leverage new technologies; for instance, the potential for AI to help swiftly wade through large chunks of project- and risk-related data to inform the project resilience response.
3. Consider the project ecosystem
Project professionals are experts when it comes to oversight of project resilience within their domain. But often, wider organisational, market or external factors act as blockers. In today’s world, there’s a clear correlation between the complexity of a project or programme and the need to coordinate with a range of partners, stakeholders and suppliers more widely. An ecosystem understanding is needed to be able to see the forest and the trees.
To drive project resilience progress, project managers should be conscious of the context and demands of the needs of wider stakeholders and partners – and actively engage with regulators, investors, customers and others fundamentally important to maintaining resilience.
Following these steps, project professionals can manage their projects or programmes so that they become more resilient, in doing so adding strength and value to the wider organisation.
It starts with a mindset forever focused on resilience and conscious of the constant pressures that projects face. It continues with regular wargaming exercises, testing plans that train the project resilience muscle. Finally, resilience is embedded across the business with a lens on the wider organisation, ecosystem and external environment.
Explore our research and join the conversation online at PA Consulting.