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Three ways the project profession has changed since the pandemic

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You don’t need me to tell you that COVID-19 hugely impacted the project profession. With so many of us relying on investment to do our jobs, when the pandemic hit, many organisations revolutionised their approach to scoping, delivering and embedding change.

While some of the changes are obvious – the highs of hybrid working and the lows of video call fatigue – some changes are more subtle. In this article, with the help of some friends, I want to bring some of those changes to life to help you better navigate the post-pandemic project world.

1. A daily focus on ways of working

Jump back to 2019, and the way we worked was pretty simple. Our teams spent their time in the office, working collaboratively across banks of desks, meeting rooms and even the canteen.

As a project leader, remote working has undoubtedly made it harder to manage the team day-to-day. Before, it was easy to spot if someone was having a bad day or if there was a blocker that needed removing. Now, it takes dedicated effort to maintain a healthy way of working within a constantly dispersed team.

I spoke with Matt Laffar, Senior Programme Manager at Allianz and a contributor to APM’s Programme Management Specific Interest Group (SIG), about what it’s like to build an effective programme culture post-pandemic:

“Now that working from home has become the norm, as a programme manager it’s my responsibility to build a strong, cohesive and productive programme sub-culture that aligns with the organisation’s view of hybrid working,” he says.

“To succeed, it’s all about giving the team the accountability to build a way of working that achieves their own outcomes. If I dictate the decision from the top, I risk individuals becoming disengaged and increasingly distant, both physically and emotionally, with the overall quality of the delivery suffering as a result.

“To achieve a strong programme sub-culture, I must ensure I’m having purposeful conversations with the team to keep the topic front of mind, baking this into one-to-ones, team meetings and programme updates.”

2. More opportunities to leverage project data

Even though we focus on things that have become harder since the pandemic, there are many new opportunities too. While digital tools have been used to enable change for many years, they’re now increasingly bridging the physical gap between us – and with more tools comes more data.

But how can you take advantage of that data to improve your chances of project success? I spoke to Greg Krawczyk, PMO Consultant at i3 Works and a member of APM’s Governance SIG, to find out.

“Even though we’ve seen tremendous advances in the project profession over the last hundred years, publication after publication argues that project success rates have scarcely improved,” he says. “That’s largely down to the inadequate use of historical data to inform our project investment decisions.

“To ensure remote working operates effectively, many businesses have invested in new project management tools to support the way they work. More than ever, project professionals will now use systems to plan, track and communicate their change initiatives.

“The good news is that I’m seeing project and PMO professionals use the data generated by these new tools, and I expect this trend to continue. Those leveraging this data already see better alignment with strategic objectives, a faster decision-making process and empowered project teams that deliver more effectively.

“This will only go further in coming years. Add to this the upcoming advances in robotics, artificial intelligence and automated process flows, and I’m sure we’ll rise from our 100-year slump and begin to fundamentally improve project success rates!”

3. A greater focus on risk

It’s perhaps no surprise that the business world is a little on edge following a once-in-a-generation event like a pandemic. Risk, and managing it effectively, is now much higher on the agenda, with many organisations simply unable to afford another disaster.

For us change professionals, that doesn’t mean doing anything fundamentally different, but we do have to give risk a greater focus than we did three or four years ago. Practically, that means more time spent on the risk management process, especially during initiation and go-live, and being more confident to actively bake risk into our other key controls, such as timelines and budgets.

Fail to do so and you’ll find yourself ill-prepared should the worst happen, with your project at the greatest risk of complete failure. That’s why, whether you’re new to the profession or you’ve already got some battle scars, I’d recommend taking some time to refresh your knowledge of risk management, with APM’s guide Project Risk Analysis and Management the perfect place to start.


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