Mike Wild outlines practical ways to respond to the new, rapidly changing and complex project environment
Projects in 2020 have turned out to be a little different than expected. The change in market conditions resulted in the client I was working with cancelling its project, and I’ve not seen the inside of an office for six months. I’m far from alone in these experiences.
The pandemic has affected industries in markedly different ways: digital-based offerings have boomed, while sectors vulnerable to social distancing have taken a real beating – and there has been a full spectrum of impacts in between. While it might be that businesses are over the initial rapid reactions to stabilise their operations and protect employees, ‘normality’ as we once understood it is still a long way away.
In a survey by Eden McCallum, 43 per cent said that recent changes had positively impacted productivity, compared to just 29 per cent saying the opposite. One might therefore deduce that around a third of project professionals need the return of normality, while four in 10 might well find businesses keen to retain new ways of working.
So how has the project management environment changed, and how should project professionals re-appraise their skills and approaches?
A rapidly – and radically – changing landscape
Project management has always been dynamic, but now, more projects are taking place in a ‘VUCA’ environment – that is, one characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. VUCA has become a blanket term for the radical and rapid shifts in market conditions – and the madness brought about by COVID-19 is a prime example.
Many project professionals will recognise the VUCA characteristics seen during the pandemic:
- Volatility: problems or solutions change unpredictably.
- Uncertainty: there are conflicting views of the problem and solution, and it is far from clear how to resolve them.
- Complexity: unexpected behaviours make decision-making unbelievably complex.
- Ambiguity: there are multiple interpretations of problem scope or solution, and it is not clear how to decide which is correct.
This kind of environment makes it difficult for project professionals to make informed decisions, efficiently plan, adapt to change and find solutions to problems.
However, as suggested in a blog from management software vendor Beeye, project professionals should take the opportunity to re-envision the VUCA acronym, as follows:
- Vision: focus on activities that will bring you closer to your goal. As a project professional you should be crystal clear on your goals and objectives, since you want to make sure your project is delivered no matter what.
- Understanding: work with current information from all stakeholders. Are you making informed decisions on data that is accurate and up-to-date?
- Clarity: simple communication is best to make sure messages are understood. Project professionals must be clear about everyone’s roles and responsibilities.
- Agility: provide flexibility to adjust to changes more quickly. For project managers, it’s about having alternative strategies or contingency plans ready if anything goes wrong, such as maintaining a robust risk management process. (My article in the spring 2020 edition of Project journal explores scenario planning in more detail 🔒).
For some, the continued normalisation of remote working is great news – research from the Centre of Economic and Business Research reiterates that a third of office workers are keen to continue working from home. But for every one worker who is enjoying their newfound flexibility, there will be two others who find the change hard to take. The Institute for Employment Studies has found that half of respondents to a study aren’t happy with their work-life balance, and a third feel isolated.
The loneliness and disconnection of working on your own can be hard. So how can we change the way we work to address these feelings?
At the moment, I’m often reminded of Gallop research that suggests that people who have a good friend at work are seven times more engaged and satisfied. So, try the following tips to help build remote relationships and rapport:
- Offer to do someone a simple, five-minute favour. You don’t need to be in the office – and while this develops trust and respect, you may never know just how much this will help the other person.
- Sharing information helps build relationships. The more open team members are in sharing information with each other, the greater the opportunity for stronger trust and cohesion between members, leading to increased opportunities for interaction.
- Make time to meet. Little interactions form the basis of a good relationship. Devote a small portion of your day to relationship-building.
Many companies have experienced no loss of productivity from new working practices, which means such practices are likely to have a lasting effect. And while the sea change of 2020 brings opportunities at a corporate and a personal level, project professionals need to reappraise what’s important and what success really looks like at a personal and a project level.
Image Shutterstock / ronstik