Effects of the Pandemic on Project Execution

June 4, 2021

Changing how and where we work is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the effects of the pandemic on project execution

Here are a few ways the pandemic continues to shape the execution of our work:

Working with Contractors and Subconsultants

Collaborating with contractors and subconsultant will present additional challenges. Project managers will need to consider their financial stability to implement a project, carefully analyze contracts especially for costs and schedule commitments, and perform a risk analysis to avoid potential disruptions.

Supply Chain

Lockdowns and border closures have created a challenge for projects that rely on the supply chain, this has led to increased costs and longer lead times for products and equipment. Project managers must be proactive and address the potential threat of a supply chain disruption. This may include stockpiling critical materials or sourcing local alternatives.

Risk Management

Risk management is more essential than ever. The potential of new and evolving risks such as lockdown measures or social distancing at construction sites means project managers must create comprehensive contingency plans that are frequently reviewed and updated.

Cost Implications

Economic conditions may result in limited or interrupted project cash flow. Project managers will be required to optimize capital budgets to the best of their ability.

In addition to the above, the effects of the pandemic are driving new ways of managing the execution of our work and our teams. 

Here are a few examples:

The Need for Agile Project Management

Project leaders who use agile project management principles and practices are reaping the value from these philosophies and techniques and it is gaining momentum in the industry.

  • Clients recognize the importance of being able to pivot quickly and maintain focus on benefits delivery in achievable windows.
  • There is increased emphasis and recognition of the importance of project delivery tools such as governance committee meetings, documented delivery plans, clear change management processes, as well as risk management tools.
  • Working remotely has highlighted the importance of clear accountability and outcome ownership structures supporting projects. Emphasis must be placed on the need to have clarity of purpose to enable project activities to pivot quickly and appropriately when responding to change.
  • The rapid adoption of collaboration tools is critical in keeping stakeholders engaged and maintaining relevance of project activities.

Management of Project Resources

With increased remote working and virtual teaming here to stay, project leaders must focus on the ability to manage – rather than direct – their team members.

  • Remote working challenges the capability of the project manager to direct team efforts and removes the social controls of everybody pulling their weight in a team environment.
  • Project team meetings have changed dramatically, meaning project managers need to find new ways of connecting with their wider project team.
  • Successful project managers are placing greater emphasis on individual recognition and scheduled, regular one-on-one catch ups with team members. They are also placing greater trust in individuals to deliver their outcomes, rather than managing their inputs.
  • Agile practices involving regular virtual project team meetings will increasingly be the norm to keep teams aligned and maintain focus and structure across activities.

Managing Project Phases

Project leaders must different styles during different phases of the project, requiring flexibility of leadership styles, combined with the necessary adaptations in team composition and the use of collaboration tools to create successful outcomes.

  • Every phase of a project demands a different collaboration approach due to its nature. The design phase requires different interactions than a construction phase, or commissioning phase. These different approaches and their collaboration happen more naturally in an office environment where project team and business teams are together.
  • Remote working and distributed teams demand a new leadership style that is adaptable, driven by the collaboration needs of a particular project activity/phase. The adaptive leader that recognizes that not only is the goal important, but so is the pathway towards it.

Managing Progress and Dependencies

The project leader’s need to track the delivery progress of projects while maintaining the end goals is causing a shift from tracking deliverables to an awareness of progress.

  • This will require closer attention to progress with less focus on the actual end deliverable. We may use more questions like “are you on the way?”, “do you make good progress?”, complemented with the “what help do you need to get there?”.
  • This requires a different leadership style, where deliverable trackers were used in the past. It is now focusing on progress trackers, creating more awareness on the potential of slipping timelines and associated mitigations.
  • The time of walking into a project team meeting and hearing there is a problem is gone. Finding ways to deepen your knowledge of how teams are tracking and how they can be supported to reach their goals is becoming more important.

We have seen the value of professional project leadership enhanced through this crisis. The core skills of managing risk and rapid scope change to provide a clear course for action, combined with organized structured execution is resonating with our clients.