Has COVID-19 impacted the future of project management? The last months have been out of the ordinary for most professions, including project management. This period has given me several points to reflect upon, and I wanted to bring them to your attention. I do believe in my conversations with other PMs that these are not just my observations but that of most of the PM community. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of remediation, so the saying goes. As we were not prepared for these events, can we be better prepared for what will be the next “new?”
Eight months ago, give or take is when my work and how I go about it, started getting impacted by the Covid-19 virus. Yes, it had been in the news, and images of the Wuhan lockdown were front and center on the daily news. Then the cases started to appear here. The images of our hospitals were in the news, and the term PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) came into our lives. I remember getting out of school after two classes on Tuesday, March 10th. After that, we are now in November, and it has been a whirlwind. At that time, there was not a lot of details, the masks had not yet surfaced apart from the hospital and first-line workers. All that I was told was that the campus will be closed and to bring all that you need to work from home… for the unforeseeable future.
That was the first word that caused me discomfort. Unforeseeable… I work a lot in risk management, so on most days, analyzing the unforeseeable to give it probability and impact is what I do. Then came the mention that everyone would work from home or the new trendy WFH. This concept was not that frightening to me, having been a consultant for several years, having my home office as a main office address. But exactly how has COVID-19 impacted the future of project management? Let’s explore.
Around this time in project management, PMI® had started the process around what I believe to be the greatest changes in its history, including the publication of dates and deadlines for the migration to the next PMP® exam, overall of the REP® process and revision of the PMBOK® Guide materials to version 7. If this was not enough, a key provider (Pearson) was retained to deliver the exams on its platform, replacing Prometric, which had been the vendor of choice for close to 20 years. All in all, and time will tell, these are considerable changes that all started their progression when the world went into pandemic mode.
Pandemic… That is the next word that sends shivers down my spine and makes my mind go into horror movie territory with zombie-like creatures inhabiting the Earth.
Throughout this, I was still working, but with the first “wave,” we had to quarantine and stay at home as much as possible. My priority was to migrate my face to face class into a hybrid or asynchronous/synchronous delivery mode. That is when I believe that education became impacted for the foreseeable future. Colleges and Universities with a large number of in-class programs now had to look at the feasibility and proper delivery methods that would sustain those programs in such an environment. This is the time that we discovered Zoom, MS Teams, and how to not turn on your camera to reduce the bandwidth. This is probably as well the time when we all did not care about what we wear on the bottom part of our bodies. Sweatpants and shorts are selling off the shelves.
On the consulting front, all my clients were also in the same situation. It is one thing to tell people, go home, stay there, and work. How does one support this model? How do we set our employees up for success? What do we do with all this extra real estate? That is when the term “new normal” came into our lives.
New normal… What does that really mean? I don’t believe that we’ve really looked at what sustaining this work environment will do to make us more or less successful at delivering projects. I have yet to see a study that looks at project success rates prior to and after these disturbances. I am sure it is probably in the works. Like everything else, COVID-19 has impacted project management.
This entire situation does not really feel normal to me yet. Do you still have those weeks where every day is Friday? I do. I actually cringe a bit when people use the term normal because it does not feel anywhere close to normal. Is it really the reality that we will end up with? I don’t believe we will. There are still too many pieces in play, and all are moving at the same time.
So now, in “wave” two, we are all getting a bit blasé with the restrictions. Some of my clients have started reaching out to see when I will feel comfortable to get back to their office for work. The news of several possible vaccines gave some of them a boost with the prospect of maybe getting back to a not so new normal. My calendar has started filling up with June 2021 dates. My College classes have been migrated and can now be taught either face to face or online at a moments’ notice. I have acquired a few new tools and skills during this period that will stay with me forever. MS Teams and I are now close friends, and I have a new respect for being able to generate videos with subtitles.
Do I believe we are on the way to a new version of what we were before, having learned along the way? Yes, I do.
Do I believe that we are better for it? In some ways, yes, in others, no. We have lost a lot of ground around networking and effective communications. I am sorry, but static faces in a small square on a monitor does not make for a viable relationship-building experience. Is it better than nothing? Yes. We do rely more on tools than ever before to support us, but there is a fine line between supporting and carrying. It will work for teams to work things out as they usually do.