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How to manage change to a project plan amid COVID-19

South Africa, like many countries around the world right now, is in lockdown. Set to last for a 21-day period, it’s an admirably decisive move from the presidency. When we emerge from it, it’s difficult to predict just what the country – and the world – will look like.

To state the obvious, it’s a period of profound uncertainty with enormous economic consequences, especially in a country like South Africa, with such vast income disparity. Business interruption is inevitable. Projects will also have to be managed radically differently – or stop for now. It’ll take a coordinated effort from the top to manage change effectively.

One of the biggest issues will be resources. The ‘laws’ of the lockdown give very few industries and professionals licence to move freely. For project managers, it’s likely most human resources will be unavailable and supply chains may stall. It’ll be imperative to keep adjusting the project plan to align with new developments.

Here are some of Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) recommendations for leading a business – or a project – through the coronavirus crisis.

7 tips to embrace effective change management

  • Keep your intelligence up to date:

HBR recommends having one working doc the entire team has access to that’s updated daily – or even hourly. This needs to summarise the latest facts of the crisis from trusted sources to give the best current view of the situation. The same document should outline the top-level project plan, which will need to be fluid and shifting to align with and anticipate new developments. 

  • Beware of hype:

It cannot be emphasised enough; an unprecedented global pandemic is an incubator for fake news. Ensure you vet information thoroughly.

  • Understand the regulation:

This will be changing all the time. Make sure you update the working document with the regulatory and bureaucratic developments pertinent to your project.

  • Assemble a team:

You need a core team of agile problem-solvers who can come up with quick solves and have ownership of the change management process. Give them the power to make rapid tactical decisions to improve your project’s ‘evolvability’.

HBR says this term refers to a business – or project team’s – ability to continuously, iteratively improve as new problems, opportunities and information emerge. Then the team will need to remobilise around the results of the iterative micro-innovations.

So, if a small change is trialled and improves a project, it’ll need to be integrated into the system of working. Another top tip from HBR? You need a cognitively diverse team! It’ll take more than a one-dimensional approach to come up with creative project solves.

  • Get the basics right:

For HBR, this means catering to employee needs, travel needs, facilitating remote work, stabilising the supply chain, and tracking and forecasting the project’s results through rapid reporting cycles. By continuously measuring results, a project leader can quickly spot issues and input mitigation measures to help catalyse quick operational recovery.

  • Learn, learn, learn:

If a project does have to be temporarily stalled then it’s an ideal opportunity for team members and leaders to up their skills through an advanced project management course. This could instil key capabilities and strategies to add value and perspective when a project recommences. It’s also wise to note down behaviours during times of stress. These learnings could be invaluable and could feature as part of future project management plans.

  • Be part of the solution:

How can this project have a very real positive impact on society? How can it be used to support others through this crisis? What small adaptations can be made to benefit the community? Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to live one’s purpose and give back in meaningful ways.

Conclusion:
Enrol in USB-ED’s Project Management course for key insights into enhancing project planning capacities amidst the coronavirus crisis.  The coronavirus is unchartered territory for everyone, which means every business leader and project manager will need to carve out new ways to foster continuity, survival and success. Having a strong change management process in place is crucial.

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