I hope everyone stays safe in this COVID-19 pandemic. That said, if you have a critical project in your organization, you should be thinking about whether it will get “sick” as well and, if so, what you can do to ensure your project survives. And if your project was already going sideways, then maybe the natural lull caused by shutdowns and remote work is the right time to plan for a stronger, healthier project once everybody is fully back to work. Will you come out of this period with a stronger project, a better plan, and a fuller understanding of the risks and potential impacts that you face? Or will your project suffer more than it needs to or maybe even fail altogether?
Regardless of what type of project you have, new product development, construction, IT, or anything else, the pandemic is likely to pose significant and sometimes surprising challenges to your project’s success. But thinking through these risks now will better prepare you for bringing in a healthy project or, at the very least, minimizing the impacts of any sickness it catches. Significant project risks and risk categories include:
Financial risks might include impacts to your organization’s revenue, its ability to borrow, or even its continued existence depending on things like share price. As we’ve all experienced, the market is down and there is a lot of fear and uncertainty around financial issues during this global crisis. Financial risks could sink your project or even your organization.
I am sure you’ve noticed but China manufactures a lot of stuff. Whether your project supply chain involves pharmaceutical ingredients, electronic components, machine parts, equipment, construction materials, or pretty much anything else, part of your it likely passes through China or another country impacted by the pandemic. This means possible or even likely shortages of key items that you need to complete your project.
One combination of financial and supply chain risks that is worth consideration is the solvency of your key vendors and subcontractors. If you are shutdown now or they are shutdown now, will they be around to re-boot your project later? If you shut them down, will they file claims against you later? If they are not around later, then how difficult and expensive will it be to replace them?
Personnel present a range of risks during these uncertain times aside from obvious concerns for their health. If your project requires a large labor force on-site, then it is quite possibly facing shutdown due to social distancing requirements. But even if your team is virtual and can work remotely, can it do so efficiently? One other interesting case I’ve seen is a scenario in which a project requires specific expertise and, if shutdown, those experts might not be around when you are able to re-start the project. Do you understand the critical skills of the people involved in the success of your project?
Governments are mandating closures and lock-downs of non-essential businesses in many jurisdictions. How will this impact your project? Does your project have work that can be performed remotely or will such an order close it down altogether? Do you have the IT resources to work remotely and still work effectively? Do all of your team members share your purpose, understand their role in it, and have the tools and accountability in place to ensure that they are achieving their necessary parts of the whole?
This too shall pass. Many projects are now experiencing a lull, a kind of pause. Even if they are not shutdown completely, they might be slower due to the necessity of doing work remotely and the rapid way in which this situation presented itself. But you can take advantage of this slower time to develop plans that identify and mitigate your risks and help bring your project back stronger than ever once this is past. For some projects that were already veering off track, this might even be an opportunity to take a breather and right the project to prevent a failure that might have happened without the pandemic.
To minimize your COVID-19 impacts, or to even turn the lull into an opportunity, consider the following 7 steps:
Identify which parts of the project can continue, which will be slowed down, and which will be shut down in the current (and possibly future) scenarios. Basically you are performing triage on your project. Which of these activities were on your critical path? If they were not critical, how long will it take before they become part of your critical path once you’re fully re-started.
Consider documenting your project’s status as fully as possible, especially if it is a project type that will be heavily impacted by shutdowns. For example, a construction project cannot continue “remotely.” So make sure to document your schedule, work completed, costs-to-date, and any issues that you were experiencing. Also, identify any activities that might be needed to stabilize your project so that it can be more easily re-opened after the shutdown.
Carefully evaluate your project’s underlying assumptions. Include your unstated but essential assumptions. Which of these are still valid under the new circumstances?
Thinking and planning are well-suited for lull times. Many project teams do not do enough project analysis during regular times as they get too busy fighting fires. Evaluate your project carefully. Are there any negative trends that you might not have noticed in the daily hustle and bustle?
Do you have a project risk register? Is it collecting dust on the shelf or do you use it regularly? Now is the time to blow the dust off of it and carefully update it. Look at the new risks your project faces from
If your project is a type that is heavily reliant on contracts, then do not forget to examine your contract risk. Force majeure is contract language that typically applies in situations outside of the control of either party. But look at the risks of literally applying your contract language. For example, your contracts may let you leave contractors or personnel hanging and may absolve you from any financial responsibility in this crisis. But will this further hurt your project if those resources are no longer available when you re-boot?
Depending on the extent of the impacts and possible project shutdowns, you should plan your re-boot carefully. If your project involves multiple team members whose work requires the same space or resources, then you might want to plan a phased re-start to ensure that everything goes smoothly and you.
Regardless of what type of project you have, the COVID-19 pandemic could have a major impact. Be sure to use your time wisely over the next month or two to minimize impacts to the extent possible and to come out of this period with a stronger project plan than before. If you need help or have any questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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