Ensuring project management and client engagement during COVID
In a short period of time COVID-19 has changed, and will continue to change, both the private and professional lives of millions on an unprecedented scale. Restrictions on national and international travel and the requirement to work from home rather than in an office challenge the way that many professional services companies operate. The development of effective tools has been instrumental in ensuring project continuity and success.
Looking at the key success factors from a project management perspective, one needs to pay attention to the following five points:
- Develop a clearly defined project plan (incl. goals, milestones, …)
- Manage the project scope effectively against the plan
- Maintain constant communication (with all stakeholders)
- Ensure stakeholder engagement
- Remain flexible to changes and/or urgent requirements
With limited direct client interaction, each of the above requirements is harder than usual to achieve. While the development of a project plan, including the definition of the project goals and underlying milestones, can be achieved relatively easily, the communication of the roles and responsibilities to the accountable party is more challenging – both for the project sponsor and the (extended) core team. It is important to spend sufficient time with the parties involved in order to align on the requirements for each individual workstream; to conduct initial brainstorming sessions; and to support the definition of detailed hypotheses, corresponding activities and outputs. This step is one of the most crucial in each project under normal circumstances and becomes even more vital when working remotely. Similarly, managing the project scope effectively against the defined plan will require more attention as stakeholders do not have the opportunity to easily follow-up on the status and/or to engage in spontaneous content discussions or ad-hoc questions.
At Delta Partners, the following tools have been tested in different project environments and have delivered positive results for project management and client engagement:
- Daily flash updates for the project sponsor: Following a weekly interaction with the project sponsor (preferably towards the end of the week), all milestones for the upcoming week should be agreed on and aligned. In order to overcome the complication of not easily being able to follow-up personally on the progress of each stream in a remote work setting, the use of “daily flash updates” at the end of each day helps to highlight progress across all workstreams (and to raise potential roadblocks or actions required by senior management). This update should be only shared with the project sponsor and select individuals to replace private catchups. The objective of this tool is to manage the project scope effectively against the defined plan while maintaining a constant stream of communication.
- Weekly content meeting with the (extended) core team: In order to maintain strong relationships with the (extended) core team, a joint weekly status update meeting should be conducted together with the project sponsor. It is important to make these sessions as meaningful as possible in order to justify the time that they take out of everyone’s calendar per week. Combining the weekly status update meeting with a content piece (“knowledge nugget”) helps to maintain stakeholder engagement. In fact, the aim should be for these content pieces to be co-presented by both the professional service team and the client teams to further strengthen the engagement of stakeholders and to ensure milestone delivery while building stronger relationships across teams.
- Reduce the duration of meetings / develop effective email chains: As the situation of remote working requires the set-up of more formal meetings, it is important to limit the meeting time wherever possible. Organizers tend to follow the standard 60 minute setting for Outlook meeting schedules and other conferencing tools (e.g., WebEx, Zoom, …). However, in many cases, meetings do not require a full hour to be successful. Therefore, promoting effective meeting management and limiting the duration of a meeting to 30 minutes may help to accommodate more meetings per day and/or to ensure additional time without meetings to complete work. Similarly, one should carefully consider whether a meeting is required and/or if some decisions / queries can be made via email in order to reduce the amount of time spent in conference calls. The objective of this tool is to manage the project effectively while ensuring stakeholder engagement.
- Meeting-free day: Despite all of the above, the number of meetings per week will increase significantly. It is therefore important to agree, with the project sponsor and the (extended) core team, on a meeting-free workday to allow for sufficient time to progress with the various analyses/activities. Implementing such a “meeting-free day” helps each individual to progress with their work and also helps to manage expectations as the next interaction will include comparatively more significant evolvements in the analysis. The ultimate goal of this day is to provide sufficient time for analysis in order to ensure proper delivery of the project/workstream scope within the defined timelines.
- Open invitation for ad-hoc support: Each project may encounter a situation where a change or a request for ad-hoc support, whether anticipated or not, requires special attention. While in a normal setting the creation of a “war room” type environment would be a solution, working from different locations requires an alternative approach. One solution to this is to share an open invitation, that anyone can access at any time, to have a meeting and/or to raise a situation with the project manager. It is important to restrict the use of this tool to special situations only and to limit the time of conversations to less than 15 minutes in order to avoid unscheduled, lengthy interactions.
While the above-mentioned tools are not exhaustive, they can help teams to improve collaboration in these unprecedented times; to manage projects successfully; and to communicate with clients in an effective yet not overwhelming manner. In a constant effort to improve the work environment, these tools can be further refined and adapted for the specific context of each project.
© 2020 Delta Partners.