I should say from the very outset that the title of this blog post may reference the 21st century, but with the extraordinary events of the last 3 years, let’s just say that’s where the majority of this blog’s content draws from. The business challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russian-Ukrainian conflict are certainly not unique in world history but have created a context of chaos and unpredictability that several generations of people of working age are not used to.
So against the backdrop of supply chain disruptions, workforce shortages and higher wages, and now inflation and energy cost increases, what can business leaders do to keep projects on track and on budget? If major annual goals of the organization aren’t completely wiped out or put on hold, that is to say.
First, let’s make sure all of our heads are out of the sand and recognize that normal isn’t coming back soon. Sure, when the pandemic started we believed the false narrative that it would be maybe a month or two until it went away. That sure hasn’t panned out, right? So hoping and wishing won’t mean that these conditions will lift any minute now.
We need active project management to get through these times, which sounds a lot to me like active business management and leadership. We cannot expect our project teams to navigate challenges successfully without getting into the problems ourselves.
What tactics can a project team use to navigate chaos and unpredictability? If you’ve had project management training, you’ll know that traditional waterfall planning is fairly rigid and makes quick pivots pretty difficult to make. On the other hand, we’re taught that agile project management (borrowed from the software industry) can handle unknowns and project risks with minimal effort.
In reality, that means less pre-planning for a project and an understanding that project deadlines are subject to change(s). In agile environments, you’ll also need stable teams that have strong competencies and experience to get through iterative sprints of work, and a strong leader to give direction back to the team after each piece of work is delivered.
That team part is pretty hard to come by at the moment, with the Great Resignation and subsequent Great Reshuffle happening to our US workforce, so hopefully, your organization still has stalwarts of knowledge in perhaps a skeleton crew. Extreme care must be taken not to overburden your team, as they are probably also trying to hire back workers, train new workers, and handle the extra work of not having a full house. This means your organization must be extremely picky about the projects you choose to go with, or even consider outsourcing projects if the goal is still a high priority.
It has been obvious to me for several years that project management boils down to leadership, pure and simple. Project managers should help organizations accomplish goals on time and on budget, leading teams with strong leadership and communication skills. With the headwinds that organizations are facing, it is rational to expect that project management is similarly affected. Hopefully, these strategies will help your own organization to reflect upon priorities and how you’d like to lead through adversity.
Want to read more about the topics brought up here? Check out a few articles: