In an earlier blog, Six Tips for Effective Remote Workshops, we introduced IT project leaders to processes that can improve workshops with remote teams. Today, we’re looking at how the “new normal” of a COVID-impacted world is changing how leaders manage their teams during implementation projects.
As we head into a second year of dealing with the impact of a global pandemic, organizations are determining whether work from home orders should be extended or whether remote working will become permanent. In this “new normal” we continue to hear the terms “you’re on mute” and “can you see my screen?” almost daily. Although our lives may seem to be stuck in our all-too-predictable routines, businesses continue to evolve and change. The last year has brought about an accelerated need to be agile with Cloud technology. Companies are driven to reconsider their current technology footprint and undergo changes such as major implementations of systems that will impact the entire enterprise.
How can IT project leaders manage a successful implementation in this radically different workplace? Here are a few helpful tips we’ve discovered will assist and lead to a successful project.
Understanding the business need, critical factors and project expectations are crucial elements when taking on any project. This drives the quality of work produced for go-live system usage or deliverables created. These expectations should be clear, documented and understood by all resources so the success of the implementation and/or execution of daily operational processes are meeting business value. This important first step should include:
Detailed Project Plan
The project plan should be detailed enough to list goals around the completion of tasks and associated dependencies and expectations. In a COVID-19 world, it is more important than ever to build in flexibility if things are not completed on time and to consider the overall impact a delay might have. Prior to the project kick-off, ensure these additions are approved by the appropriate stakeholders. Then, consistently monitor and maintain the plan in a central location to help provide a clear view of project scope and objectives, key milestones and critical path data, workloads and the overall project status. Remote implementation projects should not solely rely upon high-level milestones and issue resolution.
Clearly Defined Job Responsibilities
Before beginning the implementation, clearly defined roles and responsibilities for all project team members, leaders, vendors, etc. should be documented, along with the associated tasks to be performed. A responsibility assignment matrix, or RACI, outlines the stakeholders who are (R)esponsible, (A)ccountable, (C)onsulted, and (I)nformed for each task. Providing a granular level of detail helps keep members focused on their specific task(s) and creates an understanding of how their objectives impact other workstreams. Obtain this understanding and agreement from team members around the expected project responsibilities prior to project kick-off.
Since the pandemic began, senior leaders have told us they have seen an increase in tasks that require their attention, such as employee well-being, remote logistics and industry changes caused by COVID-19. Support from organization leaders such as steering committee members and executives helps promote strong morale and a clear direction of what the implementation’s impact will be. This also leads to better communication and quicker issue resolution while reinforcing the project’s priority for everyone. Hold regular steering committee update meetings, or other leadership meeting to ensure everyone’s understanding of the project is clear. During these meetings, ensure that the right people and job roles are represented in order to drive progress and results.
Effective and Consistent Communication
To successfully manage detailed project plans and adhere to project objectives, communication is critical. There must regular communication on status, risks and issues and key decisions with sponsors, stakeholders, the core project team and vendors (if applicable). Use recurring status meetings as check-ins with team members and to receive updates or feedback on the current project phase. If the scheduled meeting is not needed, determine if a working session could be best used instead; if neither is applicable, cancel. To further promote effective communication, develop a meeting agenda to keep team members on topic and focused on the points to be discussed. If a meeting is not possible, communicating via email can be used as long as it’s not abused. Limit the email to key points and use pictures or bullet points to emphasize key points. Finally, continue building relationships with teams using informal check-ins. There may be project or other personal issues that impact the implementation’s success that may not come up in a formal meeting setting.
Increased and Adaptative Meetings
Mix up the communication methods using common communication platforms such as Zoom, Skype and Teams. Since a standard walkthrough of the tool may not work with differing schedules or time zones, developing a video may be helpful. Consider scheduling “office hours” with an open meeting bridge for user acceptance testers to drop in with questions. Also consider different forms of trainings (power point decks, videos, job aids, toolkits, etc.) that can be leveraged after initial training calls. Understand that remote trainings, workshops and other meetings may increase in cadence and length to accommodate distance learning styles (project objectives and potentially go-lives should be planned for accordingly). Establish expectations or policies around camera usage to keep team members participating. To really keep the team engaged (and awake), surprise them with food delivery services of snacks and meals. To ensure meetings are productive, limit attendees to an as-needed basis to refrain from overwhelming calendars for individuals who may not need to contribute.
As stated earlier, remaining flexible is crucial for meeting the overall strategic goals of the project. Flexible project plans should account for changes in resources, scope, leadership, quality, budget and overall risk. This may cause changes in approaches (still adhering to methodologies) and timelines; therefore, teams should feel empowered and supported to adapt or pivot.
Utilize Project Technology Sites and Other Collaborative Tools
Organizations that do not already utilize a centralized data hub should create or leverage one. To be successful in a remote world, it’s imperative that documentation, project plans, deliverables, etc. are accessible in a central repository for all project team members. This supports project visibility, leading to increased executive oversight while ensuring that tactical decisions are made daily, improving project organization, version control, project status and job responsibilities. One-off questions can easily be answered through instant messaging “chats” or “pings” when questions may have been previously answered in passing.
No one knows where the post-COVID world will take us. But one thing is certain: using these strategies will help project managers and team leaders effectively manage successful implementations, while maturing project management skills and organizational methodologies.
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