How Did Project Management Skills Prepare Us for the New Normal?

“Reopening schools” has been the buzz phrase in the news recently and much of the rhetoric has revolved around economic impact, the safety of students, and the potential for increased Coronavirus outbreaks.  But what’s really behind something that seems to be such a simple project — reopening classroom doors?

Let’s take, for example, a contained entity (like a university) and first try to understand the question being asked: do they open and operate as they normally would?  Do they offer some hybrid form of face-to-face classes supplemented by online learning? Or do they operate solely online?  Seems simple.  Make a choice, right?

But behind this simple project, there are hundreds of moving parts that have to be considered based on the choice.  Housing is affected, food services are affected, cleaning services, campus security, and athletic staff is all affected, and this is just a fraction of the considerations.  Creating some new method of delivering instruction becomes a logistical hazard of scheduling, staffing, planning, and measuring deliverables.

This is just one example of what all businesses have faced during the COVID-19 crisis as we closed doors and moved to an increasingly work-at-home environment.  Thank goodness, then, for project management and the techniques it has offered for uniting disparate groups and for tracking progress while organizations and their customers largely operate in the digital space.

What Project Management Has Offered

A good project manager incorporates planning, scheduling, resource management, task management, and risk management into their process.  They often must achieve this process while communicating among a diverse group of team members, including specialists, management, workers, and customers. To do so in a contained business environment is hard enough, but with team members now spread out in their various private spaces coordinating plans, communicating progress, and keeping team members on task has become exponentially more difficult.

Project management, with the use of planning and collaboration software, however, has made the transition to work-at-home much easier.  The platforms on which teams can communicate and share work progress, including real-time work with documents, has made virtual planning so much smoother.  And in some cases, like those that use LiquidPlanner, managers can use tracking mechanisms — communication, progress reporting, schedule, resource and task management, and resource leveling within one application for maximum efficiency.

How Project Management Can Keep Us Moving Forward

In an increasingly isolated world, one of the primary concerns is communication.  Where teams used to gather around tables in conference rooms or hash out details around the coffee pot, project leaders now need to focus on effective communication through digital means.

This incorporates several traditional skills in project management.  First, the leader needs to coordinate with different groups, perhaps in dramatically different time zones, to digitally gather and share information.  Second, the leader has to make progress available to involved parties so that future decisions are based on up-to-date materials.  Third, the leader has to find more private means of arbitrating disputes and working with personnel who may not be meeting quotas.  Finally, it’s important that the leader creates spaces for social interactions that build a sense of team bonding and allow for those unexpected “aha moments” that can come from an off-the-cuff connection.

The project manager, of course, will work behind the scenes to organize and schedule tasks (often with digital systems

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