Project Management in the Age of Covid

If there is one positive to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that we’ve been knocked out of our comfort zones, forced to recalibrate and reevaluate the important things in life and in business. The virus and global economic downward spiral have driven home the fact that we and our businesses are significantly more vulnerable than we thought. Seasonal flu and its annual culling of the human population have always been a fact of life, but COVID-19 is now one more potentially deadly and unknown variable in the mix. Clearly, modern medicine can only do so much.

What does all of this mean in the context of running a business? We’ve always known that time is valuable, and that lost time is lost money, but these clichés seem more relevant and poignant today than ever before.

If you only had so much time available and your business’s financial viability depended on making the right decisions and effectively executing on them, how would you go about it? How, in other words, would you manage a project in the age of COVID-19?

Planning: Identify the Mission (and then Carve it to Down to Core Objectives)

Beware the nonessential in any plan. If your plan of action is cluttered with multiple objectives and ambitious vision statements, you are wasting time. This is the time to be clear, concise and ruthless: What is primary to the mission and what is secondary?

Identify the essential goals without which the mission is certain to fail. It can take time and substantial effort to whittle it down to the bare bones of the mission, but it is necessary. Accomplished businessmen have always understood this. Steve Jobs once remarked, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” Ideally, you identify three or four essential goals to control the scope of your project. Examples of essential goals: A new product line must be preceded by extensive market analysis. The development of effective drug therapies cannot move forward without an exhaustive period of controlled research and study.

Prioritize Your Objectives as if your Life depended on it

If you only had so much time to execute on the goals identified in the exercise above, how would you do it? Clearly, you would prioritize and deliver on the most important objectives first. Among the essential project goals identified above, which are absolutely vital to the mission? If time is short, these get done first.

Find Darwin’s Fittest and Delegate to Them

Who would you trust with your life? If this seems too extreme a criterion, consider who you would trust with your business, or better yet a particular business task? Identify the team members that have specific strengths and leadership skills. These are the people you want at the helm of the project’s sub-teams. The principle of “survival of the fittest” applies here; in the age of COVID-19, raw talent wins. It is that simple.

Execution: Identify Non-Negotiable Benchmarks

A plan needs to include measurable benchmarks that show that the project has reached key targets. Identify business metrics, like response rate to email campaigns, or statistically significant study results, that are an indicator of success. Design your plan of execution so that attainment of benchmarks is a condition of moving forward.

Identify the Timeframe to hit specific Milestones

When do the project’s objectives need to be met? Time your own benchmarks so that they are in sync with key user group timelines or the larger industry. Examples here could include peak customer use periods, product conferences or holiday sales.

Monitor your Progress with a Sharp and Uncompromising Eye

Early signs of dysfunction need to be addressed as soon as they become apparent. Don’t dither and lose time hoping that flawed systems will magically turn around on their own. Take steps to remediate flaws in process or execution.

Value proactive measures. If there is one lesson we’ve learned in the age of COVID-19, it is that a business cannot afford to be reactive. The time to act, as they say, is now.