The response to the Covid-19 pandemic has seen remote working mandated by governments as part of the protective response. As we return to more normal modes of operation, there are still messages for us in understanding the impact this has had and determining what the “new normal” looks like.
In simple terms, the impact of the pandemic on most businesses has been a long-term implementation of their Business Continuity plans. “Work from Home” has been the mainstay of most plans for two decades, although clearly the extended nature of the requirements and the similar levels of disruption in supplier / customer organisations were not factored into organisations’ internal planning.
By definition, Business Continuity is about handling disruption to an organisation’s normal operating model, not driving the need for a new one. After all, if the Business Continuity Plan were an improvement on the normal model, it would have already become the normal model.
Now, with 18 months’ experience of operating in this way behind us, organisations are assessing what has and hasn’t worked over this period to establish what a future model could look like.
Once the initial hype of moving to near-exclusive homeworking started to wane, replaced with a recognition that for most organisations (and employees) office environments – with their structure, social contact and the spontaneity and mutual support of colleagues being face-to-face – do have a place in future operating models, then the question becomes one of balance and effectiveness.
Whilst, especially in large or multi-national organisations, the concept of the distributed project team is well embedded, these were usually comprised of groups of collocated people who collaborated, rather than widely dispersed individual contributors.
An environment where the whole team is physically isolated can significantly impact the way in which programme teams work. Whilst the daily stand-up can be carried out effectively by video, once into daily delivery, a hub-and-spoke approach to management is more likely to develop, with Project and Programme Managers interacting one-to-one or one-to-few with team members.
This impacts the normal flow and problem-solving capabilities of collocated team members and makes overall tracking and governance more complex. The dispersal of the PMO, along with delivery teams, can create a void in the gathering and disseminating of information around status, issues and focus areas. There is a tendency to drift into less frequent, more formal structured meetings, foregoing the “drive-by” conversations that occur naturally in a collocated environment
In this environment, the role of the “Virtual PMO” becomes critical. It should (even moreso than usual) become the hub and single-source of truth for a Programme and the go-to point for all status and management information. And it needs to be able to do this “real-time”.
It must be able to provide accurate and timely access to Project and Programme data to allow stakeholders to understand status, risks and priorities. Dashboards and portals offering relevant information should be available, providing Programme teams and stakeholders alike with a clear set of data on which to base assessments on status and progress, and which highlight areas requiring further investigation and support.
This is best achieved through the use of a PPM toolset such as Integrated Cloud’s CloudCube, which holds detailed project information and maintains complex interrelationships between data elements to allow drill-down and deep understanding. Status is based on objective data, not subjective opinion and is auditable at every level.
As we move back to an environment which will almost certainly feature mixed models of office and remote working for most organisations, we will need to recognise the risk of a multi-tier information culture developing, with differently located people having different access. Using data, tools and consistent reporting methodologies will help mitigate this.