Project management: Structure in times of crisis

Transparency, prioritization and implementation are key.

Structured processes and a measured course of action become even more important in crisis / exceptional situations. Comprehensive project management allows companies to solve unforeseen problems quickly and efficiently.

Suddenly, supply chains are interrupted, borders are closed and regular team meetings must be moved into the virtual world: companies must deal with a large number of problems during a crisis situation. Possible measures range from simple conversions (digital approval instead of manual signatures) all the way to alternative business models. Even if problems have a tendency to accumulate in situations such as these - they can be solved in an efficient manner using planned and structured processes

Three-step process

Individual problems must be solved quickly and orchestrated well. For example, production processes can quickly come to a standstill if deliveries are not coming in or invoices are not approved. In virtual meetings, some employees may start to tune out because of the lack of personal interaction. These situations require decisive action and the accompanying measures, using three elementary project management steps:

Create transparency (Scope)

In this first step, companies must determine the exact location and urgency level of the various problem areas. Once all of the relevant information has been compiled, they can develop a plan, find their focus and make the right decisions.

Prioritize (Time)

Not every problem must be solved right away. Companies should tackle the most important challenges and start with a small number - ideally with one specific issue. Because the most important problem must also take priority with regard to cost allocation.

Initiate implementation (Budget)

The right people must be brought together without a lot of red tape, and they must be given a precisely formulated assignment. They must also have the power to question the status quo if needed. It is the only way that solutions can be developed quickly.

In each step, existing project management methods of scope, time and resource management can be used to quickly achieve results using in-house resources. Because time is of the essence when “the house is on fire”. In this context, a structured approach provides the required framework and an overview for completing the most important tasks efficiently and with a high priority.  

An example from practice

A frequent - albeit small - challenge concerns the approval of invoices. Until now, this usually required paper-based processes. But when the person in charge works from home, manual signatures can only be provided by post, which is cumbersome. As a result, processes start to stutter and companies risk being unable to meet the payment deadlines of their suppliers.

First step: Transparency

A quick analysis of the process reveals the following components:

  • Digitization of incoming mail
  • Invoice allocation to the person in charge 
  • Digital invoice approval
  • Forwarding to financial accounting
  • Documentation of the financial transaction 
Second step: Prioritization

A virtual group of experts assesses the items and ascertains two key challenges, namely the digitization of incoming mail and the approval processes. 

Third step: Implementation

Individuals in charge are designated for each of the two prioritized issues; they initiate the appropriate measures for converting the processes. One person's task is to digitize incoming mail by scan and forward it to the relevant person in charge. Since this is a critical process and the work performed on site can result in an elevated risks, two deputies are also designated. 

For the second process, a virtual coordination process involving the accounting department and IT Security means that in the interim, approvals are sent out by e-mail. It is then replaced with a digital signature. By converting these two items, the company can quickly restore functioning invoice runs and pay its bills on time.

Supporting project management measures

These activities should be supported by basic organizational measures that must be initiated on a centralized basis: 

  • Create clear structures and responsibilities. Fast decision-making is key to crisis management. It is recommended that a unit with extensive powers and responsibilities is set up temporarily. This unit is supposed to coordinate the crisis measures and make major decisions, along with preparing a contingency plan and monitoring its effectiveness.  
  • Design transparent and focused communication. Open and direct communication with employees, customers and suppliers creates trust. This is particularly important during crisis situations, so that these groups stay loyal to the company. 
  • Treat virtual collaboration as a factor that is critical to the business. Companies must ensure effective virtual collaboration when employees are no longer able to work in the office, because this has a direct effect on the productivity of the employees working in home offices. An important consideration is that productivity in the virtual environment remains as smooth and as high as in the previous work environment.