Author: Axel Suetens, Cadenz Consultancy

It should be clear to all of us by now, COVID-19 will change the entire notion of offices. About 74 percent out of 317 CFOs and business finance leaders surveyed by Gartner last week expect some of their employees who were forced to work from home because of the pandemic to continue working remotely after it ends. 

According to S&P Global, the biggest industries affected by COVID-19 will be airlines, automobiles, travel, and oil & gas. Not every part of an industry will be affected equally. Some industries, such as banking, might see a significant drop in revenue, but will not see the same impact on personnel compared to manufacturing as this Forbes study brought to light. 

So it’s no surprise that companies respond forcefully to the COVID-19 crisis, strategic priorities are changing. A revised corporate focus, new financial constraints and the workforce redeployment are obliging companies to adjust their project portfolios. Some projects must be stopped, some paused, some adapted and some accelerated. These are difficult decisions, which you may have to make quickly, with little visibility into the future. In a previous article I already talked about how Agile can affect the bottom line but I also promised to get back to a practical, structured approach to assess and reprioritize projects. 

The following three tips can help you to effectively deliver the project portfolio that your company needs in a COVID-19 world:

Tip 1: Evaluate your portfolio

Assess your existing portfolio and any new projects driven by the COVID-19 outbreak. Key considerations include:

  • The strategic importance of the project
  • Any compelling regulatory or legal compliance
  • The project status and stage (On time/in scope/below budget? Close to be monetised?)
  • Skills availability
  • The likeability to work from home
  • Possible new risks, issues and challenges on the horizon 
  • Training (Virtual training available?)
  • Testing (Can remote testing cover all testing requirements?)
  • Support (Can support activities be guaranteed and performed remotely?)

Tip 2: Re-prioritise your projects

With the answers from step one in place, use scenario analysis techniques to evaluate and re-prioritise your project portfolio. Apply both qualitative and quantitative measures to rank projects, and then select one of the following options for each:

  • Slice/merge: Consider whether you can quickly achieve a minimum viable product (MVP) by slicing off projects’ scopes or merging their teams.
  • Defer: Pause the lowest-ranked projects to adjust to new organisational constraints and priorities.
  • Slow down: Reduce the pace of projects ranked in the “middle”, ones that do not immediately contribute to your COVID-19 response and whose benefits are not materially impacted by a longer timeline.
  • Accelerate: Speed up initiatives with the highest-ranked projects so they can deliver value quickly, especially if you have identified new (or less costly) resources to support them.

Tip 3: Mitigate the impact of slowed or deferred projects

Slowing or deferring projects is a delicate task and in order to minimise the disruption and make it easier to get the projects back up to speed tomorrow, you will have to navigate a number of complex considerations, including the following:

  • Notify all relevant stakeholders: These stakeholders may include the owners of internal controls.
  • Consider contractual impacts and communicate with vendors: Work with your legal and procurement teams to understand and address contractual impacts, including possible cancellations. 
  • Understand the accounting impacts: Determine whether you have an asset (capex) that can be recognized or if you should expense all work already performed (opex).
  • Lay the foundation to restart or reaccelerate later
    • (1) Consider now what resources and data the project will require to get back up to speed. You may even need to consider new staffing models such as Project Management as a Service. You may no longer need full time resources on the projects.
    • (2) Create robust, detailed documentation on open activities and lessons learned to support a rapid, cost-effective continuation.
    • (3) Invest in innovative Agile practices in your project development streams (DevOps, DataOps, …). More on this in a follow-up article.

With this initial recalibration complete, your job has just begun! Continue to assess COVID-19’s impact and modify your projects and the overall portfolio accordingly. The following considerations can help successfully monitor and manage a portfolio remotely:

  • Leverage a centralised program management office: If not already done, consider the investment in a centralised portfolio solution to share all project information, best practices, including remote tools, guidance and templates.
  • Proactively manage vendors and partners: Evaluate service level agreements KPI’s and determine if interim exceptions are needed. 
  • Sharpen your risk management focus: Update your risk framework that considers all desired outcomes in light of COVID-19’s continuing evolution.
  • Share your virtual management approach: Reassure executive stakeholders by sharing information regularly and report on progress on individual projects and the overall portfolio.
  • Regularly re-evaluate assumptions and scenarios: As resource capacity, productivity and business conditions may continue to change.

In the end, sound portfolio management leads to benefits, ONLY if done well.

Meanwhile #staysafe and #goagile

About the author | Axel Suetens, Cadenz Consultancy

With more than 22 years of experience Axel is a seasoned professional in business driven ICT projects with a main track record in Enterprise Resource Planning and Business Analytics systems. He has a strong background in project and portfolio management for Finance, Logistics and Supply Chain Management in medium sized to multinational organizations.

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