In more than 200 countries, project professionals look to Axelos® Global Best Practice to help them move faster, more efficiently and more collaboratively as they deliver projects in a rapidly changing world.
But, as organisations strive to recover and meet pent-up demand emerging from the pandemic, the challenges of managing projects remotely are many and complex.
PM Today’s Associate Editor, Amy Hatton, recently spoke to Allan Thomson, Axelos® ProPath™ Product Ambassador. Here, they explore how remote working is impacting the day-to-day reality of project management, and how Axelos® ProPath™ helps project, programme, and portfolio practitioners to deliver outstanding results, even when teams cannot be co-located.
I’m catching up with Allan following his recent webinar, Remote Project Management, where an opening poll of delegates revealed some striking statistics. Asked about the most pressing issues they face right now, a whopping 62% of delegates identified poor communication as their biggest struggle. That’s hardly surprising, Allan explains.
“Communication on projects is always a complex business. Now, the situation is compounded by the challenge of working remotely. As humans, we love to talk but we often fail to really communicate. Only seven per cent of our communication comes from the words that we use. When we are managing projects remotely, we lose much of the nuanced information that communication relies on – body language, gauging others’ reactions, and so on. Of course, technology is a wonderful enabler.
“I worked out recently that I have been around the world three times in the past year, without leaving my house! That’s incredible, but it does mean that we need to pay even more attention to the critical trio of Leadership, Communication and Team Management that underpins any successful project. And that, in turn, requires us to generate confidence, resilience, and the right behaviours in all project stakeholders. But it’s also about building a team with the right skills and knowledge to carry projects forward.
“That was one of the big drivers behind creating ProPath™. Axelos’s own research shows that professional certification gives practitioners both the confidence and the skills to do their jobs more successfully. ProPath™ responds by offering a designation scheme that is flexible, carries no time limit, and gives individuals the bigger organisational picture so that they can deliver more effectively. This is achieved by having the new Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) 5th edition certification in all of the designations. But it also provides a powerful toolkit for organisations to develop the right skills amongst their people to embed new capabilities for delivery and change.”
Change, of course, carries with it risk – and in a recent podcast with Allan I discussed exactly this point. “Whether you’re working in an Agile environment or more traditional sequential scenario, risk will always be present in projects” Allan says. “That’s why we have built M_o_R® (Management of Risk), into the combined designations for both ProPath™ Project Expert and ProPath™ Agile Project Expert. The pressure is on to equip organisations to respond to changing circumstances by pivoting at speed.
“But it’s also vital that we don’t sacrifice all-important controls, methodologies, and disciplines – such as risk and change management – in the race to achieve that goal. To stay on top of that, we must ensure that we maintain our commitment to pursuing professional development in our new remote working world. In 2017, the Project Management Institute reported that the future is bright for project management.
“That hasn’t changed, but the remote working challenge has, and so ProPath™ has been specifically designed to equip project professionals with the breadth of skills needed to deliver best practice and change, one powerful step at a time. Thanks to technological advances and the agility of our community of Accredited Training Organizations, delegates can do that successfully, no matter what environment they are working within – remote or otherwise.”
The realities of remote project management are, Allan continues, bringing new challenges to the table. “Ultimately, virtual meetings are a two-dimensional environment. They can also create an irregular playing field. If you have introverted people on your team, for example, how do you ensure that they can contribute as robustly as their extrovert counterparts in a remote environment?
“Any project, with its multiple supply chains and stakeholders, becomes more complex to manage in the remote world. You lose a lot of the spontaneous relationship building opportunities that you get face to face. Communication and team leadership must, therefore, be carefully planned and executed. It is as much about role modelling and embedding the right behaviours – such as trust, collaboration, accountability, and empathy – as it is about process. A method like PRINCE2® Agile brings structure and insight to these skills.
“As an example, in my aforementioned Remote Project Management webinar, 78% of delegates told us that the quality they most wanted to see in team members was initiative. That’s great, initiative generates fantastic ideas and hence new opportunities. But this needs to happen within the tolerances of the project, and that is what both PRINCE2® and PRINCE2® Agile help us to do.”
Allan also has some great practical tips for managing projects remotely. “Simple but effective strategies include ensuring all cameras are on to maximise what body language is visible and ensure equality of contributions. Always define a clear purpose for the meeting and make full use of interactive capabilities like chat rooms to engage stakeholders.
“It’s important to be the best facilitator you can be. Keep sessions short and focused. Boredom is the enemy to any productive meeting, but in a virtual environment it is even easier for people to allow distractions to creep in. And, as a project manager, it is vital that you remain visible. One of the biggest dangers of remote working is that it is easy to hide when the going gets tough.
“But it is at exactly these times that your team will seek out your leadership. Project sponsors can help with this too, by ensuring that they remain actively engaged with projects and the people running them. Especially in a virtual world, when a sponsor attends and communicates directly with employees, that sends a really powerful message. One strategy we employ at Axelos® is to form Coalitions of Sponsorship. This enables different sponsors to get involved in different sessions and generates a stronger, more aligned understanding of what’s happening on the ground.”
Find out more:
Explore the AXELOS® ProPath™ designations at axelos.com/propath.
Listen to Amy’s recent podcast with Allan on Axelos® ProPath™ and the Future of Work.
Find out more about Axelos® Global Best Practice.