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Project management in times of COVID-19

Project management basically always has the same function: It supports the project team in planning and organizational tasks, collects, processes and shares information, covers development accompanying and development supporting tasks and, last but not least, keeps the overview of the projects within a company's portfolio.

However, the last few years have brought serious changes in the project environment and thus in the way project management works.

For a long time, the classic and sometimes somewhat rigid top-down project management based on the waterfall model was the predominant procedure. Standardized development processes and established communication channels usually lead to predictable results.

Negative influences (demands for shorter times regarding performance delivery, shifts in priorities, etc.) but also intrinsically positive aspects (increasing demand for services and products, innovation and creativity in the development process) increasingly impair the responsiveness of project management and make it difficult to meet milestones and deadlines.

Therefore, project organization has been shifting more and more towards agile management methods for some time now.

"Agile" and "Scrum" are becoming increasingly important for today's project manager, as the associated methods are very well suited to projects in turbulent environments and their focus is primary on adding value in the company.

But that's not all. Since the discovery of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in December 2019 and its steady spread, also that infectious disease has an impact on the work of many project managers.

The first variants of the virus initially led to only isolated sick leaves of staff, but due to the aggressive nature of the disease, these were sometimes long-lasting and thus difficult to compensate for many companies.


With the expansion into a pandemic and almost 400 million infected people worldwide (as of beginning february 2022), the somewhat weaker Omikron variant is now having a massive impact on production times, material availability and logistics.

Workers who are ill or in quarantine, production facilities closed due to a "zero-corona policy" (e.g. in the semiconductor sector), lack of capacity and disrupted supply chains in global logistics, or raw materials that are currently only available in limited quantities extend delivery times many times over.

Products that could previously be ordered easily and promptly from the catalog now have delivery times of several months and that makes any time planning obsolete.

Due to the rapid progress of digitalization in recent years and the possibility of carrying out many tasks also while working from home, some of the missing resources can be compensated quite well.

But home office is not possible in all industries and trades, and especially in the area of product development, to a large extent, project work is based on personal interaction between the steering committee and the service provider. Especially if the project manager has no authority to issue directives and the management of his team is primarily on an individual, personal level, a face-to-face meeting can only be inadequately replaced by a video call. In addition, especially in the technical sector, in the context of interdisciplinary collaboration, it is helpful when assemblies are sometimes live on the table in order to jointly analyze weak points and discuss potential for improvement.

Another task of the project manager is to keep an eye on the costs. On the one hand, there are the project costs in general, but also quite often the product costs in particular.

At a time when many components are out of stock, material procurement is stretching purchasing departments to the limit and brokers are making the deals of their lifetime, there simply can be no reliable costing.

Components and assemblies are purchased for umpteen times their original price and it must be doubted that costs will completely return to their previous level after the crisis.

Let's hope that the experts are right, who predict a transition of the covid status from pandemic to endemic in the course of 2022 due to progressive vaccination campaigns and effective medicines, and who also see a realistic chance of supply chains returning to normal.

Until then we will need to take up the new challenges, including those in project management.

hstrohmayer 08.02.2022 0 811
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