In April of this year, as the lockdown was in full force, a small group of like-minded members of the project management community got together to look at the issue of ‘Health and Wellbeing within the P3M community’.  During a series of discussions coupled with the ever-changing situation the decision was made to re-focus and have a look at what lessons could be learned from the lockdown; in particular, the changes to behaviours people have encountered rather than the focus being on technology or process.  This was never intended to be a ‘research programme’; instead, it is a series of articles authored by like-minded professionals and highlighting the reflections, insights and experience of lockdown.

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It was agreed that theLessons from Lockdown’ would be based around the following questions: where do we as a P3M community go from here? What skills, competences and behaviours do we need for the future? What can we take from the past to help plan our future?  What are the positives we can take from lockdown and apply for the future; similarly, what do we want to leave behind?  What are the negatives have we noticed and what can we learn from them?

We looked at these questions from the perspective of the individual and of the organisation, since the latter is what so many of us depend on for our income and livelihoods, and decided to concentrate on the following areas with the content provided by a range of persons from both the UK and internationally.

·       Collaboration ·       Resilience
·       Innovation & Creativity ·       Influencing at a Distance
·       Behaviours & Mindsets ·       Seeing Opportunities in Threats
·       Risk & Decision Making ·      The psychodynamics of being ‘on the call’

So, what conclusions can we draw from our experiences?  It would appear that one of the main lessons is that we all had to adapt very quickly in how we carried out our daily work.  Process had to be reviewed and where necessary changed ‘on the hoof’.

We looked at a potential revised definition of ‘Collaboration’, based on efforts by many during these times, that could be: ‘Laying aside one’s differences, breaking down of siloes, adopting an open-minded approach, seeking the best solution.’

Some of what we have discovered points to us as organisms working in unusual places under unusual or different stresses and having to find ways to deal with all of these changes.

How we do that often calls for more personal resources than we normally need and at such times it is always worth reflecting on one’s own personal expertise, skills, relationships and energy. If we know that our values, capabilities and even identity remain pretty much as they were, then all we are doing is responding to a different environment in the most resilient way we can. We may have to assume a more adaptive ‘shape’ in order to fit how the world is now but we ourselves, at our core, are still who we are.  A key behavioural change that does need a mention is that of increased sociability at our time of isolation. We now have closer relationships and bonds with our colleagues as we have had greater awareness of their personal circumstances, met them in their homes and even chatted with their children.

During this trying time the old English proverb: “Necessity is the mother of invention” came to life.  Organisations had to change the way they operated; IT departments had to rapidly establish innovative ways that allowed staff to work from home.  A number of organisations changed their product portfolio and began producing PPE.

Since lockdown began our ability to interact with others has fundamentally changed. For those individuals used to working from home or remotely this has been less of an impact than for others, but even for these people used to communicating at distance the cumulative impact has been significant. Communication is fundamental to influence, and most people recognise that when we move from communicating face to face to a remote form of communication, we lose something. When we are communicating face to face, we transmit and receive a lot of information that we may not fully be aware of, but which will be influencing how the other person reacts. A quick flash of disgust on our face can fundamentally change how someone feels about what they are talking about.  When communicating remotely there are things we can do to make up some of what is lost.  Many people now have to meet virtually. It’s not as rich an experience as meeting in the flesh, but there are plenty of things you can do to optimise your experience, detect what is really going on and make more of an impact.

jung-ho-park-Peb5JRLXH_A-unsplash_editedLockdown and distance working have decreased our ability to ask guidance directly from those who are experienced therefore checking the lessons learned database has become more vital.  Organisations who have not yet implemented the necessary infrastructure and systems should hurry up to do so; those with already established systems now have the chance to encourage more of their less experienced staff to use it and, at the same time, encourage their more experienced staff to add in their own learning and understanding from projects and programmes. Well-established knowledge management systems can capture learning around remote working so increase the chances of staff to transition and work with it successfully, allowing organizations to be more ready to adapt to the new situation.

Let’s emerge out of this phase and into the next with consciousness and awareness. Have adult to adult conversations across the business and be clear on the behaviours and culture we want to take forward. Work out how we will do this and invite everyone in to see that it happens. And as lockdown eases and we witness the relaxation of restrictions in parks, pubs, homes etc. the question that needs addressing is how do we as individuals perceive and weigh the risks associated with the continuing presence of COVID19, make sense of the information we are presented with and make decisions in relation to it?  To paraphrase Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, just how lucky are we feeling?  How are we evaluating the risk of a second wave here in the UK, in Europe and the wider world?

We were extremely grateful to the Major Projects Association for hosting our thoughts and reflections. To see the complete series, follow the link:  www.majorprojects.org/mpa-blog/.

The Association for Project Management are hosting a webinar on Lessons from Lockdown on the 8th September starting at 5:00pm. Do join us.  You can find the registration details at: www.apm.org.uk/event/lessons-from-lockdown-webinar/.

Ian Cribbes, August 2020

Other posts in the series

Lessons from Lockdown: Introduction

Lessons from Lockdown: Collaboration

Lessons from Lockdown: Resilience

Lessons from Lockdown: Creativity and Innovation

Lessons from Lockdown: Behaviour and Mindsets

Lessons from Lockdown: Risk and Decision Making

Lessons from Lockdown: Influencing at a Distance

Lessons from Lockdown: How to See Opportunities in Threats

Lessons from Lockdown: The Psychodynamics of Being on the Call

Lessons from Lockdown: Lockdown through the Lens of EDI