Project business is present when paying customers assign paid contractors to do project work for them under contract. The current Corona crisis poses specific risks for organizations and professionals involved. How can we respond to them?
For the moment being, we observe a breakdown of systems we rely on as project contractors and customers. Communications of course, is one of them, when we are forced to distance ourselves socially and have to reduce contacts to online calls and meetings. Other systems impacted include conferences, congresses, and other physical events where project vendors and clients find each other. Even courts of law will be impacted, when they can no more convene, making it hard to resolve conflicts in a civilized manner.
In a major crisis, trial and error in project business are the direct way into insolvency. Insolvencies will be another disruptive factor. I have long warned that bankrupt project contractors and customers can have a devastating effect on the success of a project's mission. There is no doubt that we will see companies go bankrupt in huge numbers in the coming months, and we should be prepared that among them will be some of those with whom we make project business.
The negative side: Business models will cease to work. All those that build on moving people and giving them spaces to physically come together and interact. While the crisis is (hopefully) a temporary thing, the insolvencies it will cause will be lasting.
There are more negative sides. Not all project business can be moved into virtual spaces. If you are in software development or in organizational change, you will not have too many problems doing that. However any profession - and project - that requires physical proximity among people will come with increased risk of infections.
The baseline shift that yesterday's shock turns into tomorrow's normal will be the foundation of economic and social recovery. So, as players in project business, we have two goals: Surviving the crisis and positioning ourselves to be successful when the recovery begins, whatever this may look like.
Hints for Survival
Hint #1: Clean the Project Portfolio and Terminate Zombie Projects
The Corona crisis that we see today had (and still has) political leaders inactive, as if they were under debilitating shock. For the first time in their career, it is not sufficient to be mediocre and avoid errors. They have to lead through crisis. They will then happily point to actions they have made, ignoring the fact that these action were predictable failures. Zombie projects. Zombie projects threaten the integrity of an organization, the motivation of people involved and the liquidity of an organization. Now may be the best time to discuss them internally and with the other parties in project business. In times of crisis, decisions are possible that would not be at other times.
Hint #2: Don't Risk Your Staff's Health
Apart from the moral aspect: You may need these people later again. Also be aware that in many locations, kindergartens and schools are closed. People have to look after their children at the same time. And children need their parents even more, the time of crisis is unsettling for them, too. The Corona crisis forces us to rethink work-life balance, as for many people, there is no more local separation of the two domains of life.
Another aspect are people who have a tendency to being depressed. The call to "shelter in place" does not sound too different to "hide in your shelf", and some people may be thrown out of emotional balance. It is recommendable to also take care of their mental health, as they may be needed again later. Employees Assistance Programs (EAP) are already readjusting to help people perform at work when this work takes place in a – potentially – depressing home situation.
Hint #3: Be (even more) Careful with Whom You Make Business
"Poverty and wealth bring strange visitors into the house." Fiefdomism is contra-productive to dealing with the crisis, however, vicious competition has been opened for protective gear and also for companies that have more or less promising development projects in their pipeline for vaccines and treatments of the pandemic. While this competition may make some profiteers very rich, it does not contribute to the resolution of the crisis. Also, expect peddlers, scammers, and fraudsters, people with corrupt intent, divisive people, at a time when we should instead come together to work for joint mission success. People who place their private and often short-term interests over those of the project and finally society. Times of crisis are the times that their questionable business finds the best climate to blossom.
Hint #4: Study Your Project Contract(s)
Sometimes, project managers have read the contract but being not educated to understand it, they didn't. Or they forgot it over time, the contract is thick and many things happen over a project day that employ the project manager's memory.
This crisis is the time to study the contract. Focus on risks and opportunities. Build scenarios: What if the project customer or contractor needs to do or deliver certain things and does not do it? Cannot do it? In addition, focus on matters such as applicable law and place of court -the risk of a lawsuit is much higher than normal.
Another part of these studies: Check if your company (or you as an individual) are doing enough to document the details of the project including work, deliveries, and payments. In the worst case, a lawsuit, you will win or lose, depending on the completeness and quality of
Particularly for project contractors: Make sure that all work and deliveries are immediately documented and billed to the customer. In a crisis, a late invoice could mean that the customer goes bankrupt meanwhile and the money is lost forever. But also for project customers: A delayed delivery or service may have the same effect. An insolvent contractor is not able to deliver things that you possibly have already paid, partially or in full.
Hint #6: Keep Your Assets Intact
Assets include human assets. For the time after the crisis, it is hard to make predictions on the marketability of specific skills, however, effective virtual work is likely to be near the topof the list. Use the time of low workload to qualify staff for future demands, and make sure this will be visible.
It also includes intangible assets, such as the reputation of an organization or individual, the motivation, team spirit, and creativity of a team. It is easy these days to damage that through a lack of consideration and empathy. As an example, the Project Business Foundation has a fully virtual program for an Approved Consultant & Educator (ACE) in project business, that allows the use of a seal as a signal to other business (Project Business oundation, 2019).
Keeping bonds intact is far more difficult in times, when we are forced to look for shelter at home. However, the need to help others and ask others for help remains, and if we are honest, modern technology makes it easier today than at any time in the past. This may also be a good time to resolve some existing conflicts. Consider using mediation and arbitration for that. Do what is necessary to overcome conflicts. There are people, where this is not possible or desirable; get on distance to them and ensure that they will not damage your reputation.
Among those we disagree with maybe people we need in future. Better they do not hold a grudge against us when the time comes to work together again.
You Can’t Survive the Crisis Alone