3 ways project planning cycles have changed since COVID-19

Approaches to project planning and cycles have changed for many companies as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Project managers and teams have to adapt to stay on track.

project management concept

Image: iStock/Wanlee Prachyapanaprai

With increased uncertainty being the key driver, lengthy project planning cycles may be a thing of the past since the start of the pandemic. Planning for change during times of uncertainty is always important, but changing your planning during uncertain times is more vital. 

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How has the pandemic impacted project planning? Most project managers and their teams put in countless hours developing well-thought-out project plans. Under normal circumstances, this works exceptionally well and incorporates risk into most strategies. But what are the impacts to project planning when something like COVID-19 comes along and has far- and wide-reaching effects for virtually every angle and depth?

Ask almost any project manager; they’ll tell you COVID has impacted all aspects of project management, from resourcing to schedules and deliverables. What’s worse, uncertainty is making every phase of project management more complex and lengthy planning cycles a thing of the past. Project planning cycles are becoming much shorter and susceptible to frequent modifications. Project planning and plans have become a race against time and more uncertainty, requiring increased agility, adaptability and a sprint to a soft finish line. 

1. Planning agility

The speed of change is making agility an essential facet for project managers to incorporate during planning cycles. It ensures decisions and changes can be made quickly to allow for increased flexibility as circumstances shift. It reduces unwelcome surprises and arms project teams with the ability to remain in a mindset of continuous change management. Project managers and their teams are less likely to become hamstrung with lengthy and rigid project plans and processes that are likely to change rapidly. Increased agility in planning ensures teams can shift on a dime to meet today’s new normal rather than being stuck in cumbersome planning cycles. 

2. Planning adaptability

Adaptability is another core element needed in project planning—it is one of the keys to project and overall business success. There’s unlikely any project manager or team that has gone unimpacted by the pandemic, requiring them to adapt. While project teams are typically highly adaptable during normal circumstances, COVID-19 was anything but ordinary. Its impact spanned all countries, business sectors and companies, making it impossible to keep the status quo. Even the most prepared teams were tasked with becoming more adaptable. 

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Adaptability should start and remain embedded even in the planning phase. As we advance, it will become a mainstay within planning cycles and a top skill in project teams. Today’s new normal may not be tomorrow’s new normal. Project leaders and their teams will need to build adaptability into every phase of project work to anticipate what’s required to adjust to potential obstacles, changes and to reach client goals.

3. Planning sprints

To be effective and of value, project planning cycles today can no longer remain long, drawn out, one-time events that are revisited periodically. Project planning must be an ongoing exercise, subject to change at the drop of a hat to keep pace with rapidly changing environments and circumstances. Planning sprints, of sorts, will need to be a part of project planning. Teams will need to meet more frequently and make faster decisions to deal with change within planning itself.  

Without recognizing that the vital project planning phase has changed since COVID-19, project teams are unlikely to meet the challenges and ongoing uncertainties created by the pandemic or any other disruptive event. The days of having the luxury of time and a good solid plan are behind us. The need for increased agility, adaptability and the sprint toward a potentially moving finish line is here to stay. How will your project teams adjust?

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