Projects are placed on hold for many reasons, and that can be very disruptive to an organization. How you prepare for these events—expected or unexpected—determines how effectively your organization is able to assess and realign its resources and maintain project knowledge. From project restart plans to the cadence of communication during the on-hold period, the actions you take can reduce missteps when a project ultimately restarts.
Preparation for a project disruption starts with good ongoing project management maintenance and communication, and adhering to a foundation of good practices during normal operating conditions. Portfolio management and PMO teams can monitor the status of each project and the demand, capacity, and utilization of its project team members. The PMO typically establishes standards that account for required project records and retention policies. By using a portfolio and project management solution such as Clarity, these records can be linked to the project for easy access. In the event that the project team is reassigned to a different project while their original project is on hold, best practice dictates that the project manager ensures that records are regularly maintained and are kept up to date in a designated repository.
So, after an abrupt and unforeseen disruption, what happens next?
First, assume that projects will restart: Working under this assumption, document everything. Decisions, meetings, designs, development status, task assignments, risks, issues, and team member roles must be documented quickly and thoroughly, so that productivity is not lost due poor “project memory.”
Put together a project restart plan: Include an accurate current state, workflows, and steps upon restart, the restart window, a communication plan, and lessons learned. You should be able to access everything you need in Clarity PPM, including historical data, timesheets, and similar content.
Reallocate resources: Allocations of any sort require team meetings, however difficult the discussions during the meetings may be. Although some may disagree, my experience of deploying resource management for many clients has convinced me that leading a meeting with affected team members is the only truly effective way to approach reallocation. In the first staffing meeting after a project is put on hold, affected team members can communicate their free schedule and, where possible, be re-staffed elsewhere. This often doesn’t happen if the user community is left to update and communicate allocations. The reallocation process is far more effective if it is led by a resource manager, team lead, project manager or similar role. Resource allocation should be a weekly or bi-weekly process during the project hold period, and some can be automated.
Communicate during project on-hold status: Regular communication is always important, even when a project is on hold. Even if the update is that there is no update, communications help to keep everyone connected to the project and prevent the team from constantly asking the PM what’s going on. For team members who have taken time off or leaves, communications help to keep them informed so that they can plan their return and hit the ground running when they do. I suggest a weekly communication cadence during the hold.
When it’s time, do a smart restart: It’s important to validate prior assumptions, since operating conditions may have changed and caused significant shifts. In addition, address the following considerations to get back on track effectively and efficiently:
- Review progress and account for necessary rework and re-learning: Of course, getting back up to speed takes time. It all depends on the accuracy and thoroughness of your documentation and ongoing communications to the team during the project hold.
- Review key dependencies from the previous timeline or Gantt chart: Does the lead time clock need to start over again?
- Review your team, including changes in skills, priorities, or allocations: Apply the same project management due diligence as for a fresh project. Shortcuts do not lead to success, especially with projects impacted by abrupt disruptions.
- Conduct a restart kickoff: Set expectations with stakeholders and validate planned outcomes. This is especially important since these may have changed due to impact from the disruption and new expectations for the business going forward.
- Communicate, communicate, and communicate: Non-project members may not be up to speed on changes, restarting, or the impact of the pause without proper communication.
If you’re already in the midst of a project hold, many of these recommendations can help you get back on track when you restart your projects. When more typical business conditions return, commit to preparing a plan for the next time projects are put on hold due to circumstances outside of your control. The things you do control, such as planning, communication, and a measured restart process can make all the difference for a successful project restart..
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