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Program Management in Crisis
Deepak Kikan Deputy General Manager, Digital & Analytics | October 12, 2020
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Co-author: Pankaj Kumar Gupta

The COVID-19 pandemic has propelled the thought process of exploring and adapting to innovative yet non-disruptive ways of working among the organizations. The time is past when working from home was considered as an employee-only benefit. For the last four months, it has been the norm. And there is substantial uncertainty on when we will see entire Off-Shore Development Center (ODC) setups and long brainstorming sessions on delivery challenges with coffee breaks.

Certainly, delivery management, and progressively, program management, for managing successful delivery has changed. So, what has changed? To highlight some simple yet conceptual changes seen in the past few months.

Pandemic affects and alters program management with shifting customer priorities

Before COVID-19

As a program manager, there were situations when we used to switch from day-to-day operations to a crisis reaction mode. We always had a “Plan B” to fall back on. Program risk assessment was done in the beginning and the risk register was updated on a regular basis. An impact matrix was created along with the mitigation options and plan(s). All logical and feasible means were implemented to ensure that the program doesn’t get derailed from the original cost and schedule. If required, additional hands were put to work by mobilizing resources. In-person discussions with the customer always helped in calming the burning nerves.

In summary, I had many options to try to meet the deadlines and customer expectations. Well, I wanted to mention the hallway conversations and coffee breaks for informal discussions, collaboration and knowledge sharing as well– one of the most effective means!

During COVID-19

The show must go on. This held true amid the emergence of COVID-19 and holds true today. So, instead of bringing in a complete halt, schedules are getting reviewed and are compressed, and re-prioritization of deliverables is happening in concurrence with customers. A priority scale for the associated projects in the program is created and so are the deliverables. Instead of sequential delivery, concurrent delivery is happening. The MVP (minimal viable product) or MOSCOW prioritization technique is being adopted with a more fervent passion.

Daily stand-up is happening remotely and the questions have also changed like:

  • How are you doing? Hope all are safe and healthy.
  • Is your city faring better when it comes to responding to COVID-19? What’s today’s total on Aarogya Setu (An Indian open-source COVID-19 "Contact tracing, syndromic mapping, and self-assessment" digital service, primarily a mobile app)
  • What are the priorities for the day and week?
  • What are you working on?
  • What do you need?
  • What is to be delivered urgently and what help do you need (remote help)?

    Other major changes brought on by program management that I have observed is that the decision-making time has shortened, as it no longer follows the day-to-day operational pattern. Some decisions are made using rapidly changing data points.Digital services like remote working, cloud adoption, APIs and microservices, data first approach are increasingly leveraged. Hidden talents within the teams are being explored. The best part is that the customer is understanding the challenges as well.

    It should be noted that all these changes happened without the pomp of OCM (organization change management) coming to our rescue to adopt these self-developed and now mastered ways of working.

    Post COVID-19

    I firmly believe that the COVID-19 work style will leave a long-lasting impact on the industry and how we interact with each other. Program management, organization change management, and project delivery mechanisms are also set to change with ‘remote’ being the key word. I am expecting a lot more transformation programs with a digital focus, aimed at cost efficiency and bringing the business to the customer.

    The priorities of the organizations will change with program management, and they would try to go the extra mile to provide their products and/or services.