Improve Project Management in Work from Home Environment

Improve Project Management in Work from Home Environment

The outbreak of CoVID19 has induced a big dilemma in the minds of various governments, organizations and even individuals. The impact is likely to be long-lasting; and has given a surge to the concept of working from home (WFH). WFH is not uncommon in the IT industry, where a significant percentage of manpower is already engaged in WFH. Organizations like Google have already announced that their employee will work-from-home across the globe until 2021.
 

   • Employees will benefit because of reduction in commute time, travel expenses and, above all, freedom to stay anywhere! Moving away from costly housing in cities to suburbs or upcountry destinations can become a reality!

   • Organizations will benefit from WFH, as they will need less office space and associated maintenance cost etc, but more importantly, this arrangement gives access to talent from a much wider pool, with location becoming irrelevant. Even other nationalities, which were out-of-bound, with old paradigms, can be explored.

While working-from-home, our gemba is virtual. For traditional organizations, it is a big paradigm shift. Can work-from-home be a reality in the organizations other than IT/ software domain? The answer is yes, it is possible to a very large extent, even if not 100%, with the effective application of digital project management practices. Traditional brick and mortar organizations think of applicability of project management concepts only to installation and construction work, but perhaps never realised that many operations (or parts of operations) they work with are also projects – big or small. We have all heard catchphrases like “work happens only at the workplace”. 

If you talk about the grass-root level, where the realization of product or service is taking place (manufacturing, logistics, retail etc.), this statement remains true to a very large extent. However, there are many knowledge-oriented jobs, which could be performed in a flexible environment. Perhaps not 100%, but surely most of them. Such jobs may be the right candidates for WFH provided we have structure, technology, processes, and culture of project management in place, supported by five fundamental Principles of KAIZEN™ Management: 

  1. Creating customer value
  2. Enhancing Workflow Efficiency 
  3. Improving the effectiveness of virtual workplace
  4. People Engagement 
  5. Visual Management to enhance transparency & communication



The key areas for WFH will be 

  • Research (market, product, service, process)

  • Design

  • Technology development

  • Finance

  • System Audits

  • Recruitment

  • Training

  • Data analysis (business results, operational & quality performance, HR etc)

  • Customer support & feedback etc. 



Now, let us understand which project management practices can be incorporated into the new normal for making WFH effective. 

1. Set the structure and technologies:

   a. Like any project, first, divide teams into smaller units. To function independently, each team should have the necessary competencies. The team may comprise of people who are working remotely (at home) as well as those working in office/ plant. All teams may need to be multi-disciplinary.

   b. In the past two months, data usage has increased by almost 38% year on year across the globe, and the pandemic has spurred a digital transformation in all areas. Organizations need to assess their needs for technologies related to cloud and security of data. All these elements of Industry 4.0 will be an integral part of the post COVID system design for work-from-home.

2. Set the processes:

   a. It is very important to set the processes for communication and decision-making authority; both within teams and between teams. These should be clear to each & every member of the team.

   b.  Ensure that all members are aligned to the team goals (ON SCOPE, ON TIME and BUDGET); & actions to be taken for completeness and timeliness of the expected work. This will be the key responsibility of every team leader in the virtual environment.

   c. Product breakdown structure, work breakdown structure, resources requirement. clear objectives, deliverables and milestones must be available online to every team member and reviewer.

   d.  Create a flow of people, information, equipment & materials through pull planner and design alerts in the system.

3. Invest in Culture:

   a.  WFH will require further strengthening of the work culture. Without face-to-face interaction, how can team members feel like a team is a real challenge - both for team members and team leaders? When you work-from-home, you miss out on the “by the way”, “come on, take a break”, “let us have a coffee” conversations that mark office life. You may pull through reactive team members also when you are in face-to-face conversations. However, in a virtual environment, a lot of emphases must be given to making team-mates proactive. They must pull the required information to avoid any time delays.

  b.  The three top things to ensure a team feels like a team are 

         i. Regular and periodic communication
         ii. Collaborative tools/ platform and 
         iii. Engagement of the team in improvement projects and Daily Work Management. 


   c.  A visual timeline (to visualize the team’s time loss), and decision flow map should be clear to all. Prepare & use a digital dashboard for regular on-line meetings to review progress and address concerns that are hindering work schedule or work quality.  Not meeting deadlines is one of the key issues for all projects. Investment in collaborative tools/ platform will help in building a culture of team performance.

   d. WFH may be highly inefficient for some team members and, at times, it may create mental stress also. Working-from-home does not mean working anytime and anywhere (in the house). Team leaders must ensure that for some specified duration, all team members are working concurrently, especially when there are mutual dependencies. if task dependence rules are not followed, team members will tend to work longer hours, with a lot of Muda in their work.  

So, in conclusion, change is always for the better! Stay positive, adapt, and embrace the new paradigms! Fear is only in the mind and it is important that fear if felt by any team member, is addressed and managed. New tools, techniques and approaches must be shared and taught, people be encouraged to try, be accommodative and the new normal will be normal soon! 


Author

Naresh Chawla, Senior Consultant at Kaizen Institute


About Kaizen Institute

Kaizen Institute is the original and premier provider of KAIZEN™ services of Change Management, Business Excellence, Operational Excellence and Lean.

We support companies of all sizes in all market segments, providing them with a sustainable, competitive advantage. Our Vision is Improving the world with Everyone, Everywhere, Every Day – The KAIZEN™ Way. “KAIZEN™ means Change for the better.”

Kaizen Institute is a global organization which provides consulting and training services to companies represented in Europe, the Americas, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa. We are currently operating in 60+ Countries for 35 years.

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