At the outset, the COVID-19 crisis was a boon for some project management offices (PMOs), and a disaster for others. If your PMO was lucky enough to have invested in remote-access initiatives before the pandemic struck, for example, your organization was far better able to adapt to the new COVID-19 world. If, on the other hand, in-person interaction was a core part of your business operations, COVID-19 created major challenges and forced teams to go into IT crisis management. In all cases, these outcomes were the result of sheer luck; even the best PMO could hardly have seen the pandemic coming.
Although a variety of imminent challenges related to the pandemic remain, smart PMOs should now be investing their resources in developing responses to those challenges that not only solve immediate problems, but also foster long-term success.
In other words, although everyone is and should still be thinking about the crisis in its immediate form, now is the time to plan and begin implementing strategies that enable proactive IT crisis management.
Here are five examples of strategies that can allow PMOs to achieve both of these goals and, by extension, empower their businesses not only to cope for as long as the pandemic continues, but also to thrive once it is over. Most of these points apply broadly to any type of organization, although they skew toward those that offer software or other technical products.
Rethink Customer Experience
To say that the pandemic has profoundly changed the customer experience is an understatement. A surge of interest in remote-access features is one obvious facet of this change. Others include the demand for the ability to schedule in-person activities in advance in order to minimize the time users spend waiting in lines, and to streamline face-to-face interactions via methods like curbside pickup.
Interest in experience features like these is likely to persist with some customers even after the pandemic has ended, not only because of the lingering cultural imprint of behaviors they learned during the pandemic, but also because some will fear a renewed outbreak.
For that reason, now is the time to invest in initiatives that give customers an experience that can be as remote and as scheduled as they want. Even if your business offers a product that doesn't involve in-person access, giving customers maximum flexibility around how and when they interact with your team and how they collaborate with others when using your product or service is important. It will position you to weather the short-term impacts of the crisis while also aligning with the demands for flexibility and remote access that are likely to persist over the long term.
Invest in Self-Service Capabilities
Along similar lines, the COVID-19 crisis has taught users that the less dependence they have on others when consuming a product or service, the better. Even if they don't have to interact in-person with a support team or other staff to use a product, the cultural trend toward minimizing interactions is so powerful that it makes self-service capabilities of all types valuable.
For PMOs, this means there is a rich opportunity to identify aspects of a product that users are currently unable to leverage without engaging with others, and then restructure them so that self-serviceability is possible. Now more than ever, customers will appreciate the ability to perform tasks without having to get on the phone or (worse) visit a location in-person.
In the past, designing products in ways that required or encouraged customers to interact could be a boon to business by helping to increase overall engagement. That's why, for example, Walmart offers discounts for customers to come pick up online orders in-store: it helps get people in the door to buy more. But going forward, many customers will prioritize safety above all else. Empowering them with self-service features helps them feel safer.
Think Strategically about Videoconferencing
One lesson that millions of people have learned from the pandemic is just how draining remote meetings can be, due largely to performance glitches and the extra cognitive toll required to interpret others' feelings through a screen.
PMOs should learn their own lesson from this reality: the less you require videoconferencing, the better.
This may seem counterintuitive. After all, in the era of COVID-19, we're told that enabling users to connect remotely is critical. We've also witnessed a slew of companies (including, most notably, Facebook) vying to release video conferencing solutions during the pandemic.
The reality, however, is that no matter how good your video conferencing software may be (and making it truly good is very difficult), users are unlikely to have an excellent experience when you force them to use it.
For that reason, it's worth resisting the temptation to place video conferencing initiatives at the forefront of your roadmap bandwagon, and instead invest in projects that allow users to achieve collaboration goals in other ways. A group chat integration, for example, might be a better feature to include on your product roadmap—not to mention one that requires fewer resources to develop and manage—than building out a video conferencing feature.
Provide a Fulfilling User Experience
Another lesson from the pandemic that is likely to hold true over the long term is just how unfulfilling it can be to sit in front of a screen all day, disconnected from in-the-flesh human beings.
This makes now a great time to invest in projects that help your users feel more fulfilled. "Fulfillment" is an ambiguous term, of course, and it means different things for different products or services. But as a general guideline, consider strategies that make interactions more human. For example, make error messages more human by replacing generic error codes with messages that genuinely help users understand what failed and how they can work around it. Likewise, you could invest in an interface overhaul that helps users navigate your product and reduces the risk of frustration and confusion.
These are small enhancements that can add up to make users feel a stronger sense of overall fulfillment instead of isolation or frustration when they engage with your business.
Improve Knowledge Management
At a psychological level, perhaps the most significant impact of COVID-19 is that it has reminded everyone how little they actually control. This means that product innovation initiatives that help users feel more in control is one small step toward improving overall experience in the face of lasting uncertainty.
One way to achieve a feeling of control is to improve your knowledge management process. Whether the knowledge you need to manage is accessed by your internal team, your end-users, or both, making it easier for users to find the information they need will help them feel less lost.
Better knowledge management also, incidentally, reinforces the self-serviceability goals described above by reducing the need to interact with others in order to solve a problem.
In short, COVID-19 creates both an opportunity and an imperative for PMOs to rethink strategies, priorities, and approaches. Align investments and priorities with initiatives that will keep business operations smooth for as long as the pandemic persists, while also positioning your organization for long-term success.
Chris Tozzi has worked as a journalist and Linux systems administrator. He has particular interests in open source, agile infrastructure, and networking. He is Senior Editor of content and a DevOps Analyst at Fixate IO. His latest book, For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution, was published in 2017.