Recently Ukraine has become a victim of a treacherous invasion from russia. This is a real war that has affected all the spheres of everyday and business life. The first weeks of the war were most impactful because it was a total mess: we lost connection with the people, the clients were shocked, and the management of the companies was confused.
In this article, I`d like to share some experiences of running projects during wartime as well as lessons learned. Despite the fact that war is something that happens not every day and not in every country, it is better to be prepared, and apart from that, most of the points mentioned in this article can be useful during any other kind of crisis.
How to keep your project running during the wartime or any other crisis
1. Prepare a risk response plan and share it with the colleagues
Before the war broke out in Ukraine very few ordinary people believed that russia would attack. Most of the people were confident that concentrating of russian military forces on Ukrainian borders is no more than a show to threaten Ukraine and the rest of the civilized world.
Despite the fact that the belief in the attack was not quite strong, many companies had put a risk response plan in advance, which included preparing reserve infrastructure, extra security measures, creating separate response teams and support hotlines, preparation of recommended relocation routes for the people from those regions that were under the biggest risk.
2. Put together a substitution plan for the most critical positions on the project.
Although many companies had prepared the recommendations on how to act in case of the war eruption, the actual start of the war brought a lot of chaos. Not everyone was ready for this emotionally and the connection with some people was lost for an undefined period of time. People were traveling somewhere from the risky regions and they definitely were not able to perform the work. It is good if the disconnected people were not the critical ones for the project, otherwise, the project could easily get into trouble.
However, this occurrence has laid bare a flaw in many risk response plans. If we lose people who are absolutely critical for the project to keep going, there is a risk of failing the project itself.
So, in case of risk of the war, think ahead of potential temporary substitutions for the critical people from your project. Think of who may replace your key people, whether they will be within the project or somewhere from your organization. Take into account how quickly you may onboard them, and how you will motivate them, maybe even have preliminary talks with them and their managers.
3. Ensure constant support for the people on the project
The people are the most valuable asset of your project. Without the people the project becomes irrelevant. This is especially true for software service companies. That is why it is very important for you as a project leader to keep constant contact with your people and provide any assistance they need. Some people will need to relocate from the unsafe region and in this case, you have to coordinate this process with the help of your company, making sure that the person who is relocating has options for accommodation, and can have decent working conditions in the new place, etc.
Another point is the psychological state of the people on the project. Many people may feel frustrated and can`t perform on their regular level. Sure, the project manager is not a therapist, but even a simple talk asking about how everyone is doing and what help they need may be very helpful in order to improve the team members’ mood.
4. Have a Business Continuity Plan in place
A business Continuity Plan is a very useful document for emergency cases because it helps you not only mitigate the implications of the disaster but also to cover most of the clients’ and stakeholders’ concerns. When the war breaks out or becomes imminent a lot of the clients will request this plan. But it is definitely better to be proactive and put together and even share with the clients this kind of plan upfront.
A regular Business Continuity Plan (BCP) should cover the following questions: Internet access and resources access in case of war, employees relocation and shadowing, security of the client`s resources, etc.
5. Keep constant contact with the clients and project stakeholders
In case of war or any other crisis, proper communication is a key to keeping your trustful business relationships with the clients or project stakeholders. In most cases properly and timely messages will help you retain business and calm down the clients.
As soon as war breaks out, it is very important to keep constant contact with the project stakeholders and update them on the current project status at least daily or even more frequently if necessary. If something that can have a significant impact on the project happens it is recommended to inform the client instantly. This point is especially actual for service companies where the most employees are from the country which is at war and the most clients are from abroad. Because the clients will be definitely not just concerned but shocked and worried.
Let`s check, what are the common topics you can cover during daily sync-ups with the clients? Here is the brief list:
- The actual status of the people involved in the project: current location, availability, performance, risks.
- A rotation or replacement plan if someone from the team becomes unavailable
- The impact of the war factors on the project baselines and the response strategy
- Actual project risks and their response strategies
- Any other concerns either the client or you have.
6. Decrease team focus-factor
A focus factor is a coefficient showing the difference between the real performance of the team and the ideal performance of the team. Usually, when the team estimates the scope they`re considering an ideal scenario and this is the job of the manager to understand what is the actual focus factor for the team and apply it to the team-provided estimates in order to get the real picture.
A conventional default focus factor for the newly formed teams is usually taken as 70%. It means that you should divide the estimate provided by the team by 0.7 to get a more realistic picture. To make it more clear it means that if a new team estimates the work package to be completed in 100 hrs., most probably this particular work package will be completed in 100/0.7 ~ 140+ hrs. Over the course of the project when you obtain some historical data you may adjust the focus factor based on what the team committed to initially and what was really done.
During the war, the performance of the team will most probably decline. Or there will be periods of spikes and drops depending on the events happening on the front and their impact on people’s lives. Thus it is important to understand that the team can`t perform at their previous level for some time, so you should apply a lower focus factor to get a more realistic picture. And definitely don`t forget to communicate the changes to the schedule that you`ve figured out to the client.
7. Turn to the short-term planning
War is an ideal example of a situation with the highest level of uncertainty. The state of affairs on the front may change very quickly and these particular changes may have a significant impact on the projects. That`s why long-term planning makes no sense. In case of war “long-term” planning is not about the years, but about the months.
If you had a project roadmap in place for a quite long period of time, I would suggest putting it aside and trying to focus on the short-term goals one at a time. And it makes sense to discuss it with the client or project stakeholders to set the correct expectations.
In some cases, when it is possible, it also may be useful to squeeze your iterations if you`re working in an Agile way. For example, if you had quite a long Sprints of one-month duration, it makes sense to shorten them to 2-weeks. This will allow you to be more flexible and to react to the changes in the situations.
That`s my piece of advice on how you can keep your projects going during the war. I hope you`ll never need it though.