How to keep your projects on track when everything else goes off the rails
Executive agenda

How to keep your projects on track when everything else goes off the rails

Working remotely and responding to fluctuating market demands and capacity is bound to have a significant impact on your project work and service delivery. Communication, alignment, and organization have never been more important to keep your project team on task.

In our most recent episode of The Executive Agenda: Beyond the Crisis series, we spoke to Denis Delmaire (Partner and CIO of Levio) and Billy O’Riordan (SVP Global Professional Services at Unit4) about the lessons service delivery teams have learned over the past year, and how we can all plan for the future to continue delivering successful projects – no matter what happens.

Managing the abrupt change to remote working

For many companies, the transition to remote working happened both suddenly and gradually. Denis tells us that Levio had a “speed of light” transition to home-working within a week, but required some extra time to ensure everyone had the right environment and the right tools. For some companies – Unit4 included – the transition to remote working was an acceleration of an existing strategy and allowed for the testing of disaster plans and a live exercise in a large-scale move from location-based strategies to a remote approach.

But for everyone, internal projects experienced significant modification. For us at Unit4, this meant figuring out how to prioritize resources to ensure our internal projects could be driven forward to ensure continuing customer success.

Transitioning customer projects to remote working required much more flexibility. Firstly, it was necessary to prove productivity from home was actually possible, and to ensure necessary policies around security and access were in place. The major challenge after a year of lockdown is dealing with COVID fatigue – and this is something leaders on both the customer and the vendor side are having to work together to address.

Dealing with all of these problems has necessitated a wholesale change in management style and a careful managing of customer expectations as many accelerated projects to help deal with the new normal. We must now think in terms of the results we see rather than time spent on site, and ensure that we all have the resources we need to work well and that stakeholder time is properly used and safeguarded.

Keeping teams motivated and productive in the face of uncertainty

As you’d expect after a year of extreme upheaval and COVID fatigue, every project-based organization has grappled with the question of motivation throughout the crisis. Keeping teams productive in the face of such turbulence hasn’t been easy.

One of the big surprises of the year was that many businesses – and as a result, many of their customers and vendors – didn’t actually slow down their operations at all. And with many accelerating digital transformation projects, one of the biggest motivational questions we’ve had to answer is “how do we stop the standard working day going from 8 hours to 24 hours?”

One of the most powerful motivational tools in the world of remote work is also one of our most useful productivity tools: video calls. Because very few people can maintain work relationships and satisfaction solely through emails and project management tools, it’s vital to maintain the human connection with video conversations that are purely casual in nature. Virtual happy hours, coffee meetings, regular mental health check ins all play a role. Some companies, like Levio, are even introducing Chief Happiness Officers to help in this regard.

One of the other great tools leaders can deploy to help motivate their people in this environment is simply to tell people it’s okay not to work. Because our work lives and our home lives are now inextricably intertwined, flexibility is a must, and allowing people the time to address their personal issues during what used to be “the work day” is vital to allow both your business and your employees to move forwards.

How can you manage service delivery teams under these conditions?

One repeated theme leaders have noticed is that remote working formats require a pivot from traditional leadership strategies towards something that looks a lot more like “followership”.

“Followership” doesn’t mean completely abdicating responsibility – it means using your opportunities for location agnostic communications to listen more closely to your staff at all levels – whether that’s direct reports, skip-level reports, and beyond. Doing this has interesting results and can create real opportunities to drive strategic growth. But it also plays a vital role in keeping staff engaged. After all, everyone likes knowing they’re being heard and that their opinion is valued – and when people know their opinions are valued, the entire team becomes more transparent and more efficient.

What about the crisis is worth hanging on to for project-focused leaders?

It’s something we’ve always known, but what the pandemic has made crystal clear is that communication is vital for project management. The level of connection and communication we’ve been forced to have is one that most executives will be anxious to keep up. But this must also sharpen our focus on the “people first” approach – we’ve learned to be much more attuned to the mental and physical health of our colleagues, and we can’t forget this. This means we’ll have to continue striving to avoid extending work hours and to protect the separation and balance between working and private life.

Business is no longer purely about objectives

We’ve entered an age where patience is key. Things are starting to take a little bit longer – understandable since we’ve all been locked up for so long. This means we need to be much more conscious of our own limitations, and the limitation of others. But we must also be willing and able to go the extra mile to keep the human being on the other end of the line happy. This, ultimately, is what will allow us to get the job done, together.

Like what you see here?

If you’ve enjoyed the read, you can listen to the entire webinar session on demand by clicking here.

Don’t miss out on our other Executive Agenda conversations. We’ve already hosted a great discussion about People Success in challenging times. And, on April 12th, we’ll be talking about the challenges of running a remote finance office during a pandemic, and what lessons about financial management and planning our CFO panelists will be using to build resilience for the future. Unit4 CFO Gordon Stuart will be joined by Georgina Kossivas, CFO of Nuclear Waste Management Organization, and Paul Rockwood, CFO at City of Port Moody.

To learn about how the Unit4 People Experience Suite empowers organizations that serve people to elevate their business, engage their people and plan ahead, visit our website at, or reach out to us directly at [email protected] 

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