Planning for Brexit: Tips for Project Managers

If there’s one thing that’s certain about shepherding complex projects in the IT field, it’s that not everything will work out exactly as planned.

But what happens when you throw the uncertainly of Brexit into the mix? How can project managers anticipate and plan for unexpected challenges and unforeseen events? Here’s a look at the implications for PMs, as well as some tips for managing projects throughout the Brexit process.

Manage Resources and Expectations

Resource planning is always important, but given the current shortage of technical skills in the UK, and the potential that fewer contractors from the EU may be available in the future, project managers need to run “what-if” scenarios during the project-planning phase. Establishing contingency plans is key.

A lack of adequate skills or resources can keep PMs from delivering projects on time and on budget. We’re already seeing companies granting longer contracts to keep experienced professionals off the market, and wages have been slowly creeping up.

There are some sensible risk management steps to take at this point, noted Elizabeth Harrin, director of Otobos Consultants Ltd., who responded to our questions via email. For example, check the supply chain and be aware of rising costs (or the potential for rising costs). “You might need to find alternative suppliers, or at least keep an eye out for potential alternatives, if you find that you can’t, for whatever reason, use your current supplier,” she noted.

“It’s important that we stick to our guns and execute fundamentals flawlessly,” advised Chris Field, consultant for Project One and president of the PMI UK Chapter. “That includes setting realistic expectations, especially when it comes to resource planning and the potential for risk.”

Be open and honest, Field added. Don’t tell project owners or management what you think they want to hear. If risk is increasing, then PMs will need to step up communications and ensure that they have adequate support and engagement from project sponsors.

Evaluate and Prioritize Projects Carefully

Many businesses that operate in silos prioritize projects without considering their overall value and strategic impact to the entire organization. Not adhering to proven strategies for evaluating and prioritizing projects can lead to overextension and internal competition for resources, especially if businesses tighten their belts and simultaneously increase project loads to deal with the impact of Brexit.

“Tough decisions may need to be made,” Field warned. PMs need to maintain a laser-like focus on the key benefits to ensure that projects are carefully weighted and prioritized. After all, we only have so many levers at our disposal when times demand that we do more with less.

Sustained Agility and Empowerment

Agile project management is often equated with utilizing Agile methodologies (Scrum, Lean and Kanban) for software development. But in this case, “agile” refers to a PM’s ability to be adaptable and flexible, and to apply previous knowledge to new situations and acquire new information quickly.

For instance, changing regulations and currency valuations, as well as new data security laws and trade practices, may increasingly impact companies as the UK’s exit moves forward. The effort associated with dealing with the resulting shifts in project requirements, budgets, vendor contracts or scope may creep upward quickly, and efficiently necessitates more agile ways and empowerment. In fact, experts say that empowerment is the second-most essential success factor for project managers.

Plan for the Unexpected

Since preparation of a “perfect” project plan is not feasible at any time (but especially under the circumstances), contingency planning is a necessity.

“As PMs, we have to anticipate and prepare for the expected impacts and obstacles and the things that might happen as well,” Field said. To be effective, you need to anticipate, avoid and mitigate problems, not react to them.

Harrin summed it up this way: “Let’s not react to Brexit with scaremongering. It’s happening, we need to make it work, we need to be politically and economically aware, but the best way we can serve our businesses now is to get on with making our projects a success.”

Embrace Our Roles as Change Agents

Change management and project management aren’t separate skills; they’re intertwined. Project and program management skills will be in high demand whatever happens, but change management skills are paramount if you wish to succeed in the future.

“It’s what we do,” Field said. “PMs apply tools and processes to guide teams and organizations through uncertainty and ambiguity. We can play an integral role in the transformation process and ensuring that change is embraced by educating sponsors and illuminating the way forward.”

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