Aug 13, 2021
Remote Program Leadership Part 1: 10 Lessons Learned From the Pandemic
Remote program leadership is not a novel concept. Prior to the pandemic, program leaders still made phone calls, scheduled Zoom meetings, and asked other leaders about the weather. However, COVID-19 forced programs and organizations to quickly adapt to a remote-first world. Leaders swapped out phone calls for chat, in-person conversation for Teams, the weather for how their kids—who were running around in the background of the meeting—were doing.
In part one of this two-part series, we share lessons learned by top program leaders at Credera as they navigated the interpersonal and organizational changes brought on by the pandemic.
Meet the Program Leaders
What Is Program Leadership?
Nickoria Johnson: “Program leadership is the intersection of project management, agile leadership, governance (having people in the right roles to get the right things done with the right methods to make decisions), and organizational change management (how to engage people to achieve planned results).”
Lessons Learned From the Pandemic
Q: What lessons did program leaders learn from the pandemic that we should take away for future projects?
Lesson 1: Be Intentional
Nickoria Johnson: “The pandemic put a microscope on people-alignment challenges. You must be intentional about the rhythms and cadences you create and clear about roles and responsibilities.”
Hannah Falkenberg: “However, the flip side of that is that every interaction does take intentionality. You must be proactive about setting up time with people whom you would otherwise spontaneously converse within the hallway. Scheduling daily, virtual touchpoints with team members is a great way to replicate the swivel-chair conversations in the office and forces you to be more intentional about those interactions.”
Lesson 2: Structure Time
James Alexander: “Instead of looking at your deliverable deadlines and meetings on Sunday evening and scrambling to play “calendar Tetris” the rest of the week, take a thoughtful and structured approach to program leadership. Define a systematic way to execute work—and even if there are unmet constraints or not enough time or budget, we can at least be thoughtful on the front end and focus on talking about the issues.”
Hannah Falkenberg: “When you’re virtual, it’s a lot easier to multitask during a meeting or lose focus on the presentation at hand. Finding a way to effectively structure long meetings in a way that prioritizes engagement will be a key ingredient in enabling virtual program leadership to be successful.”
Lesson 3: Take the Time to Combat Hyperconnectivity
James Alexander: “The biggest lesson I learned from the pandemic is the importance of taking time and space for focused work. We’ve experienced an increase in emails, instant messages, and virtual meetings that compressed the available time in a day to practice cognitive craftsmanship. The solution is to push back on low-value chatter, take the time to figure out what’s valuable, and block off time to get things done. Just a little bit of thoughtfulness goes a long way to reducing distractions.”
Lesson 4: Leverage Technology to Improve Consistency
Nickoria Johnson: “In a remote environment, we can record every session so that no detail is missed. We can always play back that session and help understand the context behind a decision. That is a great part of the remote workforce versus sitting in a conference room—you can use technology to enable consistency.”
Lesson 5: Onboard Resources Individually
Hannah Falkenberg: “Onboarding is generally a difficult activity to execute well remotely, especially since distractions are more accessible and more present at home. This past year taught me that onboarding new team members individually is far more effective than onboarding them at once. Team members took more responsibility for the conversation, internalized it better, were more transparent in their questions and feedback, and felt more comfortable with me. One-on-one onboarding is a practice I’ll continue long after the pandemic.”
Lesson 6: Keep Your Video On (or Join In Person)
Clint Griffith: “You might not know what the person on the other end looks like, much less what facial expression they might have as they say something or as you say something. This lack of communication makes it harder to form relationships. Program leadership is largely about communicating and developing trust so we can remove a block easier than someone with whom we don’t have a personal connection.”
Lesson 7: Host Key Meetings and Events In-Person
Hannah Falkenberg: “There is a lot of the day-to-day ‘maintenance’ that can be done virtually once everyone knows each other and the internal processes. It’s project setup that is challenging to do virtually but can be done with more intentionality and careful relationship management.”
Clint Griffith: “As people return to in-person work, identifying the critical activities that should be in person and that the client and team are comfortable with will be a learning experience.”
Lesson 8: Make Time for Short Interactions
Hannah Falkenberg: “There is always empty space at the beginning of a meeting, whether it’s virtual or in-person—finding creative ways to follow up on personal investments (whether it’s a hobby, a family member, an activity, etc.) is a great way to make those remote relationships feel a little bit more human. We can still make a conscious effort to have those one-minute interactions even if they’re not happening spontaneously like they normally would in person.”
Lesson 9: Prepare for Change
Nickoria Johnson: “My advice to programs struggling with change is to think through the Now, Next, Future framework. Process the situation now, then look ahead and acknowledge the factors that might shape where you want to go next and where you want to ultimately land. There were many people that were able to shift and pivot—for example, someone who once thought they would have an in-store experience now does online Airbnb experiences—but things aren’t quite the same and organizations should look for ways to capitalize on that.”
Lesson 10: Practice Grace
Hannah Falkenberg: “Be prepared to show an extra level of grace and understanding to people who are going through a hard time and who don’t have the same empathy that they might otherwise have for you if they were in person.
“Grace takes time and practice to acquire. I am so grateful for amazing senior managers on my projects who were prepared to be professional and incredibly understanding in difficult conversations, even if taking that position wasn’t in their best interests or took extra effort. This is just one of the ways that I’ve seen leadership at Credera exemplify humility well and prioritize what’s best for the client above what is best for them.”
In part 2 of this series, we discuss key program leadership trends arising from the pandemic and how organizations can continue to grow and adapt.
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