Four steps for assessing the impact of COVID-19 on your project portfolio

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As companies act to respond forcefully to the COVID-19 crisis, strategic priorities are changing. A revised corporate focus, new financial constraints and workforce redeployment are obliging companies to adjust their project portfolios. Some projects must be stopped, some paused, some adapted and some accelerated.

These are difficult decisions, which you may have to make quickly, with little visibility into the future. The following four steps can help: They offer a practical, structured approach to assess, reprioritize and effectively deliver the project portfolio that your company needs in a COVID-19 world.

Step 1: Evaluate your portfolio

Assess your existing portfolio and any new projects driven by the COVID-19 outbreak. Key considerations include:

  • Strategic importance: How important is the project to your company? Does it support a critical COVID-19 response?
  • Regulatory or legal compliance: Does the project have any regulatory or legal compliance deadlines?
  • Governance: Does the project have appropriate business sponsor support and governing committee oversight, given the increased focus on COVID-19 activities?
  • System integrators, third-party labor, acceleration centers: Are system integrators, third parties and acceleration centers integrated, available and supplying sufficient capabilities to support the project?
  • Project stage: Is the project close to completion and able to provide return on investment (ROI) quickly, or is it at an early stage in its life cycle?
  • Skills availability: Does the project have access to the required business and technology talent, or have key resources been reassigned to COVID-19 activities?
  • Work from home: Is the project team able to run the project remotely?
  • Project status: Is the project currently tracking well in terms of timeline, budget, scope and benefits realization?
  • New risks, issues and challenges: Have COVID-19 related risks, issues and dependencies changed the project’s risk profile? 
  • Phase-dependent elements: Has the project team adjusted plans to address the following areas, depending on where the project stands in its life cycle?
    • Training – Is virtual training available?
    • Testing – Can remote testing cover all testing requirements?
    • Data – Can automated scripts address all validation requirements? When people-based validation is required, can it be performed remotely?
    • Cutover and hypercare – Can cutover activities and user support be performed remotely, with a manageable impact on the user experience?
    • Organizational change – What is the impact on the change network and project communication?

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Step 2: Reprioritize your projects

With answers from step one in place, use scenario analysis techniques to evaluate and prioritize your project portfolio. Apply both qualitative and quantitative measures to rank projects, and then select one of the following options for each:

  1. Split/merge: Consider whether you can quickly achieve a minimum viable product (MVP) by splitting projects’ scopes or merging their teams.
  2. Defer: Pause the lowest-ranked projects to adjust to new organizational constraints and priorities.
  3. Slow down: Reduce the pace of projects ranked in the “middle” — ones that do not immediately contribute to your COVID-19 response and whose benefits are not materially impacted by a longer timeline.
  4. Accelerate: Speed up initiatives with the highest-ranked projects so they can deliver value quickly, especially if you have identified new (or less costly) resources to support them.

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Step 3: Mitigate the impact of slowed or deferred projects

Slowing or deferring projects is a delicate task, as there’s no on/off switch. To minimize the disruption today and make it easier to get the projects back up to speed tomorrow, you will have to navigate a number of complex considerations, including the following:

  • Notify all relevant stakeholders: These stakeholders may include downstream products or teams, finance teams and owners of internal controls.
  • Consider contractual impacts and communicate with vendors: Work with your legal and procurement teams to understand and address contractual impacts, including possible cancellations.
  • Understand the accounting impacts: Determine whether you have an asset that can be recognized or if you should expense all work already performed.
  • Lay the groundwork to restart/reaccelerate later: Consider now what resources and data the project will require to get back up to speed. Create robust, detailed documentation on status, open activities and lessons learned to support a rapid, cost-effective restart or reacceleration. 

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Step 4: Remotely monitor and support the portfolio

With the initial recalibration complete, your job has just begun. Continue to assess COVID-19’s impact and modify your projects and the overall portfolio accordingly. The following considerations can help successfully monitor and manage a portfolio remotely:

  • Leverage a centralized program management office: Coordination, coaching and sharing should be managed centrally for all projects. Consider creating a central repository to share best practices, including remote tools, guidance and templates.
  • Proactively manage vendors and partners: Communicate regularly with key vendors and partners to quickly learn and assess changes in their capacity to provide support. Evaluate potential impacts on service level agreements (SLAs) and determine if interim exceptions are needed.
  • Sharpen your risk management focus: Incorporate a new or updated risk framework that considers all desired outcomes in light of COVID-19’s continuing evolution.
  • Share your virtual management approach: Reassure executive stakeholders and sponsors by sharing plans to execute, monitor, control, and report progress and outcomes on individual projects and the overall portfolio.
  • Regularly reevaluate assumptions and scenarios: Establish procedures to reevaluate your project and portfolio assumptions and scenarios regularly, as resource capacity, productivity and business conditions may continue to change. 

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Speed and care

It is certainly not easy to recalibrate an entire project portfolio, with many projects already in flight and multiple stakeholders attached to each. The pressures of new time and resource constraints, along with minimal visibility into the future, can add to the stress. Yet, with COVID-19 changing priorities and focus, a failure to act could lead to a disorganized response and an inefficient use of limited resources.

With a structured approach, you can move quickly and carefully to build and manage the project portfolio your company requires to face COVID-19 challenges today — while also laying the groundwork for growth and prosperity tomorrow.

Contact us

Kara Finley

Principal, Digital Risk Solutions, PwC US

Gary Harvett

Managing Director, Transformation Assurance, PwC US