Establishing a coronavirus task force: a project, but not as we know it!

Organisations are facing unprecedented and existential impacts resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and from the emergency legislation brought in by the Government. The slow-down in economic activity, and disruption to business-as-usual operations and functions have prompted many senior leaders to establish a coronavirus task force to look at options available to them to protect their workforce, clients, shareholders and other stakeholders. Ultimately, a coronavirus task force is about minimising impacts and ensuring the organisation can restart when restrictions are lifted, and the world returns to its new normal. 

Organisations setting up a coronavirus task force will need a central hub to gather intelligence, make decisions and co-ordinate activities. The good news is they probably already have the people with the skills and the systems they need in their Project/Programme Management Office (PMO). These people are also likely to be available if their projects are suspended due to client/supplier resourcing issues or government restrictions arising from the pandemic. But what is needed in a crisis is not a standard PMO but a Co-ordination, Control and Communications Office – a C3O.

Organisations with a coronavirus task force should rapidly re-purpose their PMO(s) to a C3O. This will require a transition of mindsets and methods. For example, crisis management over detailed planning; speed of decision-making over thoroughness of analysis; accuracy over precision; daily updates instead of periodic/monthly reporting cycles; and concise (significantly cut down) documentation. 

So, how can you establish a C3O? We recommend following the following eight steps.

      Conduct a rapid triage on current projects (stop, defer, change, continue) to free up resources and avoid wasted initiatives that are no longer contributing or relevant.
      Define governance and control structures for the task force (interfacing with any existing business continuity processes and enterprise risk management).
      Agree decision-criteria, lifecycle, workflow and KPIs for your response tasks (focus is on task velocity through the lifecycle).
      Define information management requirements and reporting eg daily status updates from sites, countries, emerging legislation, government grants/reliefs or task KPIs.
      Agree minimal documentation requirements for each task eg plan on a page.
      Agree an approach to mobilising and instructing local task teams - akin to quick response teams in manufacturing.
      Hold (remote) briefing/training sessions for leaders, PMO staff transitioning to C3O roles, local staff undertaking task team roles mostly on behaviours and new principles/rules.
      Establish a temporary tool to log and track task force risks, actions and decisions – an audit trail for regulators, shareholders and stakeholders after the crisis.

Don’t forget, a C3O will need to transition back to a PMO when the crisis is over and functions/facilities return to normal operations and postponed projects are reinstated. So as early as possible plan for transition back to the “new” business as usual. This will include identifying the conditions for transitioning, addressing the welfare for C3O staff on their ‘come down’ from daily urgent working mode and understanding impacts of new rules on your portfolio.

We can help by providing easily tailored handbooks, training and templates for a C3O to get you up and running quickly. 

If you would like to know more on converting your PMO into a temporary C3O to support your coronavirus task force, please contact Paul Dowell