How to stop your projects getting stranded in the Brexit fog?

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Project Managers can play a critical role in steadying the rudder in these uncertain times

The Brexit vote has pushed many companies into a volatile and uncertain business environment. For Project Managers, Brexit affects key considerations required for effective project management. However, paralysis in the face of such upheaval is not an option – the question is what can be done about it.

A soldier doesn’t go into a battle with any certainty about what might happen, but is prepared for all eventualities. He or she does not try to predict how the battle will unfold and rehearse only their expected role. Instead, they focus on evaluating and training for every possible scenario and making sure that whichever course the battle takes, they will be ready with the most effective response.

So what can the experiences of the battlefield teach us in a business setting? The first step is to recognise and capture the dimensions of the uncertainty. A full Brexit analysis of the Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Decisions (RAID log) is critical. A few examples show the sheer breadth of the potential considerations:

– Costs may have shifted dramatically due to exchange rate fluctuations

– Changes in regulatory frameworks around e.g. IP, IT and data and their possible impact on the project

– Resource planning based on a multi-national EU team may no longer be viable

“But we don’t have any answers yet!” is a cry I hear all too often. That’s not an acceptable reason for procrastination. Under these circumstances, scenario planning comes into its own. A careful exploration of different scenarios will reveal strategic options to address different potential realities. Project Managers can use a scenario planning exercise to identify strategies which may be valid across multiple scenarios. These should be implemented immediately regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations. There may also be strategies worth exploring that will significantly mitigate risk or generate opportunities under particular outcomes, anyone unfamiliar with running a full scenario planning exercise can obtain professional help.

And this is where Project Managers can provide the insight and support that Leaders need to take business critical decisions such as whether or not to make strategic “bets” by investing in strategies so that their company can take advantage of particular outcomes or reduce the degree to which they are affected.

“Red teaming” where independent teams from within the organisation or outside it critically scrutinise plans and projects is another valuable tool which can be put to good use in a Brexit world. Red teams challenge and shake up thinking. They offer alternative perspectives and rigorously test and evaluate project plans to identify potential weaknesses.

The intention of these preparations is not to create stability or predict the future. However, they are invaluable at mitigating risk and identifying opportunity. Ultimately they enable decisiveness and effectiveness at the critical moment when circumstances reveal themselves. We are in an environment now where hesitation can cost jobs and speed can win market share. A clear considered evaluation of options can make the difference between survival and disaster.

This is an expanded version of an article in Project magazine in August 2016.