Planning in the pandemic world. Part 1

Eugene Shkoda, Certified Project Management Professional

August 2, 2021

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

-Benjamin Franklin

Let’s talk about planning: something that was so obvious in the past and has become so vital in the present.

In my opinion, planning is crucial for any case:

  • Your vacation trip
  • Your presentation at the office
  • Even just buying some food for a week at a supermarket 🙂

All of the examples above could simply fail without a little preparation.

Before the remote era, when we worked at the offices, managers could bring the whole team to a meeting room and adjust the existing plan.

Nowadays, the cost of mistakes at any stage, especially at planning, has grown and can impact the whole business and destroy it eventually. Managers and teams are way more attentive to the details than ever before.

Despite the rapid movement to remote work that our teams undertook a year ago, the established processes were perfectly ready to answer even such challenges as keeping the big teams distant from each other.

Today I’m covering the best planning practices of mine that greatly helped all of my teams to become more effective by focusing on vital matters.

Engage, not involve

Although we’re not in the office, we should respect our colleagues and coworkers. The rules weren’t canceled—they’ve evolved. Let’s be frank: it’s hard to hear everyone at the same time. It’s even harder when you talk via Skype/Teams/Zoom etc.

The very first rule is to be kind and respectful to those who came to a meeting—turn on the cameras. Great ground rule to embrace the participation. Ok, but what’s next?

People won’t listen, as long as you are discussing what doesn’t relate to their work. This brings us to the issue of losing attention and missing things. This can impact your work and add extra risks which could’ve been omitted. For such meetings, we agreed to invite not the whole team, but only those specialists whose work is directly impacted by the subject of discussion. This kills two birds with one stone: all participants are highly engaged and you save time for work for the rest of the team.

Let the people drive! Depending on the stage of planning, let other teammates or leads present their vision, facilitate discussions related to their work. Or let them present the results of their research made before the planning session.

There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time. There’s no need to discuss everything at once. You want to make sure that you discuss one important thing at a time. The team won’t feel exhausted and you will keep the needed attention span.

Right facilitationengaging everyone, and letting everyone speak will make everyone feel needed here and have an impact on the project. That’s easily achievable if all the participants understand the goal of the planning meeting and the activity in general.

Staying focused

A great addition to the right meeting facilitation—to plan only essential scope, leaving all “nice-to-have” features for the quiet times. (Everyone knows that!)

Doing the right things vs. doing the things right. The impact of COVID-19 is too big to ignore. Surely we know that and so does the client. Though it’s not always easy to prioritize, our goal is to help the clients to decide what generates value and what does not. We are, as professionals, not only developing what a client or project sponsor wants. We’re thrilled to develop awesome products and services that make an impact and change the world for the better.

These are the tools available for the proper business analysis and decent requirements elaboration:

  • Brainstorming
  • Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Questionnaires and surveys

Do not underestimate the power

Wouldn’t it be nice to have everything estimated with 100% accuracy and solid commitments from your teams? You bet!

Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible before and it’s not going to happen any time soon. But the effectiveness of the remote sessions is in hands of Project Managers. These days, we should strive for making planning even more effective as it was before the pandemic when we could assemble the whole team within minutes. Ah, good old times!

Right tools, right estimations. For those who work in the agile/scrum world, there’s plenty of tools you already know and use regularly. (Shoutout to Story Points!) On the other hand, there aren’t many popular tools for the rest of the approaches. But the classic estimation techniques haven’t disappeared—they are still available and quite competitive:

  • Analogous

This one was great before the pandemic and still may be. But beware of comparing the upcoming projects with those in historical records which were done before the pandemic. We’ve got new constraints that were not considered at all in the past.

  • Parametric

A great go-to option, which is classical for most of my colleagues. It’s easily scalable for any future endeavors. Some of my colleagues used to rely on their historical data when using parametric estimation. And, as said above, historical records sometimes might bring risks that are not always taken into account.

  • Bottom-up

This is my personal “go-to” option for non-agile or enterprise projects. Going from the lowest possible level of detail, the approach gives a great overview of the opportunities at the summary points. Great for the teams to be involved and being able to see the whole picture and goal itself. For me, this way of estimating allows us to foresee many risks that are successfully eliminated.


Hope you’ll find this helpful. For any further questions and discussions—feel free to reach to me out.

Stay safe and plan things!