Continuity in project management, chasing a ghost?

Continuity is often viewed in the context of an organization. It guarantees processes, services, and deliveries to customers to some extent. But what about projects?

Continuity focuses on ensuring that an organization continues to function at a predetermined level. Projects are also important for organizations. Resilience in project management therefore requires attention there. But is that with continuity?Author: Manu Steens   In this post I give my own opinion, not that of any organization.

What is continuity in project management?

How can continuity in project management be defined? Not? Is it chasing a ghost? A project is either internal or external. An external project company does projects as a business, just as someone else produces products. There, continuity can be traced back to BCM for the organization’s own project-supporting processes. Internal projects are often one-off and you can’t just repeat them, or can they?

The question in examples.

Take, for example, building a modern production facility. If this happens in the pharmaceutical sector, it can take a year or more. But with the rapid and disruptive innovations happening in the tech world, this is not something that can be repeated. Therefore, if you want to work resiliently in projects, resilience can be reduced to operational project risk management with the support of enterprise risk management. Even for the actual management of strategic projects.

As a second example, take a logistics facility, back in the pharmaceutical sector. There, the technical level is a much smaller challenge and one can speak more of ‘the same project a second time’. Is that second time subject to continuity or does it remain a project with operational project risk management and with the support of enterprise risk management?

What are the differences and similarities with the usual view of BCM?

Project risk management is well known, what can Continuity add to that?

Can continuity management in project management be useful? For example, for long-term projects or in project companies, where people handle projects almost process-wise? 

The risk management project will mainly rely on highly operational resilience, where the focus of an auditor’s questions may be on the following sections:

  • Recognizing problems in the project
  • Define the identified problems in all aspects of the project
  • Measuring and measurability of the problems in the project
  • In-depth analysis of the problems in the project
  • Making improvements to the project
  • Keeping control in the project
  • Sustaining / continuing resilience in the project

To this end, I give a number of possible questions for each section (Inspired by ‘Operational continuity, 3° Edition – Practical Tools For Self-Assessment’ ISBN 9780655330035)

Recognize
ExampleDiscussionWhere?
How important is it as a sponsor, customer or management to achieve goals, objectives?This is part of general management, where it provides Enterprise Risk Management for the benefit of resilienceERM / Business As Usual (BAU)
What problems are you facing and how do you think Operational Continuity will circumvent these obstacles?In a project, this is overcome by the Risk Identification step of Operational Risk ManagementORM
Have critical operations and business functions been identified?This is considered during a good project risk management (PRM), during the appointment of the people, from the ERM process.ERM / PRM
Define
ExampleDiscussionWhere?
Are there different customer segments?Customer segments need to be known in the business, for the purpose of monitoring them in order to know their needs, in order to continue to conduct relevant business.BAU
Is everyone on the team, including the team leaders, properly trained?Training, and a lack of it, can be an issue. This is taken into account during operational risk management before starting the project.ORM
Have stakeholder processes been mapped out?This is done both in the regular Business operation (BAU) for BCM once the project is published on a process, on which the project is based, and in the ERM. For the purpose of the project, an additional study may be required by the specific Project Risk ManagementBAU / ERM / PRM
Measure
ExampleDiscussionWhere?
How does adding threat and situation analytics improve operational efficiency?This question can be answered by both the RM part in the BCM of BAU, ERM and the risk management of the project. But if the project does not aim to improve an existing process, BCM is not part of it.BAU / ERM / PRM
Have the main measures been identified and agreed?This is a question for all branches of resilience work, and is addressed by PRMPRM
What are the future costs for operation and maintenance?This is a financial question, looking to the future, that the C-Suite needs to address. It is a normal business question that is applied to the process that comes after the project. So it’s not just a question to the project.BAU
Analysis
ExampleDiscussionWhere?
Do you have the information needed to move forward with your project?This is a question that the project leader must ask himself continuously.PRM
Which activities in the project became less efficient, more frustrating or almost impossible?This is part of the ongoing project management, which includes the inclusion of cases in incident management of the project.PRM
Have changes been properly or sufficiently analyzed for effect?If that question is relevant, the objectives of the project have been changed. Project risk management is used to study the impacts.PRM
Improvements
ExampleDiscussionWhere?
Where are the activities most at risk?This is a typical step of risk assessment and evaluation before prioritizing the risk.PRM
What associated changes are needed to ensure that the solution is successful?This is a typical step of looking for and implementing measures after a prioritization decision has been made to choose a strategy of action.PRM
Which opportunities are there to better align risk and business operations?This includes the “low-hanging fruit” that team leaders sometimes talk about when a task is assigned. This can be project-specific, belong to BAU if there is a cross-pollination outside the projectBAU / PRM
Control
ExampleDiscussionWhere?
What do the contingency plans look like?This question can be put to external project implementers. This is part of their resilience work, possibly part of their BCM if their contribution to the project is routine work for them. The question is asked before a supplier is approved. Furthermore, for an internal project, the project leader reviews this document with the help of the CRO and BC Mngr.PRM / BCM from BAU
Is there a formal, written contingency plan?A contingency plan specific to a project will have to determine, among other things, what the risk appetite is and how the project relates to the risk capacity of the organization.ERM
Can the entire contingency planning project or parts of the project be effectively outsourced?This is a question before the project starts. To this end, the C-Suite makes a decision with a holistic view of the project.BAU
Continue
ExampleDiscussionWhere?
Does the supplier’s resilience and continuity program cover the goods and services used by your organization?This question is to be part of the BCM of every supplier, but the answer for the project gives substance to a risk for the project risk management. Although there is some doubt here as to whether it is a continuity issue. By answering this question in advance, the project leader hedges against postponement of the deadlines, and against having to change the schedule.PRM
What accounting assumption assumes that a company will continue to exist long enough to meet its existing objectives and obligations?This is a question for the Chief Financial Officer, not just for the project leader. So it’s part of BAU. But the question can also be asked with regard to suppliers. To this end, the necessary financial health questions are asked when drawing up the contract.BAU
What tangible steps can organizations take to ensure that critical project activities remain functional during a crisis?For example, in the case of a critical project, lists of people who can fill key roles (PRM) can be compiled, and the elaboration of ICT Continuity Management and the BCM for the BAU can be called upon to ensure that the supporting processes are also at the service of the project. But this in itself is general BCM, not project-specific continuity.PRM/ ICT Continuity and BCM for BAU

Conclusion

A form of Continuity Management in projects can rely on BCM in the organization, such as for HRM (and therefore BAU). After all, a pandemic is going to affect a project just as much as it does a process.

The goal of resilience in project management is to achieve the deliverables and the milestones.

Where risk management does this by looking at threats in terms of both probability and impact of threats and opportunities, specific to the project activities, BCM can do this by looking at long-term processes of the organization. Processes can be used in projects as support, such as ICT. But in essence, projects are usually one-off activities

The major resilience contribution for the organization then lies in the risk management of projects and not so much in recovery plans of hardware and software, buildings, etc., for which the project management then relies on the broader BCM framework for the BAU of the organization.

It therefore seems that a concept such as project continuity management cannot be defined for project management and that the resilience of projects can be reduced to risk management.

Question to the reader

It is possible that my vision is one-sided, because it is only based on my personal experiences. Do you have any other opinions?

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields. Since 2012, he has been working at the Crisis Centre of the Flemish Government (CCVO), where he has progressed in BCM, risk management, and crisis management. Since August 2021, he has been a knowledge worker for the CCVO. As of January 2024, he works at the Department of Chancellery and Foreign Affairs of the Flemish Government. Here, he combines BCM, risk management, and crisis management to create a tailored form of resilience management to meet the needs of the Flemish Government.

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