WORK / Article 5 Things project leaders are doing right during COVID-19

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Brian Stephens

Chairman & Founder

Brian Stephens is chairman and founder of Design Partners. He graduated in Industrial Design from Birmingham City University in 1978. He is Member Institute of Designers in Ireland, and recieved the Lifetime Achievement Award from IDI in 2012.


How do clients, sponsors and project leaders maintain momentum and keep projects on track while working from home during the Covid-19 crisis? Brian Stephens, co-founder of Design Partners, shares five things he believes that clients are doing right that are really helping.

I strongly believe that the client or project leader is the key protagonist in any project and that irrespective of what work that is entrusted to creative teams, it is the quality of ambition, leadership and decision making that really makes the difference to any innovation project. Our clients have really stepped up to the challenges over the last three weeks. Here are some pointers on how leadership can maintain momentum and morale during uncertain times.

1. Say what you want

Share your ambition clearly, this is no time for fuzziness. Be bold and clear about your expectations and be candid about what you expect the whole team, including yourself to accomplish. Nothing is more motivating for a team than having a shared sense of purpose and this is particularly important when people are working with greater physical separation. Project leaders are usually good and defining functional and technical requirements, but it is equally important to explain the strategic and brand objectives however bold or however humble. Results will be more precise when the business objective is crystal clear for everyone.


2. Trust the Team

Now more than ever, it is likely that the team you lead will be made up in part by people within your own organisation and many people like us who are external partners. Irrespective of where people are situated or who they report to, this is one team working to a single purpose. You are the glue that keeps this team focussed on the prize.  Having the leader’s explicit trust is both motivating and essential, particularly now there is a loss of visibility from each other. Well planned discreet parcels of work keep things moving and helps builds trust across disciplines and responsibilities.


3. Master Communication Tools

Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Miro, smart phones, tablets, email and phone conversations, these are the communication survival tools that are keeping us all together when we are forced to be apart. They have created a strangely level playing field for everyone, it no longer matters if you are in the next room or 5 or 5,000 kilometres apart. It is vital that we exploit the opportunity and master their potential for collaboration and co-creation. Invest in the best quality sound and camera technology you possibly can, use your ingenuity to set up every work area for success. A strong sense of urgency and some ruthless meeting etiquette will help keep things moving.


4. Maintain Momentum

Ultimately the role of project leadership is to make decisions and drive momentum. Every project requires a series of decisions that require consistency and vision. This work is a made lot easier when internal stakeholders are fully aligned and when the ambition and criteria for success is clear to everybody. Decisiveness and the internal management culture that supports it is the best way to maintain momentum and keep projects on track.


5. Be Brave

The world has changed over-night and we are all learning to understand what the new normal is going to be. The products and projects we are working on today have a short term and long-term context, as a leader you need to understand both.

Now is the time for bravery, for grasping the opportunities of today and for creating the possibilities of tomorrow. No business is going to be quite the same again. Our current technology is the foundation for the future products we will need to build for a safe and sustainable future for all of us.

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