Keep Project Running As Usual in COVID-19

I never thought about that our work environment and work approach could go through such a dramatic change in the past few two months due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Working from home is no longer a buzzword. Instead, it becomes the “silver lining” for the companies who wish to keep their BAU (business-as usual) activities. Apart from old-fashioned office tools, yes, I am referring to emails, messages and phone calls. Video conference tools, project management tools and instant messaging platforms suddenly popped into the top of the most essential remote work tools table league and started cementing a bond with our day-to-day life. We won’t be marvelling at a yoga teacher using video conference tool to streamline their classes online, nor surprised by the effectiveness of using team collaboration tools to monitor the project progress. And now, we are even getting used to the video conference tool to initiate a family party online.

Having worked with NHS for two years and delivering digital projects for their Education & Organisational Development teams, I spent most of my time on eliciting project requirements, collecting and analysing requirements, creating wireframe, brainstorming design ideas with my team, deciding the front-end structure (well, I am still too far to be able to touch backend architecture) and managing project deliveries. More importantly, to manage my NHS accounts by constantly learning their goals toward digital transformation and help them achieve further growth within their organisations. These activities require frequent on-site visits and many face-to-face discussions. However, the COVID-19 has imposed unprecedented challenges to me to embark on my work routine and all of us ended up working from home as a result of this. Working well from home is never a novel concept for me. Thanks to my company for being so generous and flexible when it comes workplace. Being a WFH veteran, I developed my own WFH principles and good practices, such as wearing a pyjama while having an online con call with my team (I am not joking) and get refreshed with some exercise before starting a retrospect meeting with the client.

My work from home routine started gaining momentum when I knew our system would be widely used by thousands of NHS staff. As plans and actions intensify across the health and social care system in response to the increased demands on healthcare services caused by COVID-19, the NHS needs to ramp up their staff training so staff can start practicing their work areas as fast as they can. To meet staff training needs by providing a powerful training platform, we need to enhance our system in a short period of time. After a two-week sprint, we have successfully launched the optimised system, with some new features. These little bits and bobs really add value to improving the user experience and make our system unique. In a hindsight, below are some key success factors I thought might be worth reflecting.

Keep project running as usual in COVID-19

A Good Practice to Deliver System Enhancement Fast: Communication, Support and Feedback

1. Build a standard communication routine with my client and team and stick to it

My con call with client always contains three parts. I will update on the development progress and demonstrate new released features. The second part is about introducing new initiatives as well as the business process, and the last part is about requirements discussion. Usually, these requirements are classified into business requirements, stakeholder requirements, solution requirements and transition requirements. Sometimes, these requirements are not “genuine” requirements. I will always ask my “5 whys” questions so to validate them with clients. After the meeting, I will draft my requirements description and give a quick update in my team group chat. The team starts work as soon as they get the requirement document. Honestly, this group chat has never been more active than ever before when we clarify questions, update development progress and coordinate with each other. We had at least one release per day in the past two weeks. In other words, every day, we develop something new and have it deployed to the live before my call with the client. Without any doubt,  my standard communication routine with the client and the team exerts a positive impact on easing the delivery process. Normally, we need to strike a balance between delivery speed and quality, but this time, we achieve both.

2. Trust your team and get support from them 

I recently read a book called “Essentialist” and it introduces 16 ways to focus on essentials in our life. One of the main takeaways is that we all have limits and we should set up our rules and boundaries for the work we are doing so we don’t rob people of their problems. I may take on responsibilities as much as I can in the past, but now I know  I have a team of project managers, designers and developers to back me up. The whoppingly great support I have gained from team made the delivery process smooth. That’s why we can complete so many challenging tasks in the stringent timeline. Let the team share the responsibilities and try to avoid any micromanagement as they are the experts in their realms. The trust placed among the team significantly boosts team confidence and motivation in delivering great results. Indeed, they made it.

3. Create a feedback loop  

The goal of incorporating a feedback loop is to ensure that both positive and negative feedback can be fed back into the development process immediately so any bad practices can be rectified and avoid waste in resources or money. Our feedback loop procedures are a mixture of daily stand-up, tests, performance validation in the testing environment, continuous integration and development, monitor performance in the live environment, daily meeting with the product owner and system users and retrospective session with the team. As we are a small team, some of these procedures may not be fully commenced, in particular, when we get ad-hoc requirements from clients. But the SOP (standard operation procedures) we have built this time helped with system improvement and delivery success. I can’t tell how impressed I am upon seeing the new release every day, with newly added functions.

 A little bit more…

Keeping the project running as usual whilst working from home is not a hype. The evolving technologies made the remote working possible and we have so many productivity tools or online collaboration tools to keep the wheel running smoothly when everyone is on their own. I am pleased to see that most of my Trust clients have started embracing new technologies and some of them became digital-savvy like millennials. I hope the spread of COVID-19 should have been favourable for driving the real behaviour change in speeding up the digital systems adoption process in NHS Trust.

Another interesting thing I have noticed recently is that my friends shared their binge on moment on Zoom. The first time I have used it could date back to October 2019. I thought it was just another online video chat tool, similar to Google hangouts and Skype. It went for glory across the world all of a sudden in January this year. Such cult hit left me wondering why as I did see there is a huge difference in user experience and function compared with other tools. When diving deep into the tool, just realised it is a cool 2B product involving social features into its functions and user experience. Given the scenario users potentially have when sitting in their room, you can customise your virtual background. Also, the appearance filter evens out the skin tone, giving a more of a fresh look even if you are three days deep into a no showering cycle whilst keeping your look authentic enough by showing yourself in a better light. More importantly, anyone can access the meeting room via a simple link, without installing software, tedious login process or suffering of system compatibility issues, like Apple Facetime can’t be used on Android devices. The accessibility and great user experience made it possible to retain over 2 million monthly active users.

Final thoughts

Strictly speaking, I don’t see myself as an NHS key worker, even though I have an NHS staff badge (thanks to my client) and I have received the claps from my NHS colleagues at 8pm every Thursday amid the launch of “The Clap for Our Careers” campaign recently. However, I am quite proud of what my team did – Build a powerful system to deliver training to these front-line workers so they can start treating patients as soon as possible and I believe this plays a crucial part in saving people’s lives. So, clap for myself and my team!