Pandemic Triggers Transition to Digital Project Management

The unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, with its unpredictability, rapid spread, and lack of tried and tested risk-mitigation scenarios, has pushed stress levels up among all project stakeholders in the IT industry. However, along with the negative impact on the markets and economic stagnation, the crisis has provided additional business development opportunities to software development companies. By this, I don’t mean merely the newly emerged niches like app development for vital parameter monitoring, the tracing of potentially infected people, or contact-free delivery. The transformation caused by the pandemic has initiated a deeper and more global change. That is, remote or digital project management is no longer something just for geeks; it has become a long-term trend and a market requirement.

New Business Opportunities

In the pre-pandemic world, many companies preferred to develop software in-house due to their strict policies and prejudices. This year, however, the massive remote working shift has removed the psychological barrier to contracting third-party specialists. Initially, because of the government-imposed quarantine measures, companies had to organize the management of projects, products, and processes by their internal forces and wait for the outcomes. When companies using traditional project management models failed to do it, they naturally came to the idea of outsourcing, as a mature software outsourcing company with its well-established processes and accumulated experience can share firsthand knowledge on “how to build a new digital project management model” and, ultimately, become a service provider.

For healthcare companies, the lockdown situation has been exacerbated by recent regulatory demands to add development tool reports (static analyzers) for certification, which further lengthened time to market. This doubled pressure reduced the biases some medtech companies had about outsourcing, and we have already noticed these changes, receiving more project evaluation requests from medical companies than before the crisis.

The current situation offers a unique chance for outsourcing companies to expand their business. Taking into account increased staff turnover and the unstable economic situation, potential clients are looking for more accessible markets for qualified specialists with a similar culture and language and well-established processes and tools for organizing effective, continuous project activities. Customers are also looking for affordable yet rigorous certification and a secure level of intellectual property rights protection.

Project Management Transformation in Essence

Initially, it looked trivial: in IT, it did not matter if an engineer worked at the office or at home. Even before the pandemic, almost all IT industry leaders provided numerous secured tools and cloud infrastructures to manage projects remotely. It seemed that nothing would change for the team and their productivity would remain the same if they installed communication tools and deployed a repository and a task-tracking program on their home computers. In fact, everything turned out to be a bit more complicated, to say the least.

Leaving aside the existence of careless employees, let’s assume that all engineers and team leads are disciplined and responsible professionals who have been working on the project together for a long time. And yet, even in such an ideal situation, the COVID-19 outbreak decreased the average productivity of development teams, according to experts, by nearly 40% (luckily, further polls and surveys showed that many companies overcame the crisis and stabilized their performance).

It turned out that the abrupt remote work shift affected the three most important and, at the same time, weakest elements of project management: communication, knowledge management, and project monitoring. Considering your strategy of transition to digital project management, take into account the following aspects:

  • When choosing communication tools and developing a communication plan, anticipate the mitigation of such risks as contact unavailability and asynchronous communication.
  • Pay special attention to organizing access to the knowledge base (revise existing security and access policies), allocating equipment access time, and auditing the current infrastructure and its capabilities.
  • The transition to remote project execution increases requirements for the process of the adaptation and training of new employees, thus changing the usual work process of the HR department and corporate training centers.
  • For objective reasons, the usual methods, processes, and KPIs lose their effectiveness. A project manager has to manage time more deliberately, get feedback from the team, control the team’s performance more objectively, delegate responsibilities if the team is large, break down big tasks into smaller ones, and implement a reasonable communication system.
What about Hardware?

Some equipment manufacturers doubt that it is possible to set up effective remote activities on a project. Nevertheless, our 30 years’ experience in embedded software development helped us establish processes that have been audited by the largest market players. Our engineers remotely develop and test software for prototypes of medical devices, construction tools, telecom boards, chips, etc.

The technical procedures—setting up secure uninterrupted access, distributing access time, installing and configuring auxiliary tools for monitoring and physically interacting with equipment located thousands of kilometers away, writing simulators and emulators (digital twins) for debugging—are not the main difficulty. The biggest challenge is building trust that allows the customer to view the contractor’s engineers as a natural extension of their in-house team.

In Conclusion

The current crisis offers software service providers a unique opportunity to expand their client base to include those customers who were previously not ready to switch to remote working. However, in addition to high qualifications, participation in world-class product development projects, and a cultural/linguistic match, it is also necessary to demonstrate the ability to work with complex equipment, the existence of established processes, an intellectual property rights protection policy, certification, and modern communication and monitoring tools to organize smooth and effective project activities. I can confidently say that Auriga possesses all of these qualities.