Pandemic Proofing Your Project

Motella the Dog, Contemplating Winter

Motella the dog, contemplating winter

With flu season in full swing, your mind might be on your workplace plan for keeping operations afloat even with high employee absenteeism. Whether your organization calls it a continuity of operations plan (COOP), a business continuity plan (BCP), or just simply a pandemic plan, the plan usually lists critical services that should continue even if widespread illness keeps the employees at home—keeping the library doors open, staffing the circulation desk, ensuring access to electronic resources , emptying the book drop, and more.

A smart project manager working during the flu season can also reduce disruptions caused by illnesses by regularly and conscientiously documenting the project. Documentation serves to answer questions before they are even asked and provides the needed information for others to step in and help.

  • Perhaps you, the project manager, are out sick for two weeks while the programming and design work is well under way. Armed with a feature list, your team members can answer questions from stakeholders about why a particular feature is not planned for the end product. The project team along with the project sponsor may have already ruled that feature out.
  • Suppose your designer is coughing up a storm after completing the main page for a web application. With design specifications that explicitly state the locations and file names of style sheets, included files, web templates, and graphics, a backup designer or programmer can step in to complete the pages required to return search results and write error messages—effectively allowing the programming to continue.
  • Your programmer begins to run a fever soon after completing a web application that is now ready for testing. During the testing, another team member notes that some of the actions don’t seem logical. If the programmer kept the technical specifications up to date, anyone on the team can check the specifications to confirm the expected behavior. If the programmer commented their code, another programmer can step in to find a bug.
  • After a first round of testing, the programmer and designer have fixed all the bugs and are ready for a second round. Problem is, the tester is out sick and a room full of volunteers are at the ready. A detailed testing script along with a bug tracking system used during the first round will offer a roadmap to trouble spots.

Most of these scenarios rely on someone else with the time to give to your project. This might not be the case—especially when employees who are able to come to work are providing peer coverage on routine tasks for those who are out sick. So, finally, when the existing staff just can’t complete the tasks on schedule, your documented schedule of tasks and dependencies will help you renegotiate the scope, the schedule, and/or the resources that you have available to you.

An earlier version of this article appeared in November 2009 in the blog for Web Project Management for Academic Libraries.

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