Project Managers – Stay Active in Isolation

There is no doubt about it, it’s been an unprecedented couple of weeks for the UK and globally with the outbreak and reaction to COVID-19.

As project people, we’re hard-wired to try and bring order from chaos but even this is something that we’re struggling to manage – there’s just so much uncertainty.

In this week, many project practitioners are adjusting to working from home – some for the first time, others that have only ever worked at home on a Friday. It’s not been long yet, just a few days, but if this is the new normal in the coming months, the novelty will wear off and ‘cabin fever’ will strike.

There has already been plenty of posts shared on social media about the social and mental health impacts of the COVID-19 measures and a long list of suggestions on the activities you can be doing safely if you’re self-isolating.

From a practitioner point of view, we always say we never have enough time for CPD (Continuing Professional Development) activities so as the weeks stretch out there will be ample time and opportunities.

What options do you have available right now?

As with any economic uncertainty, it makes sense to make sure we’re investing in ourselves personally.

We learnt a big lesson the last time there was economic uncertainty in the UK, back in the 2008 downturn.

We found that many project practitioners had neglected their self-development; suddenly they were facing redundancy and having to enter a competitive employment marketplace.

For every job they applied for, there were candidates who had kept up to date and were able to demonstrate their commitment to the job and profession with evidenced self-development.

Here’s an extract from a report back at the time:

Recruitment in the project management market in mid-2018 finds itself in-between times: the recessionary economy of post-2008 and an emerging state of recovery.

The relatively high availability of people during recessionary periods means employers don’t have to try too hard to attract new workers; the ability to be choosy means many look for a 120% fit from a candidate as they have no budget to invest in training. Churn levels amongst project management practitioners are low as people feel safer to remain with their current employer.

You can read the full post – Presenting Your Value in the Project Management Jobs Market

CPD for individual practitioners can take many forms – the 70-20-10 model is often used to find those sources of learning that help us develop professionally.

The 70-20-10 model describes “the optimal sources of learning by successful managers. It holds that individuals obtain 70 per cent of their knowledge from job-related experiences, 20 per cent from interactions with others, and 10 per cent from formal educational events.”

At times when we’re away from the work environment – the learning through doing – the 70% is perhaps not as easy or conducive.

It’s times like these that we take a look at the other 20% and 10% – and see what options we have when working at home.

20% Options

When we’re working from home – learning from others is all about using the technology available to us to make connections; utilise social media; join tribes; sign up for webinars.

How about your own personal coaching circle? Thought about using Whatsapp to bring together colleagues or peers together in the business or project management to get your own little tribe going? You should try it, I’ve learnt a ton from groups I’m part of. We share links, documents, opinion pieces, have debates and share dubious jokes.

It’s also about utilising techniques such as journalling – a self-reflection technique that allows us to take a step back and reflect on how we carry out the work we do. If it’s good enough for the healthcare practitioners, it should be good enough for project managers. Get started by taking a look at this.

There’s also the opportunity to teach others – share your own experiences with others – whether that is within your own organisation (Zoom lunch and learns?) or externally by collaborating with networking groups such as PMO Flashmob or professional bodies.

10% Options

10% options are all about formal learning and you have a few options to pursue which don’t involve setting foot in the classroom.

You need to know the difference between the different types of learning options available and which ones suit you the best.

Here are the terms you’re likely to see in relation to project management training:

  • Virtual Classroom – it’s online and with a live instructor. It’s exactly the same as a classroom-based course – has a set date; same materials; able to interact with real people; able to take part in exercises. If it’s a certification course, the exam tends to be done by a remote proctor, so you can schedule that when it works for you, not necessarily at the end of the training course.
  • e-Learning – you can access it whenever you like; it doesn’t have a live instructor and there are no peers training alongside you. The quality varies wildly – from a Powerpoint slide deck which you click through (dull, dull, dull!)  through to animated action; lecture videos; quizzes, exercises, exam practice – the whole works. Ask to see an example before you buy!
  • Blended learning – tends to be a combination of classroom and e-learning, and at this time, the classroom is a virtual classroom. Tends to work for people who can’t attend a full scheduled virtual classroom course but does rely on you being motivated to do the e-learning parts at the right time.
  • Distance-learning – study at your own pace usually using a combination of different mechanisms – bits of e-learning, virtual classroom, homework, group work via interactive tools. Think Open University, you need to be self-motivated to make it work for you.

From our friends over at PMO Learning, here’s an insight into how virtual classrooms will be a popular choice in the coming weeks and months.

Virtual classroom training will certainly be a popular choice for many practitioners because it is so similar to a real classroom. We’ve found that many people gain real value from training when they are able to ask questions of the instructors as the course progresses (rather than emailing for additional help with some of the other online options available). Virtual classroom training has a live instructor throughout the course.

There’s also a lot of value in learning alongside others – being able to do those group exercises still exists in virtual classrooms – breakout rooms are used and are just as effective.

Once you’ve settled into the technology and made yourself comfortable, it quickly starts to feel quite normal.

There are regular breaks throughout the course and if it is a certification based course with an exam, online proctoring is available. This essentially means you book a day and time to do your exam through the examination body. There are plenty of times available. The exam is taken online with an invigilator monitoring your progression throughout the exam. It’s done using a microphone and webcam so no extra equipment is needed.

With the country in a state of flux, with much uncertainty, it helps us to gain some control in areas that we reasonably can control – and one of those areas is our own self-development.

We have to look for some silver linings, and perhaps this is one that helps us prepare for the future ahead, come what may.


Virtual Classroom




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