Cognitive Readiness for Project and Program Management Teams

During Times of Crisis



By Rebecca Winston

Idaho, USA



Crisis comes in many different forms.  Crisis for this opinion piece is a period that is unstable, uncertain, or crucial time in which change is impending or occurring.  The world has faced many such times, whether one thinks of the Black Death beginning in 1347 or our current crisis regarding the coronavirus.  Crises can be big encompassing the global population or smaller encompassing an organization.  In either case, the myriad of external factors coming to bear upon a project or program need to be considered in the formation and maintenance of high-performing project or program management team.

For a foundation, the definition of cognitive readiness for this opinion piece is, “ . . . mental preparation, including skills, knowledge, abilities, motivations, and personal dispositions, needed to establish and sustain outstanding individual and team performance in the complex and rapidly changing environment of project, program, and portfolio management.” (Cognitive Readiness in Project Teams, ed. Carl Belack, Daniele Di Filippo, and Ivano Di Filippo, Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2019, p.17)  This definition encapsulates the various intelligences that people possess to different degrees:  cognitive intelligence or intelligence quotient, emotional intelligence, and social intelligence.  While these areas can be and have been sub-divided by various researchers and authors, for the purposes of this article, the categories will suffice.  It is also acknowledged that one must have the requisite cognitive skills for the project or program management position to be filled.  For example, if one is to be in the position of a safety expert on the project or program management team, one should have the requisite skills to determine the safety risks, safety needs, and applications of safety knowledge to the given situations that arise.

One should acknowledge that in many cases the project or program manager does not have the ability to do direct hiring or assignments of human resources, but in many cases those individuals have the ability to influence the hiring decisions or assignment decisions being made within the organization.  So what should one be seeking in times of crisis that adds complexity, even to the some projects that would be less complex under conditions that do not present crisis?  The answer is that it depends.  So the focus will be the current crisis with some statements being of a more universal application.

Our current situation has a multitude of crises with one driving crisis of the corona virus.  It is forcing project and program management teams to work virtually in most cases or with the protection of masks and distancing in other cases.  Human interaction is changed.

What this means to project and program management teams is that the ability to communicate information and the state of being a cohesive team is of utmost importance.  Thus, the intelligences of emotional and social intelligence are important and should be judged within the bounds of national and local regulations.

To aid in understanding what is meant by emotional intelligence, the operative definition to be used is, “ . . . the ability to manage one’s own moods, impulses, and emotions in a way that facilitates rather than interferes with the task to be performed.” (Cognitive Readiness in Project Teams, p. 150)

Also, to aid in understanding what is meant by social intelligence, the operative definition to be used is, “ . . . [the] understanding [of] others and managing relationships with other people.” in other words, a level of social awareness that allows one to see and potential understand other individuals point of view and to develop the necessary relationships on the project or program management teams, as well as with stakeholders. .” (Cognitive Readiness in Project Teams, p. 151)


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How to cite this article: Winston, R. (2020). Cognitive Readiness for Project and Program Management Teams During Times of Crisis; PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue XI, November.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/pmwj99-Nov2020-Winston-cognitive-readines-for-project-teams-in-times-of-crisis.pdf



About the Author

Rebecca Winston, JD, PMI Fellow

Idaho, USA


Rebecca (Becky) Winston, Esq., JD, PMI Fellow, is a former Chair of the board of the Project Management Institute (PMI®). An experienced expert on the subject of project management (PM) in the fields of research & development (R&D), energy, environmental restoration and national security, she is well known throughout the United States and globally as a leader in the PM professional world.  Becky has over 30 years of experience in program and project management, primarily on programs funded by the US government.  She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska’s College of Law, Juris Doctorate (1980), in Lincoln, Nebraska and has a Bachelor’s of Science (BS) degree in Education from Nebraska Wesleyan University. She is a licensed attorney in the states of Iowa and Nebraska.

Active in PMI since 1993, Rebecca Winston helped pioneer PMI’s Specific Interest Groups (SIGs) in the nineties, including the Project Earth and Government SIGs, and was a founder and first co-chair of the Women in Project Management SIG. She served two terms on the PMI board of directors as director at large, Secretary Treasurer, Vice Chair (for two years), and Chair (2002). She was elected a PMI Fellow in 2005.  She has served as a reviewer of the Barrie Student paper for the PMI Educational Foundation for several years and now serves on the PMI Educational Foundation Board for a three-year period of service beginning in 2018.  She is a member of the American Bar Association and the Association of Female Executives in the USA.

Ms. Winston periodically serves as an advisor to organizations such as the National Nuclear Security Administration (USA), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on topics ranging from Program and Project Management to project reviews, risk management and vulnerability assessments. She served on the Air Force Studies Board for six years and currently serves on the Intelligence Science Technology Engineering Group for the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, as well as actively serving on many studies for the National Research Council.

Since 2008 she has also served in the capacity of Chair of the US Technical Advisory Group and Head of Delegation for Technical Committee 258:  Project, Programme, and Portfolio Management, as well as serving on the various Working and Study Groups drafting international guidance standards. She has extensive recent PM experience in the areas of software development and sustainment, cyber security, alternative energy, national defense and security, and has worked closely with local, regional and national officials, including Congress and the Pentagon.  She is also a global advisor to the PM World Journal and Library. Becky can be contacted at rebeccawinston@yahoo.com.

To view other works by Rebecca Winston, visit her author showcase in the PM World Journal at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/rebecca-becky-winston/