Managing Thanksgiving Risk During COVID-19

November 12, 2020 by Rose Cook

My family and I have started talking about the holidays, especially Thanksgiving since it’s just around the corner. Most years it doesn’t even require much discussion. We all know where it’s going to be, who’s coming, and most importantly, who’s bringing each delicious dish because it’s tradition. Due to COVID-19, typical holiday celebrations could be interesting this year with families trying to minimize risk, be socially distanced, and most importantly, stay safe. 

I recently read an article by Curt Holman on WebMD titled “Manage Risk to Stay Safe for COVID Thanksgiving.” Holman discusses how different the holidays could look and offers suggestions from the CDC and other experts on how to have a safer gathering by minimizing risks. It made me think that this year’s Thanksgiving holiday planning could probably benefit from the expertise of a project manager!

In life sciences project management, most PMs know that there are five basic steps to follow in risk management. In short:

  1. Identifying – Identify as many risk factors as possible.
  2. Analyzing – Analyze/assess the scope of the risk.
  3. Evaluating – Rank by priority, depending on the severity of the risk.
  4. Treating – Involve all stakeholders to contain/eliminate the risk.
  5. Monitoring – Utilize a risk management plan to monitor current and future risks.

While I’m not literally going to put a Thanksgiving dinner project plan together, I am being mindful of the risks that come with gathering a large group of people. As recommended in the article, it’s a good idea to “assess and minimize” the risk. We must stay flexible and find alternatives like scaling down the size of the gathering, minimizing the duration, taking it outside if possible, and observing safe distancing practices. 

The idea is to identify what can go wrong and mitigate ahead of time if possible. In project management, we have to accept risk as part of the plan and know that fully eliminating it isn’t usually possible. We recognize this and plan for it. However, if the probability is high for a negative outcome, the team can decide to eliminate risk by revising the plan, changing the scope, or just scrapping it altogether. 

One of the biggest advantages of taking your team (or family) through this process is to force the conversation about the uncomfortable things no one wants to talk about. Difficult conversations are necessary and should take everyone involved into account since they are all literally stakeholders. 

Fears about elderly or at-risk family members or friends being exposed to COVID-19 during holiday get-togethers are legitimate and Holman’s article suggests some alternatives to large gatherings. Although virtual project management is the norm, I’m not sure how I feel about a virtual Thanksgiving with my extended family enjoying our meal through a computer screen. But at this point, it’s worth consideration. 

My project team (i.e. family) and I are still in the “evaluating” portion of the risk management process regarding our Thanksgiving this year. We have identified and analyzed the risk, are involving all stakeholders, and will continue to monitor the situation. 

Whatever the decision ends up being, we’ll make the best of it and be thankful for our blessings. We wish you and your family a safe and Happy Thanksgiving as well!

The FlexPro Group is a project management consulting firm specializing in the life sciences industry since 2008. FlexPro combines industry-certified experts with proven project management processes and subject matter expertise to deliver results on time and on budget. Our focus areas include product development and commercialization, supply chain optimization, integration management, and early-stage acceleration.

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