Brexit: The Implications for Project Managers

Next week the UK goes to the polls to vote on whether we should leave the European Union. If the country votes for Brexit, the implications for British business are huge. The implications for the country overall are massive too, but a lot has been written about that already and I’m not in a position to add anything to the debate.

I’ll be voting. My voting decision isn’t, of course, based solely on what the outcome of the referendum means for project management, but below I consider what the implications of a leave result would be are for our project world.

A Lot More Projects

First, a leave result would mean a lot more projects. You’d be putting into place plans that have been long in the making.

Your company does have just-in-case plans, right? There is a planned two-year negotiation period that would, perhaps, give you time to work with company management on the practical projects that would need to be completed to facilitate the exit if you don’t already have plans in place.

What Sort Of Projects?

To be honest, I’m not 100% sure. At national level there will be a lot of projects resulting from the likely repeal of the European Communities Act 1972. I can see Parliament being tied up for some time working out which defunct EU regulations were actually pretty useful and now need to be implemented in UK law.

As companies decide for themselves whether they support the decision, we might see larger manufacturers and suppliers choosing to stay in the EU and relocating to an EU country. What would that mean for your supply chain, and what sort of supply chain projects would be needed to replace or continue to work with those vendors?

If prices change because taxes or import tariffs go up, how will UK businesses remain competitive? I predict a lot of business reengineering projects to help us be more agile and flexible in the face of international competition.

The Impact on Small Businesses

A lot of project management-related businesses are small firms: training companies, software start-ups, consultancies. And a lot of smaller businesses survive by doing projects for clients and through good project management skills.

As a small business owner myself, if Brexit happens I’m preparing for:

  • Having to decouple my accounting from the EU VATMOSS scheme.
  • Making sure that my payment gateways for people who buy my books and courses no longer have to pay EU VAT. Oops, we will have to still pay appropriate taxes.
  • Reassuring my non-EU clients that it’s business as usual in terms of their contracts with me.
  • Fluctuations to the exchange rates and general stock market uncertainty which could have an impact on my revenues, especially where I’m paid in other currencies.
  • Watching out for timetables for all this stuff, and finding reputable sources of information to rely on about other actions and deadlines.

The Impact on Project Teams

More broadly, I can see a lot of companies having to start reviewing their HR policies. While no one is seriously talking about thousands of expat workers and their families being repatriated, changes to immigration policy will certainly affect recruitment. It will be harder to recruit skilled workers from overseas.

When I was an expat myself, working in France, I was offered a job, given some money towards the cost of removals and told to report to work. Easy. (Actually, moving countries was anything but easy, but there were no legal loopholes to jump through, permits or visas).

For project teams, that could mean seeing several of your key people relocate back to Europe either because they choose to or because they aren’t granted a right to work here. How is that going to affect your ability to deliver on ongoing project commitments? And where are you going to recruit your next team members from?

If the stock market tumbles and the value of sterling drops, your business leaders will be out meeting and reassuring shareholders, not sitting in Project Board meetings with you.

Project sponsors are normally very senior managers in the business and they’ll be somewhat distracted by Brexit plans, lobbying, talking to customers and by everyone asking them, “But what does it mean for us?”

In that situation I think it’s safe to assume that they want you to get on and do your job, bringing them as few additional worries as possible.

And What If We Stay?

Staying in the EU is also a possibility – at the time of writing the polls are close. If the UK stays, then some of the uncertainty goes away, but the political damage may have already been done: what influence on the international stage will the UK have lost with this referendum?

Whatever the outcome, the results are going to be very interesting. Watch this space…