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Businesses are currently operating in an increasingly dynamic environment with various federal and state executive orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These orders have impacted the operations of companies in various ways—from stopping operations altogether to maintaining normal business operations with remote teams. 

Most companies have a portfolio of projects tied to business goals. During the pandemic, companies might find themselves needing to reassess the viability of projects due to government mandates, changes in available resources or the need to shift from capital projects to strictly operations and maintenance projects. In some cases, projects have been stopped, while others may be accelerated based on the nature of their businesses. 

which projects should continue, and what can go on hold?

Contractors should consider the following questions in order to make a reasonable determination. 

What are the available resources? In addition to workforce and capital availability, consider whether suppliers are operational or running at reduced capacity and whether regulatory approvals are attainable.

What will be defined as “essential”? This classification has been subject to interpretation, and failure to comply with government orders carries its own set of risks and potential costs; however, businesses that can lawfully operate may need to redirect available resources to their highest priority projects or limit exposure by restricting activities to core business projects.

Placing a project that has already commenced on hold will always add to the project cost, so in some cases, it may make sense to accelerate the completion of a project.

If the entire project cannot continue, can a portion of the project continue? While facing reduced resources, a project manager may have an option to focus available resources to essential project tasks in an effort to keep some production moving while leaving ancillary items for backlog to be picked up at a later time. Using a project schedule is a great tool for evaluating such efforts. Run a couple of scenarios and play with the critical path durations and flow to fit the resources available.  

If you’ve made the call to halt a project, what are the next steps?

Create a punch-list. The project manager should detail the steps required to prepare the project for a pause of undefined duration. The actions to be taken should consider the needed steps to protect partially completed work, ensure the site is left free from safety hazards and safeguard the site from unwanted access to the work in progress. Preparations may include staging of equipment, materials or project documentation to more accessible locations, termination of services and installation of substantial barriers to sensitive areas.

Assess the need and frequency for interim site inspections or maintenance. The punch-list, in reverse order, should serve as the starting point for the project reactivation plan.

Document, document, document. A project closure report should codify the status of completed tasks, “as left” status of incomplete tasks and an outline of prerequisites to restart work.

Construction drawings and related documents should be updated to accurately reflect the “as left” condition when the project is stopped. Inspection records, quality measurements and other project progress deliverables should be completed to the extent possible and filed. In-progress contracts and permits for the project should be reviewed to assess delay implications and begin to detail change documents between stakeholders.

Prepare documentation for on-hand project equipment and materials. Record material condition, location, storage requirements and quantities; include photographs of the equipment and the site.

Update the schedule and budget. Storage, security and monitoring for the project site will all add to the project budget. Demobilization and remobilization tasks will need to be incorporated into the project schedule and budget. In the current environment, forecasting when the project can resume may be impossible. The project team may choose to prepare several “what if” scenarios for project stakeholders and ultimately create a new project baseline.

Large organizations that routinely manage project portfolios are able to do so with a range of resources organized into a program management office. In addition to project and portfolio managers, the office would include schedulers, procurement managers, material expediters, cost controllers, risk analysts and construction managers to ensure project success. 

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