The case for a post-COVID Project Plan

I have worked in construction on a full-time basis on and off since 1986. In those years I have spent time on site delivering projects and, in the office, providing planning and commercial support. My employers and clients have been one-man bands and multi-national blue-chip entities that employ thousands of people.

The arc of my experience had been long and flat up until 2008, when I moved into the international market, which has become more and more reliant on technology and data and less so on the tracking of projects at the coal face.

I understand completely that this must happen due to the exponential growth in value and complexity of the projects that are in the planning stages or currently being delivered in the countries I’ve been working in. Technology has moved to keep up with that growth. However, I’m not so sure that communications within company and corporate structures have moved at such a pace, unfortunately.

Over the past 2 or three months I’ve been working on a Project Plan dedicated to Post-COVID Business Mobilisation. During the period I’ve been actively seeking opinions surrounding the subject from various people whose work I respect and those who have a deep understanding of challenges within a project.

Some of these people have questioned whether COVID will have an impact on construction projects at all. Indeed, some of those I’ve spoken with are on projects that haven’t stalled, let alone stopped during the height of the crisis, if you are one that believes we are now ‘flattening the curve’, and the worst is over.

I spoke specifically to a friend, an extremely professional Project Controls Manager and a Chartered Engineer with 20+ years of experience to boot who said, “Won’t the re-mobilisation be just like when we all go back to work after Christmas shut down?”

Another Engineer with similar experience working with large Australian contractors said, “They’ll have people doing this already – they’ll be on it, surely?”

Back to the point I was making about communications and growth; if you’ve worked on a project for a contractor as part of a Joint Venture (as most seem to be these days) you will know how fractured the situation can get, not just across the project but also across the various departments of that contractor’s corporate structure. There is an inevitability that in trying times, everything becomes tribal and people work in silos. As difficult as that may be to hear out loud – it is the truth.

In my experience there is little appetite for spending early, on things or ideas that appear not to generate an income – that is until enough data suggests those things that didn’t seem important previously demonstrate a loss overall – once the penny drops into the ‘should have’ slot.

“They’ll have people doing this already – they’ll be on it, surely?”

To gain an understanding of the benefits of the Post-COVID Business Mobilisation Project Plan, I think you must first address what will happen in the immediate future and again in the longer term. How COVID will not only impact how companies and resources will change the way they perform tasks on a day to day basis, but also how Owners and Contractors establish working practices leading to where in the market their focus will be.

Will the phased changes affect how projects are procured? Certainly, in the short term this is undoubtably the case. As the phased approach to opening is instigated in various countries to varying degrees, a contractor’s ability to not just react to those changes but to have a fully planned program of activities will be key to the successful mitigation of the risk every business is facing.  The mobilization is challenge is a project in itself.

I am of the opinion that ultimately, the changes that COVID-19 will bring on site will be represented by a paragraph or a line on a sheet of paper passed out during a project or onboarding induction – It’ll read something like ‘Where possible, all personnel shall practice social distancing. If social distancing is not practical or safe according to the method statement, personnel should wear appropriate PPE as mentioned in the ‘Coronavirus Management Action Plan’.

The issues uncovered by COVID and the precipitation of lessons from it will be at a macro level, I think. They begin not with the specter of the virus but with reaction around the world to a ‘disaster’ scenario, specifically in this technological era, with questions about how we’ve proactively planned our way out of it.

We know now in a connected world this occurrence could be the first of many similar types of threats and a granular approach to the transitions is the only way to plan our way through it successfully.

Back to the question of who has put thought into the process across the business and its units? Has your organization proactively made moves to address all the phases of operation? Have you planned for the specific people to develop a strategy to ensure that resources return to work following governance? Most importantly, are those resources returning to work providing economically sound investments in a safely planned and organised manner.

“The issues uncovered by COVID and the precipitation of lessons from it will be at a macro level, I think. They begin not with the specter of the virus but with reaction around the world to a ‘disaster’ scenario, specifically in this technological era, with questions about how we’ve proactively planned our way out of it.”

Employers who don’t have a plan will find they are paying for resources to sit on the sidelines, to practice social distancing in rooms, while they await directions – this is really one of those time when a Project Plan can help focus the actions of everyone to streamline and target from the outset of a change.

If I asked you now ‘do you have a Post-COVID plan’ what would your answer be? Would it be, ‘yes, we have a detailed return to work over across the phases’ or would it be ‘we have someone looking at that’?

If the latter is the case – maybe your company is one of the ones where communication is secondary to technology and, without knowing it the departments are working in silos without a central plan to hit the ground running at various stages?

Calculate the costs of this misconception and address the issues by taking some time to think about the ramifications of possible changes within the market Post-COVID. What better way than to have a Blueprint with or without supporting documentation that could serve as a conversation starter at a workshop Zoom meeting as early as tomorrow? 

COVID Business Mobilisation Blueprint

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