How Covid-19 Disruptions Are Impacting Capital Project Schedules
In project management, disruptions to the project schedule come with the territory and a good plan typically has buffers and reserve resources to mitigate delays. However, the extent of disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic and its ensuing implications are beyond what one would reasonably consider when scenario planning.
As a result, project managers are busy surveying our crop of projects snarled by the pandemic and figuring out our next steps. With this in mind, I thought it might be useful to see how the new accommodations we need to make post Covid-19 are impacting project delivery.
You haven’t started your design, you haven’t hired your AE. You’re in the middle of, or have just completed, working out your project parameters such as:
- where your site will be
- what types of spaces you are building
- how many groups and people you are planning for
- how much the project will cost
- when your target delivery date is, etc.
If your project is in this stage, then you may need to relook at the project parameters and assumptions (sf per person, # of people per shift, amount of downtime for cleaning/disinfecting, etc). A recent example of a Project Owner doing just this is at Singapore’s Changi Airport Terminal 5, where they made the tough decision to delay the project by 2 years in order to study “the future of aviation” and understand what “alterations may need to be made to the current design”.
Maybe you need more space now per person because of social distancing and/or your company may have a higher proportion of people working remotely thereby needing less space than before.
Whichever the case, the metrics that you use to determine the amount of space you need will likely change. In JLL’s May 2020 Research Brief on workplace re-entry, they report that of the 149 million sf of client space that they developed social distancing plans for, “49% are reporting that they are losing 50% capacity or more on their floors” as less people are able to occupy the same amount of space.
Maybe you’ve already worked out a budget for the project. That also is likely going to change and potentially require higher levels of investment as you choose your mitigation strategies. For example, using increased ventilation to flush rooms with filtered air more frequently will require more capability from your mechanical system or adding UV disinfection or installing non-contact technology like pricier touchless infrared sinks and elevators as opposed to regular levers or buttons.
Another consideration would be the location of your site. As we have learned in this pandemic, having some operational capacity closer to home as opposed to relying on a supply chain that gets broken when borders are shut down will provide more resiliency to businesses and in some cases (like for some key materials/components/APIs) will increasingly be mandated by the authorities.
For the life science industry, this “re-shoring” trend back to the US may accelerate the growth of clusters outside the traditional San Francisco Bay Area or Boston/Cambridge areas where production costs can be lower and hence more competitive.
Design work is one of the few things that can carry on “relatively” unaffected by Covid-19. As such it would benefit Project Owners to press on with their projects that are in the design stage as much as possible.
From the client perspective, the design phase is a time when your AE is gathering information from you, your stakeholders and the site, then turning that information and their design expertise into your project design documents which will then be presented to you for review and approval.
It is of course more efficient to have the initial interviews and working design meetings face to face but even prior to Covid-19, it was typical to have some members of a design team join such meetings virtually. Through the use of screen sharing and virtual whiteboards, ideas and thoughts can be shared and explained remotely. Or a client can mark up a PDF and email back the changes/comments.
Gathering information from the project site is slowed down given travel restrictions. The situation is made worse, the further the project site is from the AE especially if it requires the crossing of an international border and/or air travel. In situations like this, having local resources who can walk the site to take photos, videos and make reports will be crucial to keeping the work going.
Work From Home Challenges
Another potential source of delay may come in your AE’s ability to produce work from home. It is unclear at this point when the workforce will be 100% back in offices since companies and authorities are encouraging those who can work from home to continue to do so. While it is possible to produce designs from home, slow home internet lines, underpowered computing equipment, small computer screens and lack of access to libraries of reference material all add up to a slower production rate for design drawings.
Finally, if you happened to be at the later stages of your design process when the pandemic hit, you may now find yourself in possession of design packages that are in need of updating to accommodate new work configurations post Covid-19. That means new rounds of design and review.
The example sketch below shows how Covid-19 driven de-densification can affect a room’s design:
In many places, construction was one of last activities to be shut down and the earliest to restart. Elements of the industry’s usual work practices like the use of PPE, a proportion of work done outdoors, and a lower density then a typical office meant that construction had a relatively lower risk profile than other industries. Indeed, some construction work, deemed essential, continued even through the hardest hit periods of the pandemic.
The construction industry has come up with mitigation measures to continue working during the pandemic such as
- contact tracing
- temperature taking
- work preplanning
- staggered shifts
- portable hand washing stations
(See “Builders at our Core: Keeping Team Members Safe” on how leading general contractor, DPR carry out these measures on the jobsite.)
Safe Working Practices
A good general contractor should incorporate Covid-19 safe working practices into their safety program and as a Project Owner, you might want to review and check that they are indeed instituting these best practices on site.
The city or permitting authority where your project site is may also impose requirements such as work time windows or maximum number of people in a space and that can impact the delivery and hence schedule of your project.
As these directives will ebb and flow depending on the overall health situation, it would be prudent to sign up for alerts and be in constant contact with your authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). Shelter-in-place alerts and instructions were provided by many local municipalities that used Nixle alerts (see coverage in the US).Other jurisdictions are likely to have equivalent systems.
Even with safe working practices, outbreaks can occur at a jobsite (as it did recently at a project in Mountain View, California). If workers test positive for Covid-19, work on site is typically halted to allow for cleaning, quarantining and re-assessment before the authorities will allow it to re-open. These potential work disruptions pose yet another risk to the overall project schedule.
Finally another source of delay during construction may instead come from the supply chain. Factory closures or reduced work times, can impact lead times of raw materials, components or equipment. Again, the further away these items are produced, the higher the risk of delays.
Whichever stage your project is at, whether it be the Pre-Design, Design or the Construction phase, there’s no doubt Covid-19 will affect the schedules of your projects in flight. The key is to assess the impacts for your particular project and work it into your plan so that you can once again drive towards optimizing your schedule and budget.