Restarting Your Pandemic-Delayed Project With the Critical Path in Mind
I know a lot of project managers are trying to keep working safely while others are shut down for safety and health reasons during the pandemic. There’s something else to consider when weighing what to do at the construction jobsite, especially if you think it through like a planner. Forging ahead with non-critical activity won’t help finish on time and may even contribute to layoffs or cost overruns without advancing the project. Your ability to continue the work—any work—doesn’t guarantee that it will advance the project if that work doesn’t affect the critical path.
You should concentrate first on critical-path or near-critical-path work that has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Like others have, I suggest that all stakeholders urge various project managers to prepare a project update, even if it isn’t required at months-end or a stipulated period of time in the contract. Doing an update now will provide an immediate task to perform during the lull, capture details still fresh in everyone’s mind and get the update done before a project restart overwhelms everyone with work.
The picture captured by the update will inform decisions about whether to continue work only in non-critical sections of the project.
Project documentation can be complicated, including photography, but the update for strategic scheduling decisions shouldn’t be overcomplicated. You need three data points:
If an activity has started, and you have not already done it, record the date. The actual start means all predecessors are complete, or complete to the point where they overlap with other activities as planned. Dropping a load of rebar near the place it is needed, however, is not considered an actual start, any more than the mining of the ore to fabricate that rebar is an actual start. If unsure, most software allows you to record a memo, note, log entry or comment to the activity.
If an activity has finished (and not had the finish recorded yet), record that now.
Keep in mind that the definition of “actual finish” is that one or more immediate successor activities may now start. If there are minor imperfections or cosmetic items not required to immediately start a successor activity, these are best added to the punch-list with a memo or note appended to the activity.
If an activity has been started and is not yet finished, then it is work in progress, and you should record the remaining duration in the same format (days, shifts, hours) as the original duration. Base that record on the same assumed use of resources as was employed for the originally entered duration. Thoughts as to when a restart may occur, or adjusted duration based upon an adjusted use of resources that may then be used, belong in a revision and not an update.
Field personnel may sometimes feel more comfortable or have only the time or ability to record a percent of schedule completed. As with the actual finish, a separate percent of budgeted cost to complete may also be recorded if it differs from the functional schedule percent complete.
When possible, the project manager’s team and project scheduler should sit down—figuratively, if not literally—and prepare an appropriate recovery plan and schedule. The impact of COVID-19 may differ for disparate activities of the current plan.
Once owners and contractors go through the “what ifs,” they can bring back personnel only when it advances the project and not simply charge the budget.
This is important if drywall from China, and other elements of the supply chain, may not come back as soon as a state or city issues the equivalent of an “all clear” sign to resume normal activity. Why spend money to get up all the interior wall studs and stockpiling of the paint? It may be extra months before trusted suppliers ramp up.
Logic of the Driving Detour
One last thought to illuminate how I see things.
As I drive from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., an accident may detour me off I-95.
If only for a short time, I should attempt to follow the detour and return to my original plan. But if the detour takes me too far away from the initial plan, it may be better to have the GPS consider a whole new plan starting from this point.
Similarly, when directives to shelter in place are lifted, and shut down or slowed construction projects restart or resume normal activity, beware detours that may have seemed like a good idea during the emergency’s peak.
The goal now should be to return construction projects to the fastest route to the goal of project completion as soon as possible.