Managing Project Delays in the COVID-19 Age

Projects can get delayed for many reasons from third party suppliers failing to deliver on time, to poor communication between project stakeholders sometimes the deliverables are simply not realistic within the project constraints. Then there are the unpredictable and devastating external factors like COVID-19 that disrupt on an unprecedented scale.

Countless projects have been delayed or temporarily suspended as a result of the pandemic, labor shortages, and disruption to supply chains. This is the time when project managers need to take control, look ahead, stay productive, and identify mitigation options, which can be especially challenging when a project shuts down overnight, as has been the case during the coronavirus crisis.

Richard Reynolds, senior engineer at consultancy firm E&M West, has over 30 years of experience in the construction industry, including leading the multi-disciplinary design team for the Media Center at the London 2012 Olympics.

He says, “If it’s a short delay, you’ll likely have the same people on the project team when it resumes. However, if there are redundancies, which we can expect to see in the current climate, when the project does restart several months down the line you might have different people working on it, who don’t know exactly where things were up to when it stopped. They might assume certain issues have been resolved when in fact there were live issues at the time of the delay. It is crucial to have a close down procedure on a project so that when it restarts everybody knows where they are.”

Another factor to consider is the recession that is expected to follow the pandemic, when the original viability of projects will be subject to change.

“The project may have to start again as something completely new,” says Reynolds. “But there is a real opportunity here for design project managers to help clients understand what can be done to change the project and make it viable in the new economic climate.”

Previous experience of handling delays will stand a project manager in good stead in the current crisis. Sabrina Benjamin is a business and IT consultant with over 20 years of project management experience across many industries, including retail, and has dealt with the challenges of project delays, as she explains.

“One project I worked on involved the closure of a warehouse and relocation of operations across several other warehouses,” she says. “The initial analysis carried out by the internal team was challenged by one of the other warehouse sites at the start because there was insufficient car parking space to support the additional employees. This resulted in the warehouse external grounds being redesigned to enable the change, a three month project delay.”

Another two-year project to deliver an automated warehouse required further impact assessments to ensure the site would fulfil business growth targets over the ensuing five years. “The finance department took five months to provide the analytical data,” she says. “The additional costs from the delays and the increased cost assumptions for transitioning, provided by the data, resulted in the project going on hold for 18 months.”

Benjamin’s tips for managing delays include having a clear process to make decisions, and ensuring that resources are in place to provide and analyze accurate and complete information.

She says, “You need to establish the best way to deliver, make

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