Changing market demands. Overloaded resources. Disrupted supply chains. Pandemic-driven flux is forcing companies to adapt their strategies like never before. Amid such shifting priorities, project leaders must be willing to overhaul timelines, whether it’s to meet an accelerated release date or align with a budget cut. And that requires building a change-ready mindset.
“There’s no magic wand for a pandemic scheduling plan,” says Aayush Sharma, PMI-PBA, PMP, project manager, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “You can identify and prioritize risks and try to minimize the impact, but you cannot predict emergencies like COVID-19.”
Here are three projects that illustrate the strategic decision making that goes into project leaders choosing to pounce, pause or pivot as they battle the pandemic.
Sardar Patel COVID Care Centre and Hospital
New Delhi, India
Pounce: Quick thinking supported by meticulous planning helped a team deliver a COVID-19 care facility in just 12 days.
As the number of new COVID-19 cases in India surged to some of the highest in the world, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Defence made a daunting demand: Build a 1,000-bed emergency medical facility—from scratch—in less than two weeks.
Jumping into action, the Defence Research and Development Organisation in consultation with the Directorate General Armed Force Medical Services took three days to design and plan the massive facility. Prefab structures were used to build the four main hangars. The team also quickly stocked it with biodegradable beds discarded after each use and added a few tech touches to monitor patients.
To ensure the quick-start project was resourced properly, the World Health Organization worked closely with the Delhi government to ramp up training of more than 230 health workers and paramilitary forces in everything from prevention and control protocols to filing of case investigation forms.
Within roughly three months of the center taking its first patients on 5 July, officials reported having discharged more than 5,000 patients.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport Terminal 1 Expansion
Morrisville, North Carolina, USA
Pause: The flight plan for a terminal overhaul is grounded until the travel industry rebounds.
Few industries got punched harder by COVID than air travel. Even after signs of a slight uptick after the lockdown, the number of scheduled flights worldwide was down by 46 percent as of early November. The drastic drop in demand meant grounded flights—and grounded expansion plans. Expecting about only a third of the passengers they had in 2019, leaders at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) paused a US$4 billion overhaul.
The first phase of the project—a terminal expansion, new security checkpoint and consolidated rental car facility—was on target to be completed in April 2020. But after the virus spread across the United States, RDU leaders decided to suspend the expansion as the airport experienced a 96 percent drop in traffic in April and drastic revenue losses. “I’d say we slammed the brakes on it,” airport President Michael Landguth told USA Today.
It could take years for the aviation industry to bounce back—and the airport to generate enough revenue to restart any major capital projects. Emergency funding streams are helping sustain current RDU operations, from $49.5 million in government relief funding to nearly US$250,000 generated from renting parking stalls in a vacant lot to Amazon. Such stop-gap measures could help accelerate project activity when air travel picks up.
For now, though, Terminal 1 expansion timelines remain up in the air.
Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway
Pivot: Creative resourcing helps reignite a stalled infrastructure megaproject.
There were already delays on the US$6 billion project to build Indonesia’s first high-speed rail line, linking the country’s capital, Jakarta, with its third-largest city, Bandung. And things only got more complex when construction on the 142-kilometer (88-mile) line collided with the coronavirus.
The situation prompted the government to introduce a travel ban to and from China. That presented a new resourcing wrinkle for developer PT Kereta Cepat Indonesia China, a joint venture between Indonesian state-owned enterprises and a consortium of Chinese rail companies.
The ripple effect of the travel restrictions: Roughly 300 project team members from China couldn’t return after they went home to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Plus, nearly 50 percent of materials made in China—pipes and waterproofing and signaling equipment—couldn’t be transported to the construction site.
When project leaders rebuilt the schedule again, targeting a 2022 completion date, the team worked to scale back the next phases of the project to accommodate Indonesian contractors expected to work temporarily. Even after Chinese team members returned in May, project leaders realized they needed additional resources to recover lost time. So they turned to Japan. The Japanese International Cooperation Agency, which lost the initial project bid to the Chinese consortium, joined the project.
After the team crashed the schedule, project progress returned to a steady pace in July. Construction of the main roadbed, bridges, tunnels and stations has moved forward as planned, and two tunnels have been completed. And the team achieved a major milestone in August, installing a continuous 211-meter (692-foot) beam to reinforce an area of high transportation density.