How to Return to Work? Project Controls Make the Unprecedented Possible

Project controls provide risk management expertise to clients, and their cost and scheduling discipline is the glue that holds the project together.
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How do we come back to work?  All our clients are grappling with this question, and there are no easy, or identical, answers. Each project is unique,but all use the same tools to find an answer: project controls—tools and metrics to weigh options and make decisions.Taken together, project control practices are the glue that holds projects together—and enable us to provide clients effective program management in uncertain times.

Of course, COVID 19 presents a first of its kind event for all of us. Many in the commercial real estate sector believe COVID-19 and a measured return to work will spark a price correction, making construction pricing more competitive. Others predict the infusion of recovery funds has put many companies in a good place to restart their operations, allowing construction projects to recover and ramp up quickly when states for business.  

Given these unpredictable and rapidly changing conditions, effective and precise project controls allow our clients to keep their finger on the current and real-time effects of project challenges, while exploring multiple scenarios at once to quickly make critical decisions. Our advantage—especially in uncertain times like today—is having project control specialists with extensive experience and deep expertise in analyzing and optimizing schedules, budgets, risk and quality.

Risk Management Under COVID-19: The True Value of Project Controls

Project controls are an integral part of project management, but many times their greatest value is not realized until a crisis, whether it’s the coronavirus pandemic, a hurricane or some other disaster. The project control methodology goes beyond cost, schedule and risk management.  It takes all constraints into account, so that we can analyze multiple scenarios and advise them on their best options.

COVID-19 presents different challenges depending on a project’s phase, and project management comes into play well before the first shovel hits the ground. All of our teams do significant work around pre-planning and organizing. Every project poses its own risks, whether due to weather, labor or supply chain. We lead workshops with electricians, earth movers and other disciplines to flush out the risks, and create a risk register that size sup and addresses all the potential issues. This risk register comes into play throughout the project life-cycle to keep a project on time and on budget.

 

Cost Control Under COVID-19: Keeping It Collaborative

When COVID-19 presents challenges that put stress on project goals, it’s not always clear which path to take. But there is a road map.  Every project has an initial budget and a statement of values–a breakdown of labor and material costs, from concrete to doors and windows to tool rentals. Construction project schedulers work with cos tcontrollers to get a clearer picture of a project’s financing and revenue overtime. Together, they develop a plan to execute the project in terms of both time and money, and make sure that upfront charges don't go into the red and funds are available at the right time.

Cost controls can be difficult to sustain under COVID-19 because issues may be much harder to resolve without frequent, face-to-face meetings. For instance, on one project that’s ready to start, the contractor hasn’t submitted the baseline schedule we need for budgeting. Are they dragging their feet, or just confused about how to proceed? In the past, we could have knocked out a schedule together at a planning meeting. Zoom meetings simply don’t always give us good reads on each other, and can make collaboration less direct. As long as we meet remotely instead of gathered over bad construction-trailer coffee, we may miss opportunities to resolve issues early.

With fewer people on a construction crew at once, day-to-day supervision and production may get tougher. Say a MEP rough-in crew isn’t clear about where to run duct work. If there are fewer mechanical engineering collaboration meetings and there are fewer eyes on the framing, a site inspection via a smartphone won’t necessarily head off a mistake that may set off a cascade of costly changes to the electrical, plumbing and other ceiling installations. Our planners are finding it takes extra effort to keep the lines of communication open.

 

Schedule ControlWith COVID-19: Doing More With Less

With roads clea rand buildings empty, stay-at-home rules would seem to be an opportunity to accelerate project timelines. The summer construction window for K-12 school renovation is tight. With parents holding classes at home, could we start early? Unfortunately,we can’t. The lack of clarity around COVID-19—and what it may mean for safety in schools—has kept stakeholders from accelerating renovations. If anything, most clients are cautious in a fragile economy. They’re more likely to consider a pause or slowdown.

Here’s where we run schedule scenarios that consider how COVID-19 affects project constraints,from recovery plans and opportunities to accelerate to the likelihood of winter construction. Schedule control procedures help us advise clients on the most efficient way to proceed. With construction activity near capacity and tower cranes likely to be swinging everywhere once work starts getting back to normal,getting competitive bids will be a challenge.

Complicating matters, project owners need to reach goals for minority workforce and contracting participation, just when minority business enterprises face their greatest risk of going under. How will small women- and minority-owned contractors survive this period?

McKissack’s investment in information technology has helped tremendously to keep projects on track. Now we arrive at a site with real-time updated schedules. Even so, the new COVID-19 work processes are going to slow things down. We’ve all had to direct more attention to construction site safety,and to scheduling the cadence of work so that more gets done with smaller crews.Not many projects are behind, but all are disrupted.  

Document Control& Project Communication During COVID:  It Anchors All Plans

Program management documents change in scope throughout the project life-cycle. For instance, when contractors need to clarify drawings or have other questions that keep them from moving forward, they send out a request for information. An RFI keeps the process moving: There’s a time frame required to respond, and the answer needs to be satisfactory or another issue will arise.

This can be a tremendous help to contractors now; with COVID-19 there are more variables in the mix. Take the MEP rough-in example. Normally, MEP coordination meetings on a particular project could have foreseen the owner’s dissatisfaction with the ceiling heights. But with meeting cancellations thanks to COVID-19, the MEP crew took some liberties with the duct work that lowered ceiling height.  All of this could have been avoided with better coordination.  

Scenarios like this can happen any time, but they can get out of hand more easily under COVID-19. A clear and complete document controls protocol will alert the right decision-makers about necessary changes, allowing them to formulate responses and find solutions in a way that stays within desired design, cost and time constraints.

 

Project Controls Make the Unprecedented Possible  

When project managers are acting on costs alone, it’s easy to scrimp or splurge on the wrong items. When schedulers look only at timing, they’ll start counting on resources that aren’t available or practical in a social distancing world. If documents aren’t consulted, an ad hoc decision triggers a series of domino-effect revisions. Decisions made in isolation end up costing time and money. Cost, schedule and document controls get everyone on the same page. Together, they can manage even the unprecedented.

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