Prompting countless project shutdowns or delays and the threat of looming layoffs or furloughs, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a season of economic vulnerability for both project leaders and their teams. Veering away from the project strategies established in more certain times could apply significant stress to all stakeholders and put the team’s success at risk.

Successful projects are often determined at the beginning with clear communication, thoughtful scope development and change management planning, as well as the selection of a nimble team. During a crisis or significant period of project disruption, missteps in how projects are set up or how teams are constructed are magnified. It is at this time where consistent customer engagement is crucial. A successful project must start by building a team that has the tools needed to succeed and a determination by all of the stakeholders that failure is not an option.

Diverse Partners
During a crisis, often the initial reaction to project slowdowns or cash flow challenges may be to change the division of responsibilities to potentially reduce expenses. This can lead to costly mistakes as team members struggle to complete work they may have little to no experience with before now, and alter the process for communications and approvals of deliverables. Continuing to focus on what your organization does well and to rely on trusted partners to be accountable for their knowledge are essential ingredients of outlasting an economic downturn.

An integrated team provides the depth of experience and diverse services needed to deliver the project right the first time, eliminating rework caused by a sudden change in project execution approach. When an organization suffers through a crisis and must make drastic changes to its project team, a diverse contractor organization can fill in the gaps more efficiently from a project delivery perspective. This allows the owner to take care of its core business in delivering value to its shareholders and the contractor to deliver the project to the owner.

Develop a Clear Plan
Our industry is conditioned to flex project teams too rapidly to meet complex project schedule requirements or to satisfy financial incentives for phase or project completion. Project leadership teams need to guard against changing a team’s composition too quickly without establishing proper work-fronts, both in the early phase of front-end planning as well as during the construction phase. Especially during a crisis, slow down as much as your organization allows to provide for thoughtful decision-making and to confirm continuity of project execution.

Strong alliances with every level of your organization and an established communication plan, where clear roles are defined for all stakeholders involved, lead to less confusion in the event of project schedule or team disruptions. The goals and alignment established are measured through the remainder of the project and set clear guidelines for the project team to follow.

The path for a successful project is paved with deliberate and thoughtful action, as well as taking the time to build a strong foundation at the start. By applying many of these same project execution principles to key business decisions, organizations have the ability to make the critical decisions necessary to push forward throughout the ongoing pandemic and other future crises.

With almost 30 years of experience focused in the refining, petrochemical, specialty chemical and renewables industries, Kevin Syphard has worked in all phases of engineering projects from opportunity identification, technology transfer and scope development, through detailed design and construction. He leads Burns & McDonnell growth in the petrochemical market.