‘Post-Pandemic Project Management’ can be found on page 28 of the 2021 edition of Perspective, a compilation of insights from members of the RLB team around the world.
Armed with a deep understanding of finance and the building process, controlling a construction job in terms of time and money has always been the core of a project manager’s role.
Recently, that definition has been—to put it mildly—stretched. The advent of the coronavirus rewrote the PM playbook, and in ways that will ultimately benefit the profession. Project managers now not only have to build structures, they also have to rebuild stakeholder confidence, as the pandemic has transformed construction management in some unexpected ways, as well as accelerated changes to the practice that had already begun to be implemented.
One very apparent change is that the scope of services provided by PMs has expanded well beyond the traditional perimeters of a project. In order to keep owners, architects, and contractors all moving together, we need to be good communicators, with strong interpersonal skills. Now, however, it’s not unusual for project managers to include non-project services to help the client deal with all the new pandemic-instigated issues they are facing. It’s something that sets the best apart from the rest.
Here’s an example from the educational sector. Project managers can assist schools with their reopening process by stretching beyond the typical scope and analyzing the efficiencies and protocols of getting kids safely back to the classroom. By investigating processes such as the building-entry sequence and meal preparation and service, then identifying any attendant changes to the physical facility, PMs are acting like more like partners than consultants. This kind of proactive, personalized approach will be appreciated, and could easily carry over into future business relationships.
Strategize the supply chain
In hindsight, the introduction of a slew of tariffs in 2018 on building materials enhanced the ability of PMs to cope with the disruptive impact of Covid-19 on construction. At that time, savvy suppliers and contractors began to speculate about possible economic effects. In turn, project managers started to take a closer look at the pinch points along the supply chain, searching for potential exposure to negative cost implications. In 2020, as the coronavirus transformed from an outbreak limited to China to an international pandemic, construction supply chains and markets reacted on a global scale, with many manufacturers fortifying their supply chains with domestic materials and relying less on imported goods. The take-away for the future? Know your sourcing options and keep them current.
Honing logistics offers a similar opportunity for improved customer service. Transportation that ran through areas affected by Covid were potential weak links that could jeopardize a project; the loss or unavailability of even a single critical part threatened to lead to a total stoppage of a job. Coastal areas with shipping ports were susceptible to illness-related labor shortages; even when products arrived, containers were subject to quarantine or delayed prior to drayage. During the pandemic, project managers learned to take even more proactive measures than when trade wars were our prime problem: map out the entire supply chain, identifying alternative routes; consider strategies for stockpiling; and review contingency budgets to source and expedite critical materials.
Project managers need to understand the journey for each member of the labor force so they can address its impact on scheduling. Breaking it down into detail, quantifying its affects, and offering suggestions on ways to offset any delays is a prudent strategy for PMs. This is true even on a granular level. For example, implementing coronavirus protocols—such as taking workers’ temperatures and distributing appropriate PPE—lengthened project schedules. A way to speed that process and offset schedule delays would be to increase the number of temperature sensors and set up more PPE stations at key points on the jobsite. Applying that common-sense approach to everyday processes require extra vigilance, but pays off in money and time saved.
The lessons we learned about efficiency and productivity during the Covid crisis will still be valid as we go forward. The best project managers will continue to up their game by following a simple rule of thumb, one that transcends the pandemic: If it’s a problem for the client, it’s a problem for us—to resolve.