Keeping your project on track during a crisis

17th April 2020

Author: Yellow Brick Consulting

As Transition and Activation Planning project managers, we have encountered many different project crises over the years including floods, fires, and even the excavation of sacred findings. Although each of these crises impacted the overall project plan, timeline, and cost, these crises were project specific in nature. With the onslaught of the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, healthcare facility projects are now navigating a very new challenge, one that is impacting not only the project itself, but also the surrounding world. Internal resources are being reallocated, construction teams are reevaluating safety precautions, and project managers are forced to reassess what deliverables can be accomplished under the given circumstances.

In order to effectively mitigate risks to the project, below are steps that can be taken to keep your project on track.


There are many situations that can cause your project to switch from day-to-day operations to crisis reaction mode. As the project manager, your role in a crisis is to be nimble, adaptable, and quickly pivot to ‘Plan B’ when required. As part of the project planning phase, the project team completes a risk assessment to determine the likelihood and impacts of potential threats and opportunities. A response plan should be created based on the likelihood and impact matrix. There are many tools available to complete a risk assessment, but the main elements include:

  • Description of possible risk
  • Likelihood/probability of the risk occurring during the project
  • Impact of the risk on the project
  • Response required for mitigation
  • Responsible person

Crisis Response

As part of the COVID-19 response, project decision-making time may not follow the organization’s typical day-to-day operations. Project managers may be required to make decisions with incomplete or rapidly changing data. If an initial risk assessment was conducted, the project team will be better prepared to implement contingency plans and make the most informed and effective decisions to drive the project forward. Take inventory of the skills and competencies that exist within your project team to confirm what gaps exist or to discover any hidden talents. You may find that you have a hidden videographer, educator, or writer who could benefit the project.

One of the most common risks that organizations are assessing due to COVID-19 is the risk to project schedule. Many of our client partners have had to reallocate resources, including project team members, to attend to the immediate surge of patients in their facilities. Additionally, in some states, construction projects have been temporarily suspended to reduce transmission of the virus. To avoid a complete halt in the project, review the schedule and determine if there are areas that can be compressed or consolidated or if there is work that can be done concurrently rather than sequentially. Develop a priority scale for the project and work on deliverables. The MoSCoW prioritization technique is one of the simplest methods for requirement prioritization that can be utilized during the review process.

  • Must Haves- Critical Requirements that must be satisfied, such as code requirements or patient safety
  • Should Haves- High-priority requirements, such as testing processes and staff orientation and training
  • Could Haves- Desirable requirements, such as artwork or new complex workflows, that could be launched post activation
  • Won’t Haves- Wish list requirements, such as amenities or campus navigation apps, that are not required for day-to-day operations.

Once requirements have been reprioritized, adjust the project plan including the methods that will be leveraged to accomplish the work. Although internal, non-essential, in-person meetings have been placed on hold until after the crisis, remote meetings can still be utilized to engage project teams. Take an inventory of work that can be accomplished remotely and present a modified plan to the project sponsor. If the deliverables include written documents such as training plans, policies, etc., identify team members who have the expertise to create the documents by themselves or in a small virtual group. Below is a sample tracking tool that can be used to visually represent work that can continue to be completed, work to be evaluated, and work to be placed on hold.

Once your plan has been approved, you will be able to change direction and provide clear communication. Be patient as teams adapt to the new project environment. The biggest challenge many stakeholders will encounter is balancing work with home and social pressures, so a best practice is to record meetings for those unable to attend and send a summary of highlights as soon as the meeting is over. A daily stand-up or touch base meeting is helpful to ensure that everyone is on the same page. A typical agenda includes:

  • Announcements: Crisis follow-up/updates
  • Priorities for the day and week
  • Round robin of updates: what are you working on, what do you need, what is urgent/critical path, anything in your way?
  • Summary: follow up and assignments (the issue recorder will share what the priorities, critical path items and any other follow-up)

Work with your client partners to identify alternate means to achieving the goal. For example, if large training events were planned for your project, consider creating videos instead. Work with the education team to evaluate options for tracking completion via a learning management system to ensure that your stakeholders have the information required to make them successful. Continue to reevaluate the project approach as more definitive information is known regarding timeline and impacts to the project as a result of COVID-19.

This is a very uncertain time for healthcare facility projects, as the landscape of the virus is rapidly changing and healthcare organizations are facing unprecedented circumstances. There is no doubt that many project managers will have to take a step back from original plans to assess how best to move forward in order to minimize impacts to project schedule and cost. By focusing on the immediate needs of the project and adjusting the overall approach, project managers can keep their projects on track to success.