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Risk Awareness Brings Unexpected Gains

Andrew Cullis is a risk analyst at risk management consultancy, Equib. In this feature for Construction Online here he discusses how a risk-centric approach to project management and improvements to operational efficiency can help the industry to recover.

At a time of heightened risk awareness, when much work is being done to adapt ways of working onsite, some project and programme managers are seeing an unexpected improvement in productivity. Instead of falling behind, delivery targets are being met and schedules have managed to stay on time and on budget.

Among the reasons for this is a more robust approach to risk management, which is improving operational efficiency, according to a recent Arcadis report. So, can the construction industry emerge from the pandemic as a productivity leader? 

The coronavirus pandemic has presented the construction industry with unprecedented challenges to project delivery, forcing teams to rapidly change the way they operate. In particular, the need to follow the Government’s safety guidelines has forced project managers to place an even greater focus on forward planning and organisation.

For example, the need to reduce the number of contractors onsite at any one time has required managers to pay close attention to shift patterns and place greater emphasis on logistics, in order to ensure workers get to sites safely. With social distancing measures making it necessary to put some activities on hold, Site Operating Plans have also had to be adapted to ensure that work is sequenced in the most logical order. At the same time, improved communication between different areas of a project has been vital to ensure that each member of the team clearly understands their responsibilities and timescales for delivery.

The adoption of a risk-centric approach during the pandemic has resulted in some managers seeing an uptick in project outcomes. One of the key reasons why large-scale projects often tend to overshoot their time and cost estimates is a tendency for delivery partners to be overly optimistic and fail to give risk the priority it deserves. COVID-19 has been a powerful reminder that risk management should not simply be a box-ticking exercise; it is vital for improving productivity levels and ensuring that delivery targets are met.

Increased technology adoption over the past few months has played a significant role in improving risk visibility. For example, hosting risk registers on cloud-based platforms, such as Sharepoint, has enabled a range of risk mitigation strategies to be discussed and implemented. At the same time, remote working channels, such as Microsoft Teams, have improved communication between different parts of project teams.

With project managers likely to be facing coronavirus uncertainty for the foreseeable future, they should be on the lookout for ‘red flags’, indicating an under-investment in risk management. These could include an overemphasis on software tools or insufficient focus on risk during monthly progress meetings. Other warning signs include the lack of specialist risk assessment and analysis, or a lack of budget allocated to these activities.

Quantitative Schedule Risk Analysis (QSRA) is one risk-modelling technique that could help the construction sector to recover from the impact of the pandemic by providing a better understanding of a project’s durations and activity sequencing. It involves assessing how a range of risks and uncertainties could affect the project’s key milestones, activities and completion date. By mapping a range of identified risks onto the project schedule, managers can identify those that could have the greatest impact on timescales. They can then make informed decisions about where to prioritise risk management budgets. Careful cost-benefit analysis is also vital to help build a robust business case for risk mitigation activities, and get stakeholders on board.

Improved business continuity planning can also help to build resilience and increase productivity levels as the UK emerges from the pandemic. As well as regularly conducting business impact assessments, it is essential to identify where single points of failure, such as individuals with expertise in specialist areas, lie. Solutions can then be put in place to avoid potential disruption. For example, implementing a single project-wide communications platform and creating comprehensive handover plans for key individuals can help to keep processes running smoothly in the event of a crisis, and ensure project targets are not missed. Ensuring that teams receive effective training around remote working technologies, for example, in how to run a workshop remotely, can help to improve agility in the face of future uncertainty.

Despite the many challenges that the pandemic poses to project delivery, innovative working methods and greater risk focus are enabling many project managers to increase productivity at a critical time. By making use of the latest technologies, adopting risk modelling techniques and prioritising business continuity planning, the construction industry can recover from the coronavirus crisis more resilient and less prone to cost and time delays.

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