Project Management in the Covid-19 Era

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Do you remember good times, when the present and future were much clearer? Project management was well defined and divided into stages:

Grpahic Project Management and Quality Assurance

Figure 1 – Project Management phases

Based on the above we could plan our time – working at the office, meetings on remote travels, meetings in client’s office, site assignments, etc. Everything focused on finding the right balance between daily tasks such as the execution of active projects and business development activities. Then, in first quarter 2020 the “new world” came with all consequences which affected our decisions:

  • projects had been postponed
  • many clients decided to keep final decision regarding pending projects or new projects “on hold”
  • no travel
  • no work in office
  • no direct meetings with colleagues and clients
  • lockdowns.

What can be expected in the coming months or years in terms of conditions for new projects? Honestly, nobody is totally sure. Now, after so many months, we can say that for one year we have been living in the Covid-19 era. Vaccinations are available, but in the same time new variants of the virus have been discovered. Countries present their reservations regarding fully opening the economy. We do not know which challenges we will be facing in the post-Covid-19 era.

power plant in Karachi/PakistanPeople need power, light and air conditioning to manage their daily life. That`s why we are committed to energy projects like the new power plant in Karachi/Pakistan.

What we are sure about and what we know: projects must be implemented. Slowdown of economy and lockdowns do not change major demands: countries and societies are expecting the improvement to their standards of life. Numerous countries in Asia and Africa, which are growing economies, still lack a sustainable and reliable power supply. People need power, light and air conditioning to maintain daily duties even in times of constrain due to the pandemic.

In my opinion, this difficult situation creates a lot of challenges, but also many more opportunities for consultants and companies like Tractebel. Now, our clients need much closer cooperation because the typical flow of projects has changed.

At a time when uncertainty and doubt have a much greater influence on customers’ decisions, we want to give them the greatest possible security, confidence and control over their projects. We achieve this through excellent support and more intense collaboration.

Figure 2 – Project major drivers and current question marks

Project on the Edge

One example of these challenges is the execution of Owners’ Engineering (OE) services by Tractebel for our client from Karachi. We started “in a good period”, but continuation is in a much more challenging environment. Our client K-Electric (KE) is a utility generation corporation and public limited company located in Karachi, Pakistan. KE had been working for years on a new investment – a new power plant in Karachi. This is an extremely important investment for the reliable power supply of 30 million citizens in this area, which is the business and financial hub in Pakistan.

In 2019 KE has initiated the 900 MW project for an RLNG-based power plant at Bin Qasim site, along with associated grid expansion projects. The project, known as BQPS III, also includes an upgrade of the associated transmission infrastructure. The first phase was expected to be commissioned as combined cycle by mid-2021. Engineering Procurement Construction (EPC) contractor is Harbin Electric International Co., Ltd. (HEI) – member of HE Group. It is China’s leading large-scale enterprise in power project contracting and export of power equipment. On 9 December 2019, the consortium of Tractebel Engineering GmbH, National Engineering Services Pakistan (Pvt.) Ltd. (NESPAK) and Renewable Resources (Pvt.) Ltd (RE2) was designated by KE as Owner’s Engineer for the BQPS III project. Tractebel is the leader of this consortium. Expected construction period: 2019-2021. Expected warranty period 2021-2023. After signing the contract in 2019 we had a clear plan:

  • Meetings in Karachi – during the full project period
  • Meetings in China (design review process) – first 6 months in 2020
  • Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) meetings – all of 2020
  • Site supervision (control of construction and equipment delivery) – all of 2020 and 2021.

Project in Covid-19 Times

We started in December 2019. Suddenly, in Q1 2020 everything had changed. Initial mobilization plans were rearranged. Direct meetings (design review) were converted into very long video discussions between many people dispersed in six places: Bad Vilbel, Karachi, Changchun, Harbin, Lahore, Islamabad. Factory Acceptance Tests were executed partially in Germany with our assistance, but other FATs in China and USA were rearranged to satisfy the client and OE experts. We could not participate personally in those events, so we had opportunities to partially control the process remotely.

At the same time each phase of the project required much more discussion than previously planned between consultant and the client. Therefore, the project management became a daily problem-solving routine. The client had a lot of reservations and concerns regarding mobilization of staff, availability of OE experts, control of quality and design process. 5-day working week was converted into a “flexible video conference week”. We all need to be flexible during this challenging time.

project of K-ElectricSince December 2019 we accompany the new project of K-Electric.

Times are tough – but we like real Challenges

Tractebel and our partners from Pakistan are still supporting the client from Karachi, but we rearranged our plans and working mode. Planning travel is no longer fixed and predictable as before. In addition to internal Tractebel safety and security procedures, we also consider unstable flight connections (e.g. cancellations, changes of schedule), additional time for necessary Covid-19 tests and potential quarantine (if necessary). We also consider time differences for our meetings between Germany, Pakistan and China. Visa issuing process is also extended due to internal different procedures in relevant authorities. All this extra work takes time.

What has become more important now is the risk analysis at each stage of decision making. Today’s plans can be invalidated next week after implementation of new “Covid-19 rules” on-site or in countries where most of the workshops are allocated (e.g. China). This leads to the most important point – the client needs contact and “availability of the advisor 24 hrs/day”, any problem should be solved “on short notice”. It is very difficult to manage this approach and situation from a professional and private point of view, but the new circumstances have created these conditions.

After adjustment of communication routines between the OE and the client, the value of OE advisory is well recognized and when it’s efficient – it is much more appreciated. The client can feel better supported and its project protected during very sensitive and unpredictable times. Finally, this is the major outcome from this very challenging period. This is the basis for building new relations and valuable positions of experts and our company where we start discussion about new projects in 2021. It is also reflected as a positive assessment of our engagement in those difficult times, that Requests for Proposals continue coming to Tractebel.

Piotr Sputo Tractebel Engineering GmbHDespite Covid-19, the BQPS III project is progressing well.

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