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Three Keys to Project Work During the Worldwide Coronavirus Outbreak

The worldwide coronavirus outbreak is not the first world war, nor the great depression nor the second world war. For those with an awareness of history, we know that those events were horrific and challenging times that we got through and fortunately came out stronger on the other side. The worldwide coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and the resulting economic, financial, and social challenges is something we must understand, accept, and actively respond to in order to get through successfully once again.

In this post we are coming from the perspective of Project Health and Safety, an element in our P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management [Reference 1], a free download, that says:

The project team should:

  • Identify and comply with any relevant health and safety laws and regulations.
  • Identify and evaluate options for controlling hazards.
  • Develop plans to protect workers during emergencies and non-routine activities.
  • Review new technologies for their potential to be more protective, more reliable, or less costly.
  • Minimize the impact of the product on the health and safety of all involved.

Enhanced project health and safety helps to achieve the following sustainable project outcomes:

  • A safe, secure, and healthy workplace for the project team, which in turn results in a more engaged and committed staff.
  • Minimal lost time and costs from workplace illness and injuries.
  • Avoidance of fines and penalties from breaches of health and safety laws and regulations.

In sustainability, there are many aspects, but one that is actionable is that sustainability and risk mitigation go hand in hand. i.e. brand protection and product life-cycle maximization. The following three approaches regarding projects and implementing new practices during this outbreak will help empower your chances of success by incorporating basic sustainable project recommendations.

But please… remember the basics outlined below fro the World Health Organization [Reference 2]… be a good person… and be sustainable and socially responsible:




1. First: Accept the reality of the current situation and follow the basic recommendations

Though it shouldn’t have to be said, also listen to the recognized and respected professionals (Doctors and Scientists from globally recognized and internationally respected institutions – i.e. the World Health Organization WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC), obtain and focus on the real numbers and trending, and focus on the facts. Also recognize that this is an evolving situation requiring flexibility and (dare I say it) agility.

What is being asked worldwide is for a major transformational acceptance and change in our behaviours with short term pain for long term gain. Following the Prosci A-D-K-A-R management of change approach [Reference 3] is a sensible framework to start to frame the response:

1.1 Awareness of the need for change

What is COVID-19?

The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” and the infectious disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated “COVID-19”).

It results in an outbreak of a respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus [Reference 4].

This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 [Reference 5].

How confident are we on what we really know?

A key point to remember is that doctors and researchers are scrambling to better understand the basics of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the coronavirus), including how it is transmitted, how it affects the body, and when a vaccine might be available [Reference 6].

What is a Pandemic?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic.

An outbreak is a sudden rise in cases of a disease in a particular place.

An epidemic is a large outbreak.

A pandemic means a global epidemic.

Pandemic is a scary word but it has nothing to do with how serious the illness is. It just means a disease is spreading widely [Reference 7]

As of March 15 from the CDC (

As of March 16 from an informative website

How does it spread?

COVID-19 is a new disease and we are still learning how it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, and to what extent it may spread in the United States [Reference 8].

People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick [Reference 5].

Can CoVID-19 be caught from a person who has no symptoms?

The main way the disease spreads is through respiratory droplets expelled by someone who is coughing. The risk of catching COVID-19 from someone with no symptoms at all is very low. However, many people with COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms. This is particularly true at the early stages of the disease. It is therefore possible to catch COVID-19 from someone who has, for example, just a mild cough and does not feel ill. WHO is assessing ongoing research on the period of transmission of COVID-19 and will continue to share updated findings [Reference 5].

How long is the incubation period for COVID-19?

The “incubation period” means the time between catching the virus and beginning to have symptoms of the disease. Most estimates of the incubation period for COVID-19 range from 1-14 days, most commonly around five days. These estimates will be updated as more data become available [Reference 5].

How long does the virus survive on surfaces?

It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).

If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with simple disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others. Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose [Reference 5].

How quickly does it spread?

The reality is that for those of us in the Americas, we are significantly behind on testing facilities and data [Reference 9]. We do not know what we do not know. That is why governments are recommending aggressive social distancing and isolation.

To see the current growth rate, please refer to the CDC website: [Reference 10]

As of March 15 from the CDC (

Globally 143 countries/territories/ areas (09 new)

153 517 confirmed (10,982 new)

5,735 deaths (343 new)

 The trending is noticeable. COVID-19 spreads quickly as shown below:

The World Economic Forum provided the following graphic to show the growth [Reference 11] from January 21 to March 10 2020:


Research is still in its early stages, but some estimates suggest that each person with the new coronavirus could infect between two and four people without effective containment measures. That is enough to sustain and accelerate an outbreak, if nothing is done to reduce it.


1.2 Desire to participate and support the change

Here is the simple reality that we should all respect [Reference 4]:

    • The complete clinical picture with regard to COVID-19 is not fully known.
    • Reported illnesses have ranged from very mild (including some with no reported symptoms) to severe, including illness resulting in death.
    • While information so far suggests that most COVID-19 illness is mild, a report out of China suggests serious illness occurs in 16% of cases.
    • Older people and people of all ages with severe chronic medical conditions — like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, for example — seem to be at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness

For context, this is the percentage of the elderly population at risk per region [Reference 12]:

As of the time of this writing, we could not find a reference for the demographics of those with chronic health conditions world-wide.

Also, the worldwide medical support systems are already at capacity. This disease has been aggressively spreading:

Coronavirus… appears to transmit effectively in humans – current estimates show that without strong containment measures the average person who catches Covid-19 will pass it on to two others. The virus also appears to have a higher mortality rate than common illnesses such as seasonal flu. The combination of coronavirus’s ability to spread and cause serious illness has prompted many countries, to introduce or plan extensive public health measures aimed at containing and limiting the impact of the epidemic [Reference 13].

For the elderly and chronically sick, and to take the pressure off our medical infrastructure, all of us have the accountability to actively respond to minimize infection and spreading of the disease [Reference 14].



1.3 Knowledge on how to change

You can reduce your chances of being infected or spreading COVID-19 by taking some simple precautions [Reference 2]:

    • Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.
      Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.
    • Maintain at least 2 meters (6 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
      Why? When someone coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease.
    • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
      Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.
    • Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.
      Why? Droplets spread virus. By following good respiratory hygiene you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19.
    • Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.
      Why? National and local authorities will have the most up to date information on the situation in your area. Calling in advance will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health facility. This will also protect you and help prevent spread of viruses and other infections.
    • Keep up to date on the latest COVID-19 hotspots (cities or local areas where COVID-19 is spreading widely). If possible, avoid traveling to places  – especially if you are an older person or have diabetes, heart or lung disease.
      Why? You have a higher chance of catching COVID-19 in one of these areas.

Maintain social distancing

This is a big deal and the best thing we can all do.

We strongly recommend that you reference the following Washington Post article to visually see the options and recommendations. As they clearly and factually point out, these recommendations to prevent the exponential growth of the disease are not based on prophecy… this is basic mathematics [Reference 18].

1.4 Ability to implement required skills and behaviors

Everywhere there are reminders of what to do. A key strategy for adopting these new patters is to remember who we are doing this for: our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, the elderly and chronically sick [Reference 15]. Also once again to take the pressure off our medical infrastructure, all of us have the accountability to actively respond to minimize infection and spreading of the disease.


1.5 Reinforcement to sustain the change

Keep an eye on reliable sources of information for updates and new recommendations. Also, keep an on on the COVID-19 “hotspots” and avoid those areas and those who visited those areas.


2. Second: Use basic risk management techniques such as GPM’s P5 and do not panic.

For your projects continue to use the GPM P5 analysis tool and the GPM P5 Impact Analysis toolkit. Remember to consider all of these areas. By taking the time, unnecessary crises and threats like those created at US airports during the new pre-screening can be avoided [Reference 16]. Please refer to our blog post “How to Use GPM’s P5.”

Also, it goes without saying that despite the stress, constant noise around the outbreak crises, we can still control our human nature. Remember that there is actually a psychological rationale for this unfortunate crises hording behaviour which we can control [Reference 17]. Obviously not like this though…


3. Third: Take an asset life cycle, benefits management and portfolio perspective

As mentioned, for most, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and most recover in a couple of weeks. For older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia, and possibly death. We should consider asset life cycle, benefits management and portfolio management guidance in our assessments.

Asset Management and Benefits Management Considerations

The challenge is that the current mortality rate is flawed due to bad data, and the concept of lag effect [Reference 19] [Reference 20]. What this means is that we have a similar problem associated with benefits management and asset management… it depends when you conduct the assessment. Do we test people after 5 days, 10 days, 15 days… what if those that had Coronavirus died later due to the illness.  As with benefits management, we don’t know when we will realize the threats / costs / deaths and benefits / returning to being healthy.

To extend that:

    • When does the population accept the requirements for social distancing practices and other outbreaks guidelines (benefit and opportunity)?
    • When is the medical infrastructure able to respond appropriately to societies basic health needs (benefit and opportunity)?
    • When does the population achieve a sufficient “herd” resistance to help slow down the infection rate (benefit and opportunity?
    • When does society have the testing infrastructure and tracking mechanism for infected citizens and vaccines to respond to this disease (benefit and opportunity)?
    • Do governments not react quickly enough to test and track the disease and advise the populace of necessary information to survive and cope (dis-benefit and threat)?
    • Do governments, social media and talking heads continue to focus on ideology as opposed to proven scientific data and mis-inform the populace resulting in unnecessary delays, confusion, misunderstandings and dangerous behaviours (dis-benefit and threat)?
    • Does the disease spread so quickly and infect so many that the medical infrastructure becomes overwhelmed (as in Italy) and their is unnecessary deaths (dis-benefit and threat)?
    • Does the disease mutate and cause another outbreak to deal with (dis-benefit and threat)?



Portfolio Management

From a portfolio management perspective, we need to look at the population as a whole and what actions make the most sense to invest in (testing, social distancing, social and financial support, monitoring movement).

As previously mentioned [Reference 18], the options presented and recommendations based on scientific and mathematical scenario planning are outlined below:


If we consider portfolio management we can assemble a portfolio of project / work package responses for our assets such that the expected return is maximized for a given level of risk. The key insight is that an asset’s risk and return should not be assessed by itself, but by how it contributes to a portfolio’s overall risk and return. So what does this mean:

    • For our projects we should avoid social interaction through moderate and extensive distancing
      • Work at home
      • Leverage online meetings and collaboration
    • Reach out and stay in touch with our peers and share ideas, updates and factual data and recommendations
    • As much as possible continue to engage staff and suppliers and pay them
      • You do not want your staff and suppliers going bankrupt or suffering through this period, or getting a negative reputation with your network about how you responded

Evaluate the level of risk and the benefits return of your actions (taking a longer term asset life cycle and reputation / brand perspective).



Let’s ensure our projects, our teams, and our stakeholders are safe and healthy!


GPM Global is dedicated to ensuring that our posts are transparent and fact based from sources that can be trusted. Providing these references can also take up a lot of space and distract from the blog post. We have provided the detailed sources for our post here.

Peter Milsom

Peter Milsom is an entrepreneurial advocate for sensible, sustainable change delivery practice. Peter has come to realize that sustainability is the perfect catalyst for Project / Programme / Portfolio / Risk / Value / Business Case and Benefits Management improvement. As an entrepreneurial methodologist Peter's unique value proposition is the vast array of tools and techniques that he brings to every engagement using the most cost effective and efficient methods based on the situation and tailored to meet your needs. This is based on his unique combination of experience and extensive training / certifications in change delivery, value / risk / benefits management business case, and business architecture.

One thought to “Three Keys to Project Work During the Worldwide Coronavirus Outbreak”

  1. Congratulations Peter, many thanks for this outstanding, precise, detailed enough to apply in practice and very mobilizing for staff!

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