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Updated: Oct 20, 2020

Interrupting and demobilizing a Construction Project (CP) is always problematic, as it may never be done in an orderly manner with the completion of one of the phases. CP’s are one-of-a-kind projects designed with specific purposes and site interventions. The problems caused by interruption include lost productivity in task sequences, unintentional material damage at the site, owner costs for demobilizing the main contractor and subcontractors, worker morale, loss of key project personnel, not adequate documentation wrap-up, an increased completion costs, among some.

2020 is approaching to its end and the engineering and construction (E&C) industry either have its projects on hold or even have been canceled. COVID-19 has demanded a significant challenge year for construction project managers and decision makers. It seems this plague will go through 2021 so it is better to get used to.


In the sixties, the US space program started with a core mission stated in 1961 by the US president John F Kennedy: “send a man to the moon and return him safely”. This program demanded thousands of hours of organization, planning, tests, engineering, new materials, building one-of-a-kind components, facilities construction, etc. Even though being funded by American tax payers, the budget needed to be approved by the US Congress and it was not limitless.

It is well remembered when Apollo 8 astronauts broadcasted never-before views of the Earth and moon on December 24, 1968 being the second crewed mission and the first one to bring humans to the moon. The astronauts also broadcasted a message from Genesis book from the Holy Bible to the Earth.

How to forget the Apollo 11 project? It completed the mission: landed two men on the moon and returned them safely.

But, could you imagine have one mission to the moon interrupted when you are half the way to there? By the way, there was no rescue possibility. This happened right before the famous message “Houston we’ve had a problem” transmitted by the astronaut Jim Lovel from Apollo 13. The project was interrupted and everything was about to change. An explosion of an oxygen tank ruptured a line causing it to lose oxygen rapidly. All oxygen stores were lost within about 3 hours, along with loss of water, electrical power, and use of the propulsion system”. The current project had to be abruptly canceled. Soon after the Houston team and the astronauts had tried some alternatives the decision maker, Chief Flight Director, Eugene Kranz had to state a new mission: “how to get our people home?” The Apollo 13 project demanded a huge re-planning.

Kranz directed the re-planning of Apollo 13 team from the Mission Control room in Houston, Texas. It was a huge effort task much greater than complete the original mission. The amazing ethical and competent work of NASA project management team and subcontractors turned the Apollo 13 from a “failed mission” into a “successful failure”.


Like Apollo 13, many under 2020 construction projects were abruptly stopped, postponed or even canceled as a result of the impacts of COVID-19 on the companies. Uncertainty is still on, but how the recovery is going to happen we have one certainty: the construction projects will need to be re-planned.

The “Apollo 13 successful failure” does not seem to be so distant and some analogies may be found in the 2020 construction projects stopped:

  • project continuity has failed;

  • the project must be demobilized so as not to compromise the main mission;

  • some on-site materials will be damaged by the stopping;

  • machineries on construction site must be turned off, but maintained;

  • the current project plan will not work anymore;

Once the restrictions of the virus plague begin to be lifted many decision makers and project managers will face to reassess their 2020's construction projects status to start over. As in Apollo 13, a series of new parameters need to be taken into account to set a new course for a safe landing:

  • a re-plan must be carefully prepared;

  • some materials on-site may be damaged;

  • discharged key technical personnel may be not available anymore;

  • shortage of materials, even basic ones;

  • shortage of parts for construction equipment;

  • subcontractors demobilized must be called back;

  • as Apollo 13 had few oxygen available, many projects will face shortage of fundings;

  • on site machineries will need to be re-started carefully;

  • course remobilization will be slowly;


As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded many construction projects have faced numerous survival challenges. Now, with the so called “new normal” has been visualized ahead the future of this projects must be set out through a new plan as in Apollo 13.

The competency and resilience of the construction team is the key factor to make the project endure and re-enter to a new course through a new and competent plan in order to guarantee a safe landing.

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