Project Surprises

Underground surprises can wreck the project schedule

Unexpected archaeological findings can wreak havoc on a project’s budget and schedule. In these instances, work has to stop while the discoveries are investigated, documented and excavated. Careful planning and communication, however, can prevent discoveries from throwing a project completely off track.

Ancient artefacts are haunting project managers trying to deliver construction projects. Work on a supermarket expansion project in Paris, France this year had to be halted while a team spent two months excavating more than 300 medieval-era skeletons. In Nicaragua, developers discovered 15 000 pre-Columbian artefacts along the planned route of the Nicaragua Canal before the project even began. Now further discoveries underground could threaten the US$50 billion project’s 2019 completion date.

Pre-Columbian artefacts recovered along the canal route [Credit: Reuters/Oswaldo Riva]

To avoid challenges at a later stage, the managers of the £14,8 billion Crossrail railway-line programme in London, England held archaeological investigations at each site before construction. “That approach has paid off very well,” says Jay Carver, lead archaeologist, Crossrail, London, England. “We’ve had no serious delays, although we’ve had some really, really excellent archaeological finds.”

Pre-construction archaeological assessments require extra time and money on the front end, but in Crossrail’s case, they allowed the project team to avoid unexpected delays and expenses later. Such planning was important, although cross-team management was equally crucial. “Each site team and each project manager literally sat around a table figuring out what the approach was going to be at each site, what the critical archaeology activities were going to be and where we should place archaeology in the programme,” to minimise impacts on budget and schedule, says Mr Carver.

Of course, surprises still emerged, despite all the planning. That’s why the plan also included backup mitigation measures, for instance, programme acceleration. “On several sites, we used shift work and night-time lighting to enable the archaeology work to accelerate,” he says.

These mitigation measures, which helped to minimise construction delays, were a real-time collaboration between archaeologists and project managers. “When the project manager knows the archaeology has to happen on his or her watch, when he or she takes a personal interest in it and makes sure team members are not banging their heads together to resolve possible programme conflicts, it makes a huge difference,” Mr Carver says. “We couldn’t have achieved anything as an archaeology team without dedicated support from the project managers.”

The widening of the Panama Canal in Panama is another project to have been impacted by archaeological discoveries. Since construction began in 2007, archaeologists working on the US$5,3 billion project have recovered more than 2 000 artefacts from all periods of human habitation. Panamanian law protects these irreplaceable cultural artefacts, says Zuleika Mojica, environmental specialist for the Panama Canal Expansion Program, Panama City, Panama.

The secret ingredient to the project team’s continued progress in light of this development was procedures established prior to earthmoving. “At the start of the project, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) established a procedure for the management, protection, coordination and rescue of cultural and paleontological resources,” Ms Mojica says. “When a finding is reported in project areas, the contractor, subcontractor or staff member must report the finding to the ACP and must deliver any archaeological, historical or paleontological remains.”

Although work must stop immediately at the site of the finding, it can continue elsewhere. Protocols like this have ensured any interruptions are met with a swift and expert response.

Source: September 2015 issue of PM Network®

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