E1: COVID-19 and Risk Management

COVID-19 and Risk Management

A conversation with Carl Pritchard, Principal and Founder at Pritchard Management and Associates.

Carl Pritchard
Principal and Founder, Pritchard Management and Associates.

Carl Pritchard, is a leading authority on risk and communications management and the U.S. Correspondent for the U.K. project management journal, Project Manager Today. He has published several articles on various project and risk management topics including complexities of network diagramming. A member and instructor at the Project Management Institute, Carl has worked with leading international training organizations and trained hundreds of private clients all over the world .

Contact Info

Pritchard Management Associates





My name is Matt Falvey and I’m your host for today’s episode. Today, we will be talking about the impact of the current pandemic crises on risk management in the architecture, engineering and construction industry. Our guest today is Carl Pritchard, principal and founder of Pritchard Management and Associates. He is a leading authority on risk and communications management and the U.S. Correspondent for the U.K. project management journal, Project Manager Today. He has published several articles on various project and risk management topics including complexities of network diagramming. A member and instructor at the Project Management Institute, Carl has worked with leading international training organizations and trained hundreds of private clients all over the world.

So, without further ado, welcome Carl! So, let’s start off with telling the audience a little bit about your background and what led you to Project Management – in particular, Risk Management?

Carl Pritchard:

Well, I’ve been a project manager now for about 30 years and what led me here was just serendipity. It was all just luck of the draw. What led me to risk management was, honestly, our risk guy quit the company I was working for at the time. And my boss told me, “Congratulations! You’re the new risk guy!”. And that was 25 years ago. It’s kind of become the place on which I hang my hat and it has been intriguing over the years. I’ve always looked at it and said, ‘I’m not sure if I want to be the ‘Risk’ guy, and yet every time I think about just branching out and going someplace else, some major risk event transpires! And no sooner did I start thinking that way again recently, and now we’ve got COVID-19. Welcome to the realities of our current world!


Exactly! Yeah, no doubt, the new normal has been created! That’s a great segue into my first real question here. Given the current covid-19 pandemic, in what way do you see risk management changing within the construction, architecture, and engineering industry? Maybe, even in the Mid-Atlantic region where we operate? Can you share a little bit about that?

Carl Pritchard:

I think the whole notion here is that we’re in, as you used the term, ‘The New Normal’. This is something that has been, in small measure, in the construction industry for decades and that is every meeting starts with the safety meeting. Every meeting has, kind of, that emphasis on the whole safety thing. It’s just a new definition, if you will, of what safety constitutes now.

I walk around now with a plastic bag in my pocket – a plastic bag full of alcohol wipes. I just carry them with me everywhere and it’s not something that I would have normally even thought to do, unless I was watching an episode of the TV show Monk. I would not have thought to do this until just these past few weeks, and now it’s the new normal. And I think it’s protocols and practices like that that are going to become our new normal. They’re going to be the ways in which we are trying to make sure that we are minimizing the risks of COVID-19.

And, I don’t like the term social distancing. I’d rather refer to it as physical distancing because I think the more we can be physically distant, the safer we are. I don’t think, realistically, that construction trades in the industry, and in particular architecture and engineering require a lot of physical contact. But I do think we need to be conscious of how are we spreading diseases around, and how are we actually getting people to avoid or minimize that. We need to think about how we are getting people to be safe, and safe has always been a watchword in the construction industries.


Yeah, that’s interesting. You know, if you take a deep dive into that, you’ll see that there are even cultural implications. Shaking hands is such a big part of our culture, but you know, in other countries, it’s not as big of a deal. So, even some of our greetings and you know, how we how we relate with people etc., may have to change, but that is a whole other topic.

It’s kind of hard to prepare for these things, you know. In the investment field, or even in the military – or really any industry – we talk about Black Swan events or tail risk, really. But how do you hedge for something like this…you can’t really dissipate a Black Swan, can you?

Carl Pritchard:

I think I would beg to differ on just a little part of that. And that is we learned how to start planning for black swans after 9/11. That became, kind of a much more normal element of our culture, to have fallback plans and continuity of operations plans. And what’s going to be interesting is during this current episode, we are going to be seeing people implement their COOPs – their Continuity Of Operations Plans, and I think the reality is some of those coops are going to fail.

You can’t help but anticipate that because a good continuity of operations plan only works when it’s truly tested. This is that test and unfortunately some organizations don’t have a coop, which means that they are way behind the curve. We’ve also got organizations that have a continuity of operations plan but have never tested it. So, they are about to witness what failure looks like. And then we have those organizations that have built something of a fallback plan. It isn’t necessarily perfect, but they’ve got a decent fallback plan. And when all this came to pass, when this nightmare started falling in on us, they’ve been the ones going okay while we’re waiting for life to get back to some semblance of normal, here are all the activities that we can pursue. Here’s all the stuff we can chase. Here’s how we can line up the work so that when this ends, we don’t just come back; instead, we come back better.

Nassim Taleb wrote about this in his book Anti-fragility. And anti-fragility is really – he is also the guy who wrote Black Swan, by the way – but his book anti-fragility talks about not just coming back but coming back better. And right now, organizations should be scrambling to be antifragile. This is what they should be thinking about: “Okay, we broke a few things during COVID-19. How can we come back? Not just good and whole and resilient, but how can we come back better and stronger?”


Hey, that is great! That’s, by the way, a great reading recommendation. So, I guess, this kind of ties into… So, obviously this is a challenge – this pandemic – in many ways. It is tragic, and in many cases – both from mortality standpoint and those who recover. Obviously, people are, and have relatives and friends that have been affected by this crisis. But from the business implications side, you know, there are companies that are not going to make it and not going to come back. What pros or good do you see coming out of this pandemic? We are very fortunate and blessed to have the technology (laptops, vpn, etc.) to be able to work remotely, and literally all our project managers both in the architecture, engineering and design side were able to seamlessly just continue and carry on with the mission despite the stay-home order.Very fortune in that regard.

I think you are, kind of in the same situation. So why don’t you touch a little bit about that? You know, what pros do you see, what good do you see coming out of this situation? Also, what’s something bad that is going to come out of this?

Carl Pritchard:

Well, the good part is going to be that some organizations are going to use this as an opportunity. Since they can’t be in the field physically, they can’t be out there talking to each other, the ones who can actually leverage technology such as what we are using now will be the winners.

And that means it is the people who recognize not only how to share images across the screen using Zoom or Microsoft teams or whatever, but those who understand how can you get others to actually interact while streaming. It’s one thing to show somebody and say “here’s the design!”. It’s another thing to let them touch it. It’s another thing entirely to let them deal with it and move things around. When organizations have the capacity to do that, it makes them look stronger, makes them look better-positioned to meet client needs.

And this is a universe you’ve lived in, Matt – sales. People who are in the sales universe should be using this as an opportunity to stage every single sale they are going to make between now and 2022. They should be talking to people and saying ‘I know this is way down the road because right now we’re just trying to keep our heads above water’. But then finish that with the sales pitch and make the sales pitch one of “I wouldn’t expect to get ready to like jump on this tomorrow. But by the same token, can I get a commitment out of you for…”, and start picking dates out in the future because when you can look into the crystal ball and you can see sunshine, you win. The sad part is a lot of people are looking at the crystal ball – and you even wanted… you almost insisted that I go there – which is, look at the darkness that may befall us in the months and years ahead. And the reality is, I can’t believe this is going to lead to massive darkness unless people let it! If people actually go ahead and say, “You know what, we’re never going to be able to do the same stuff we used to do in the field.” It’s au contraire! That’s why God invented the Digital camera!

We should be spending our time independently, in the field doing all the voodoo we used to do on-site, and just doing it solo with cameras. And then we should get back together in an interface like this, and share “How would you like this to look? We were thinking, maybe, this could move over here or that can move up there, and we were thinking, this part of the site could actually be graded out to change it entirely.” The beauty of that is, if you’re the one who can already show them what’s in the crystal ball, you win! Even if it is a negative, you win because you’re the one who gets to say: “Here’s the problem we’re already seeing, even though we haven’t even moved a spade or dirt. But by golly, here is not only the problem but here’s how we can go ahead and fix that.”


Yeah, that’s great! There’s always a way, no matter what happens. There are always opportunities being created, always new markets, new pieces of technology. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out, given how intuitive remote technology is now. You know, you talk about Zoom or Microsoft teams, or whatever your venue is going to be – it’ll be interesting to see the extent to which other organizations really adopt this. I certainly don’t want to replace face-to-face meetings, but do you really need big buildings with big offices to be successful? I guess there’s more to follow right?

So, I guess we’ll wind down here. Is there anything you’d like to leave with you on this, or any other piece of advice, Carl, that you’d like to leave with the audience?

Carl Pritchard:

Oh, yeah! I think the reality is, first and foremost, if we want people to actually embrace us – whether you are an AE firm or a construction firm or a consultant firm like me, it doesn’t matter – we’ve got to be the people who are looking forward and seeing a brighter future. If you cannot convince yourself, let’s forget about convincing others. If you cannot convince yourself that this is going to lead to a better tomorrow, then you’re going to have a devil of a time getting people to look at you and say, “Well, they’re going to build me a better building”. They’re going to look at you and go “Wow, what happened to you?”, and they’re just going to be really depressed with the way that you’re looking at the universe.

We should be looking at it and…. let me just use as a prime example, the building you actually reside in at York, Pennsylvania. You look at that building as a prime example… and let me just say to anybody who hasn’t ever been there, after COVID-19 is over, you’ve got to go visit their building in York, Pennsylvania because it’s cool. And the reason I say that is because somebody had a vision of this old building that actually had railroad cars rolling into it and said, “You know what, we can convert this into a very modern and yet aesthetically pleasing building that actually houses offices, and looks high-tech, and at the same time antique!”. And it’s a nice blend of everything they put together because somebody somewhere didn’t look at that building and go ‘ewwww!” It’s so easy to do “ewww!”.

That is the easiest thing on earth to do! And we should be, instead, looking down the road and saying, “How can we be the people who look at this and say“I’ve got vision!””. And if you have the vision, and you’re able to share that vision clearly with others, then you can make sure that you have reflection. They (clients) are reflecting to you what you said. And here’s how we’re going to pursue that: by asking the right questions. “How would you like the world to look different, customer?”. Asking all those kinds of questions, dealing with those kinds of issues allows you to ask proactively. If you do that proactively, when you do this now in the time of covid-19, you’re actually setting yourself up for success.

When the physical distancing is over, when we’re getting back to a semblance of normalcy, when that starts to happen, you will be the one roaring out of the gate. You should not be the ones who are idling and wondering, “Well, I guess we’ll get back to normal someday.” That is such a wrong attitude. You can’t win if you don’t already know what victory looks like.


Yeah, I know! No question! And, first of all, can you be the spokesperson for our firm? I did not pay, by the way….I just want to let you know, I did not pay Carl to say that. That was wonderfully generous, Carl for you to give us a shout out. And, I’ll tell you it (the building) is really awesome! I mean, you know that at Warehaus, we are big on leadership. And what I mean by that is, we eat our own cooking. So, when we have clients come in, and we’re going to talk to them about design and collaboration etc., …not to turn this into a Warehaus marketing pitch… but we show that it is something we believe in and practice!

And to turn that back to you, Carl, I want you to give your website and anything you’d like to put out there about your firm and your value proposition. We have had Carl run a project management a workshop for us, specifically addressing risk management. And I will tell you, he’s a first-class speaker. He keeps the audience engaged. The feedback on our forms were, “Hey, this wasn’t long enough!”. And that was after an hour workshop! Many times when you get one of these workshops, and you do 20 minutes, people say “Well, that was too long! You could have cut it down to five minutes!”. Well, in Carl’s case, he is so engaging that he actually got compliments: “Hey, we need to do this again, and let’s make it longer!”

So, that being said, I want to you to share a little bit about how people can reach you, and anything else you’d like to share with us about your business.

Carl Pritchard:

Well, you did the pitch for me, so I don’t have to. But if they want to reach me, it’s just Carl at Carl Pritchard dot com. And that’s Pritchard with a t in the middle: P-r-i-t-c-h-a-r-d. Carl@CarlPritchard.com. At any time you can e-mail any question, courtesy of you being here. I’m the cheapest consultant you’ve ever found – I am only the cost of an email. Just give me a shout and I’ll do what I can to lend you a hand.


Well, you’re awesome, buddy! I can’t thank you enough for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit with us. I look forward to our next face-to-face meeting, and I certainly hope you and your wife and your family are staying healthy and well, and have continued success. You’re a visionary and a very forward-looking and forward-thinking guy. I look forward to connecting soon buddy.

Carl Pritchard:

You too.