Planning for Success in 2022: Lessons from the VA

In August 2005, New Orleans and many other Gulf cities were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Wind speeds topped 170 mph, and floodwaters as high as 20 feet covered 80% of the city. With property damage exceeding $108 billion, Katrina is considered the costliest natural disaster ever to hit the United States.

One of the worst-hit facilities was the New Orleans VA Hospital. When its basement flooded and generators failed, over 800 patients, staff, and family members sheltering in the hospital were left stranded. In a heroic effort led by the Arkansas National Guard, a convoy worked around the clock for two days to evacuate the hospital, including nine ventilator-dependent patients. While all patients and staff were safely transported to other hospitals, the damage to the building was catastrophic. It was quickly determined that the entire facility would need to be rebuilt.

In the wake of such a terrible disaster, the rebuilding of the VA Hospital is considered one of the great successes in New Orleans’ recovery effort. The 10 year, billion-dollar project was delivered on time and 14% under budget, and it stands today as a model of project management and teamwork. However big or small the projects you need to complete this year, here are some principles from the New Orleans VA that can be applied to any business.

Involve Your People

In a city where many had grown weary of unsuccessful rebuilding efforts, leaders of the hospital project knew they needed everyone’s buy-in to succeed. Through town hall meetings and focus groups, the builders gathered community feedback which influenced many practical design changes. Thanks to input from veterans, some of whom require mobility assistance, mirrors were installed throughout the hospital at wheelchair-accessible levels. Due to staff input, patient exam rooms were designed with identical layouts throughout the facility, enabling medical and custodial staff to be more efficient as they moved from room to room.

All projects need strong leaders to see them through, but remember to gather knowledge from across your organization to guide your project. Drivers, mechanics, and office admin will all have different insights that can inform your project, making the outcome optimal for everyone involved. Gathering this input will have the added benefit of boosting employee morale, and helping everyone feel involved and valued in the company.

Learn from the Past, Plan for the Future

Most projects are initiated to address some current need or problem. In the case of New Orleans, the immediate need was a medical facility to provide care to veterans and their families. But builders wanted to make sure this facility would stand for many years to come. The result of their forward-thinking is considered to be one of the most storm-resistant medical facilities in the world. All mission-critical medical equipment, including heating and cooling systems, was installed above floodwater heights. The emergency room was even built on the second floor and includes a boat ramp in case of flooding. On-site storage contains enough fuel and emergency supplies to keep the hospital operational for five days without outside support.

When carrying out a project, the ability to foresee challenges down the road is the difference between short-term wins and significant, sustained success for your company. The immediate benefits of a completed project may be obvious, but what do things look like one, three, or even five years down the road? What issues could arise that might disrupt your success? If these past two years have taught us anything in business, it’s to consider how our work might be affected by economic challenges, supply chain issues, and labor shortages. Think about the risks to your project and consider what can be done to mitigate them.

Despite the many challenges we face in business, the opportunities to learn from those challenges and plan better for the future are invaluable.

Need some help with your business planning or project management? We at NiteHawk Sweepers would love to help! Give us a call at 1-800-448-9364.