COVID-19 Sustainable Lessons 06: The Cost of Delay

“The early bird may get the worm, but its the second mouse that gets the cheese.” No idea who said this.

“Sometimes the early bird gets the worm, but sometimes the early bird gets frozen to death.” Myron Scholes

Many of us instinctively procrastinate and delay. There are times though, where the cost of delays on organizational objectives through projects can have serious and often unnecessary negative impacts on the success of the the anticipated delivery, timing and value of benefits. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted this emphatically.

It is important to emphasize that there were a lot of strengths and weaknesses in many nations and on many initiatives. These posts are intended to provide different perspectives from the COVID-19 outbreak to highlight certain areas where project teams can take some lessons learned and help our organizations better understand.

Using the recent COVID-19 project examples, what could be the costs of delay?

COVID-19 Example Responses

We can use the costs of delay from the creation of the COVID-19 virus testing infrastructure projects as an example. It was recognized by experts that COVID-19 spread quicker than other viruses (in January), had a higher death toll (in January), and that the virus could spread even when the afflicted were asymptomatic (in February). This information was made available to all nations in January / February 2020 through the World Health Organization (WHO), national agencies and research / academic institutions… not to mention the media.

Some countries early on invested significant capital and resources to deal with this threat on projects such as:

  • devising COVID-19 tests for their citizens;
  • educating their population on the pandemic and the importance of testing and self isolation if at risk of illness;
  • establishing an accessible infrastructure to conduct extensive testing for their citizens;
  • the ability to handle this extensive testing and return / report on test results in a timely manner;
  • the facilities and support infrastructure to quarantine afflicted citizens and trace their recent associations and test and quarantine those that could have been exposed;
  • the ability to collect and analyze the data around exposure, growth, and recovery to make informed decisions and empower their citizens;

These countries obtained the necessary information to make informed data driven decisions about how they chose to move forward. Some of these countries have been able to not shut down many of their economies as they know where the outbreaks are, and are able to deal with the additional medical costs and threats from COVID-19. They were also able to limit the exponential strain on their medical and support infrastructures that other nations suffered from, and were able to save lives. These nations understood that paying early and aggressively with investments in key projects would be cheaper than paying later and chose to respond decisively.

COVID-19 Early and Successful National Response

Lets show a country in the Western Pacific Region that early on recognized the threat, listened to their experts, and spent significant capital and resources on projects like those previously listed. Note the initial high numbers obtained due to extensive testing and tracing exposure and then the flattening of the curve as they quarantined and limited the spread of the virus. The chart below shows from January 18 with the first test results up until April 12th 2020. The population is around 50 million approximately.

It is important to emphasize that things change quickly in scenarios like this. This country, so far, successfully flattened the curve and their economies are not completely shut down. For this post we are focusing on only one component of the response… a rapid response. There were numerous other reasons for the preliminary successes.


COVID-19 Delayed and Expensive Responses

For those countries that delayed any or all of these projects, they did not have the necessary information or infrastructure until too late. Also, they are suffering from the need to compete globally for scarce medical resources and an overwhelmed medical infrastructure. The image below represents three European nation’s situation in a very simplistic way showing the dramatic impact of the cost of delay and the rapid loss of control. Please note also that the left hand range shifts dramatically between the previous example (0 – 900 per day versus 0 – 12,000 per day). It also starts on week later later after the first tests on January 25 until April 12 2020. The populations of the countries are 47M, 60M, and 67M approximately.

If we are to show one country from the first graph (50M) and one country from the second graph (47M) together, you can see the visual difference of the impact on both nations.


If we were to include the United States in this previous analysis, the following would be the result:


The key to all of these graphs is the trending over time and the “flattening of the curve” that was / was not done based on the timing of the project.


From a sustainability perspective, it is important to identify the key organizational priorities. Either ideologically, ethically or practically. The countries that decided their first priority was to protect their citizens saved countless lives and billions (if not trillions) of dollars and kept their economies intact. Those countries that delayed ended up costing countless lives and seriously damaging their economies to the tune of billions (if not trillions) of dollars. To help with this, GPM recommends conducting P5 analyses to ensure that your organization gets the full picture of the initiative and understand the full asset-life-cycle impacts.

We discuss this in further detail in the post: People or Economy – What is more important ?

From a sustainable project perspective, we need to help our organizations understand the importance of not delaying.

If you would like a copy of the spreadsheet used to make these analyses, please contact

This spreadsheet contains data from the following countries from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Daily Coronavirus disease (COVID-2019) situation reports:

  • Western Pacific Region: China, Republic of Korea, Singapore
  • South-East Asia Region: Thailand
  • Eastern Mediterranean Region: United Arab Emirates (UAE)
  • European Region: Russia, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, United Kingdom (UK)
  • Region of the Americas: Canada, USA

We have included daily updates from January 1, 2020 to April 12, 2020 for Confirmed Cases and Deaths.


GPM Global joins the global community in thanking the hospital and emergency staff, firefighters, police, grocery store workers, bus drivers and countless others whose exceptional sacrifices and acts of courage remind us of the best we can be. Also, to remind the global community that we can all be better in improving our collective futures. Stay home, stay safe, practice social distancing.

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.

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