Avoid Costly Project Management Problems

06/20/2011 |


Ever find yourself in the middle of a costly project and wish you'd started off differently? “The Integrated and Well-Planned Campus,” the Society for College and University Planning’s LinkedIn group took on one of the questions that every facility manager and building owner comes face to face with.

District Director, Maricopa Community College District:  If you've been in project development and project management for any amount of time, you can't avoid it. No matter how well you plan a project, all bets are off once the first shovel of dirt is turned.

Even well run and well planned projects become some level of organized chaos with all team members scrambling for the best solutions as you go. It's budget, it's hidden conditions, its contractors anticipating something different than what is called for, it's designers designing something different than is needed, it's lack of design or detail on some elements.

In our experience, the surest things that turn a project into a time bomb are an inadequate budget (especially from the start, when we try to do our users a favor and squeeze more into a project than a prudent budget estimate allows); inadequate time (something will go wrong on every project and now everything becomes critical path); or an out of control user group (name your own list here of what happens — can't make a decision, made a decision but always changing their mind, didn't know what they wanted to begin with, only knew what they wanted wasn't what they wanted as soon as they saw it, etc. etc.).

Principal, Michael Wasser Associates: In my experience it's important to have representative members of the user group part of the design review committee. Meetings involving these members are set up at critical points in the timeline, including meetings early in the process. It is up to the project manager to keep the process moving forward. It is up to the representatives to inform their groups of progress and decisions.

Principal/CEO, Facilities First: A comment from a private sector consulting firm that functions as Trusted Advisors in planning and execution for projects. I also have over 20 years in planning and supervising project managers in academic and public works projects. In the private sector the condition is always like working in jello.

This might be a given for many of you, but what we have found helpful in executing projects is to always build in a contingency in all three areas — budget, schedule and scope that you can fall back on. The amount will depend on the amount of information you have at the time — start larger say +/- 20% at the conceptual stage, lower it (if you can) to 10% at the design development stage, and go to bid with +/- 5% project scope features that are already designed that you require the contractor to hold for say 60, 90 or 120 days after start of construction. The idea is to build in flexibility.

This allows you to better manage last minute, during and late changes in the project. As a project manager you own the contingency and can release as needed. IF you can't market this concept to your executive team as a "value-based" concept, you will have trouble anyway.

Another thing I found helpful is to have an executive group for the project that can make decisions stick and can strategize throughout the project life. This group needs to be kept to no more than 5 or 6 people who have clout. They should be involved from the very beginning to reign in those program people to the scope of the project. Besides, if the group is the "bad guy," it allows you to maintain project control better.

Careful communications are key to burgeoning challenges. Take a look at who and how you communicate to those on your whole team. I find sending more than two or three emails to anyone to solve challenges is useless — pick up the phone or meet with them. Meeting management is also key to keeping a project on target — go to a side meeting if necessary and keep meetings informative and useful.

What do you think about these strategies?  Looking for more?  SCUP’s July 23 workshop, near Washington, DC, features experienced campus planners as faculty for Capital Projects in a Campus Environment: Organizing and Running a Successful Project TeamIt’s a valuable part of higher education’s premier planning conference and idea marketplace: Integrated Solutions: How & Now. You can also visit the Integrated & Well-Planned Campus, SCUP’s LinkedIn group.

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