Project Management Strategies, Part I

"Plans are worthless. Planning is essential." -- Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. President

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for engineering firms and project owners alike to kill their own project schedules before they even start, turning what should be solid and actionable timelines into pure wishful thinking. The purpose of this series is to identify the most common engineering project killers and identify what can be done to prevent or remediate them.

Conquer project unknowns: painstakingly clarify scope.

Successful project execution depends on good information. If your information is absent, incomplete, or unclear, it will compromise your project. In fact, most customers routinely underestimate the high cost of scope ambiguity. Whether project inputs are contradictory – for example, a one-line diagram may describe a certain piece of equipment that contradicts how it is shown on physical drawings or that contradicts how it is described in written language in the project specs – or simply incorrect, it takes additional design cycles to reconcile and correct those issues. Often, that happens at unfavorable points in the project lifecycle, which can have ripple effects on other aspects of the project, like manufacturing and product supply.

It is key to get to a crystal-clear perspective with the customer on this scope. In other words, comprehensively answering the question “who is responsible for what?” is the most important step that we can take. At DIS-TRAN, we articulate our scope to an exacting level of detail because it’s critical for a well-executed project that all products – and more specifically, the interface points of different products –  come together seamlessly. A clear, comprehensive scope of supply ensures visibility into all critical path events that affect the design and manufacturing of all the products included within our scope of work. Unclear scope means we lose visibility and risk schedule and scope expectations going unmet.

This is an example of a project timeline for a Factory-Built Substation, utilizing parallel construction. Often, DIS-TRAN Packaged Substations will provide its customers with similar timelines to illustrate a project’s life, from start to finish, as well as what to expect.

Enable visibility into the project:  identify invisible third party commitments.

Often, our customers are dealing with dynamics into which we have low-or-no visibility. For example, these issues might include permitting, getting an official review of plans, sequencing of construction, ordering of equipment with a long-lead time, outage schedules, energize dates, sequence of construction plans, foundation construction start dates, slippage in any of these dates, study dates, and on and on. Secret stakeholders can derail a project with their demands, and low-visibility issues can lead to scope creep as well as scheduling delays by necessitating additional work to compensate, catch up, or correct work already undertaken.

The solution: it is typically more cost-effective to defer this work. This may sound counterintuitive; wouldn’t deferring work would just delay schedules? But it makes no sense to proceed with work when there’s still a high degree of uncertainty around requirements. All we’re doing in that situation is giving ourselves an opportunity to do it all over again. We can do it faster, better, and more cost-effectively by focusing on aspects of work that are ready to be worked on at that point of time.