AGILE CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT AND THE AS BID – AS BUILT METHOD OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Introduction

The Agile Methodology for managing software development was created fifteen years ago. The As Bid – As Built project management system evolved but its root concepts were presented in a few papers thirty years ago. The As bid – As Built methodology was designed for managing linear and unit cost construction projects. The premise of this paper is that with minor exceptions that are specific to software design, the major concepts of Agile and As bid – As Built are interchangeable. The essence of As bid – As Built can be traced to Earned Value Project Management (Earned Value Project Management M). Earned Value Project Management M was developed fifty years ago. The point is that sound principals in the practice of project management may be restated and put into new terms a such as scrum, sprint, and timeboxed, nevertheless, the fundamental concepts remain unchanged. It seems that each generation has to rediscover these concepts and put them into their own terminology in order to make them “sticky” for current users.

 

Origins of As Bid – As Built Project Tracking

A small team working for Henkels & McCoy developed the As Bid – As Built methodology for managing construction projects decades ago and the methodology was based on a system known as “Nitty Gritty” tracking. It was a few years later before I “discovered” the Earned Value Project Management (Earned Value Project Management M) methodology even though it was developed in the 1960’s by the Navy for building submarines or aircraft carriers.

The key to the As Bid – As Built and the Earned Value Project Management M methodologies is the continual comparison of expectations developed in the bidding process with the tracking of the actual productivity during the project execution. This concept must be further defined as the tracking of actual units of work performed compared to the scheduled units of work to be performed in the bid schedule and the actual cost of each unit of work performed. Methods that do not integrate the budgeted cost of units of work performed with the actual cost of a unit of work performed are almost meaningless, and may actually be misguiding as a method of evaluating actual project performance.

Of course, the goal of both methodologies is to maximize net profits by delivering the project in at least on-time, on budget, and in scope. Less time and cost, and increased scope (if that’s possible) are even better. What As Bid – As Built and Earned Value Project Management tracking accomplishes is the closest to real-time identification of when a project starts showing substandard performance and to the extent possible, in which task or part of the work. Assuming that the bid or proposal for the work has been successfully replicated in the contract documents as the Scope of Work and the Work Breakdown Structure, then these two documents represent the definition of the successful project.

 

Enter Agile Management

This list of principles or pillars was copied from Wikipedia under the topic of “Agile Construction”.

  • Labor productivity and measurement
  • Job scheduling and planning
  • Procurement management
  • Prefabrication (components or parts already enssembled by the supplier, reducing time and complexity of the task)
  • Reduction of labor composite rate (the cost of the worker to the company per unit of time)
  • Estimation accuracy and improvement
  • Project financial management

Everything on this list and more was already baked into the As Bid – As Built method of project performance tracking and therefore was included in its predecessor, the Nitty Gritty (manual)[1] system decades ago.

The As Bid – As Built methodology obviously begins during the bidding and proposal stage, before the project is won or assigned. Many of the principle pillars of AM must be evaluated, considered, and decided during the bidding or proposal development stage. The term “Agile Construction Management” indicates that the projects are of a commercial nature, but an “internal” construction project that isn’t bid still needs to have a budget and schedule. Preparing a commercial proposal requires the team to make estimates, assumptions, and decisions about everything activity in the project that has a cost, or takes time to perform, and most activities obviously have both attributes. Also, every piece of “material” (capitalized or expendable) that will be required for the work must be procured, and the logistics of getting the material to the work site at the proper time must be figured out during the bidding or proposal stage. It follows then that these activities must be evaluated and the results integrated into the bidding/proposal process, and that is the same in the As Bid – As Built method:

  • Labor productivity and measurement
  • Job scheduling and planning
  • Procurement management
  • Estimation accuracy and improvement
  • Project financial management

 

The Project Execution Plan

The next step in the management process won’t take place until the bid is won, or the project proposal is approved. In the As Bid – As Built system this is where we take all of those estimated productivity, schedule projections, procurement logistics and a pile of other tactical planning assumptions and assemble them in a Project Execution Plan (PEP). The PEP is the instruction book for making the scope, cost, and schedule assumptions into a real project, and what to do when the As Built part doesn’t go the way it was planned in the As Bid phase.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK by Project Manager Institute) and many other sources of Project Management knowledge provide excellent outlines and instructions for creating a well-planned and executable Project Execution Plans (PEP). The outlines available are comprehensive and will guide you through the topics and subject matter necessary to create a comprehensive PEP. What I will point out is that productivity, measurement, scheduling, planning, procurement, etc. will all be covered and a great deal more in the PEP. A comprehensive PEP will even include how the financial matters should be handled on the project. This section will consider cash flow, progress invoicing & payments, project close out and final payment including retention if it was withheld.

 

Other Pillars

Two of the “pillars” not previously addressed in this paper are:

  • Prefabrication (components or parts already enssembled[2] by the supplier, reducing time and complexity of the task)
  • Reduction of labor composite rate (the cost of the worker to the company per unit of time)

The person in the position of Procurement Manager should be planning to “buy out” the materials and equipment once the contract or letter of intent is issued. It is only logical that a “Buyer” will explore any opportunities to reduce the costs of material and equipment, including prefabrication strategies. That’s just good project management practice.

Labor rates are a bit trickier – or not. In many situations in the heavy and utility construction industries, the labor force is unionized, or there may be a prevailing wage requirement on government contracts. That situation pretty much dictates the labor rates. Where neither of those conditions exist, the project team may take on a campaign of reducing labor costs after the fact. Perhaps the people doing the estimating in the bidding stage may have used “heavy numbers” in order to build owner’s equity into the estimate, and the kickoff stage would be a good place to segregate these savings. Owner’s equity must be identified at the project kickoff stage and be taken out of the budget for project tracking purposes.

 

In Conclusion:

My analysis of Agile Construction Management compared to As Bid – As Built and Earned Value Project Management indicates that there are no significant differences at the concept level. Agile Construction Management based on the “pillars” is a good but a bit fuzzier than the other methods that have considerable more structure, particularly in the development and execution of a comprehensive PEP that includes all of the pillars of the Agile system and more.

Therefore, I conclude that a Project Manager that is inculcated in the practices of As Bid – As Built and/or Earned Value Project Management M will be more than capable of managing projects or programs in a manner that will meet or exceed the Agile Project Management constraints and expectations.

[1] The Nitty Gritty system of project tracking was the basis for the As Bid – As Built methodology, but was a totally manual method using hand prepared and executed paper spreadsheets in the days before Excel and the PC.

[2] Spelling in Wikipedia

1980’s STYLE BIG DATA OR A MANUAL DATA BASE

INTRODUCTION:

This posting started as a result of a reference I made in one of my resent posting about the “One Touch Make Ready” process for fiber optic cable pole attachments in the utility industry. Make ready is a process that ensures that the spacing between the cables installed on utility poles conform with the requirements of the National Electrical Safety Code. But that arcane topic is not the subject of this posting, except that this posting deals with data in the days before database software that evolved from make ready engineering. Essentially, this post describes a method of managing (in this example) 42,000 discreet records (about 400,000 attributes) before the Personal Computer was invented. So, why would this be of interest to the current readers? 400K attributes isn’t a fraction of a second in today’s big data world, but in a time when they were all hand written and organized, it was significant.

I often find that I’m doing work-arounds and jumping through flaming digital hoops in order to manipulate the data or records on my computer. I’m sure that like many people, I have spent many hours manipulating files from one program or data base to get the data to populate another program or data base. I am reveling my age by stating that in my younger days we did manage data, but it was done manually. Some of the mature readers may remember the card file systems that all libraries maintained. The question that constantly comes to mind is, I wonder if the hours of manipulating the data on the computer is more or less than the hours it would take to do a manual database or organizing procedure. And, would the manual database be more functional than the digital data base product. At the risk of being guilty of what Sherlock Holmes accused Dr. Watson of – telling his stories wrong end foremost in the Adventure of Wisteria Lodge, I’ll go on to explain the manual data base we developed.

THE MANUAL DATA BASE

In the 1980’s we did a project in the Philadelphia five county region that included 42,000 utility poles involved in the process called “make ready” in preparation for the installation of cable TV systems. Each pole in this survey had unique attributes just the same as they would in a data base. My estimate is that there were 400,000 attributes related to this survey. Only, in those days there were no database programs[1]. So, how did we manage the data for each pole in a such a manner that we could access the individual data on each pole? We constructed a “manual database” that consisted of an individual 3×5 file card for each pole. The cards were organized by maps on which the poles appeared and thus were listed on pole applications. The attributes recorded for each pole included the following:

Attributes:

  1. Pole Number
  2. Pole Address
  3. Strand Map #
  4. Owner
  5. Make Ready Status
    1. Clear Pole
    2. Requires Lowering Telecom Cable(s)
    3. Requires Raising Electric Cable(s) or Plant
    4. Requires Lowering Telecom Cable(s) and Raising Electric Cables(s) or Plant
    5. Requires Pole Replacement with a Larger Pole
  6. Work Order Written
    1. Telecom Work
    2. Power Work
  7. Work Order Issued
    1. Telecom Work
    2. Power Work
  8. Work Completed
    1. Telecom Work
    2. Power Work
  9. Pole Attachment Application Approved

Most of the information/attributes were hand written using abbreviations, but the key to our ability to sort the “pole cards” was the colored sticky dots that we placed along the top edge of each card. Each color represented a different action or status for that individual pole.

The primary sorting category for the poles was the pole numbers and then the strand map number. Strand maps showed the physical location of the poles related to roads and structures and showed the pole numbers and distance between the poles. Depending on the density of the area covered by the map, a strand map could show a few poles (20-25) or many poles (100+) but poles were not duplicated on contiguous maps. Therefore, the strand maps became the “buckets” used to keep poles organized in manageable groups.

We obtained file card storage boxes and file card dividers (for 3×5 cards) and we could keep four to eight strand maps of cards in each file box. With the color coded dots on the tops of each card, we could see at a glance which poles within a strand map stack of cards in the box were of each category of work.

Most of the field engineers on this project were working on between two and four maps at a time so they could carry their current “data base” of work with them to meetings and to the field. Changes in the status of a pole could be easily accommodated by changing the color of the dot, and writing a new line or two (back of card) to describe the new work status. In some cases, new poles were added or complicated poles were deleted from a map and the associated application. Either of these situations was easily handled by the addition or deletion of a file card. We never threw “deleted” pole cards away. They were put in a dead file so that we could reference them later if we needed to do research on specific changes and updates.

Of course, the worst possible calamity that could happen with this kind of “data base” is if someone dropped the file card box and the cards were scattered all over the floor. In all the time we used this method I do not recall that ever happening.

The dependability and robustness of this manual system allowed our team to successfully lobby the utility companies to enable us to do “One Touch Make Ready”. We still had to go to the field and physically measure the cables and equipment on the utility poles, and we still had to complete proprietary pole applications, but our data management system was famous for its accuracy and easy access to information.

SOMETHING TO CONSIDER

The manual data base used on that project many years ago served us well and we never had to worry about the software or computer crashing, or having to update the program. Still, it was obviously labor intensive and the type of system that the personal computer was destined to automate to save time. Nonetheless, I still use file cards to manage my tasks and projects. I like having an index card for each task and project and I keep them organized in a “pocket briefcase” (Levengers) so that I can pick it up and go to a meeting or the field at any time and instantly have all of my assignments on single cards for reference and updating – anywhere/anytime without my Mac Book. Don’t misunderstand; I love my Mac Book and wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I only require a pocket and a pen to update my task index cards in a meeting or in the field. Yes, I may later update the task tracking tools and project schedules on my Mac Book so that I have a digital file, but the ease of whipping out the cards at a meeting when a project question comes up is very gratifying, and maybe even amazing in today’s business world (especially in the “field” where there isn’t any Wi-Fi).

Readers might want to review a couple of related sites such as https://unclutter.com and http://gettingthingsdone.com. David Allen’s book Getting Things Done® (GTD®) has been on my bookshelf (actually I bought many copies for my associates) since it was first published. I find that the index cards fit into this system well, and allow me to carry my brain dump cards with me – in my pocket. Whether you choose to use index cards for the GTD process, or use the file system described in David Allen’s books, it is most assuredly a methodology that you should investigate and consider applying to your daily work planning. DISCLAIMER – I have no relationship with GTD and David Allen – it’s just good stuff that I recommend to associates.

FINAL THOUGHT

The next time you want to throw your computer out of the window of a tall building because you cannot figure out how to get it to do something, take a break and a walk. Is the problem you’re tackling one that you don’t know how the logical solution will be derived, or is it one of trying to make the computer do what you know will be the solution? Is your laptop more readily convenient than a Moleskin notebook for keeping meeting and field notes? Would it be easier to carry a dozen index cards with your task on them in your pocke

[1] We had access to an AS400 mainframe, but the programing language wasn’t easy to use, and our access was limited to inconvenient times.

PLANNING A “MAKE READY” UTILITY POLE PROJECT AND ONE TOUCH MAKE READY

INTRODUCTION

The initial pages of this paper will provide a detailed explanation of “make ready – what it is and how it evolved. If you’re well acquainted with the concept, you may wish to jump forward to the section of the paper that deals with the development of a Project Execution Plan” for a make ready project. That topic is under the heading of MOP FOR ROUTE MAPPING, MAKE READY AND POLE APPLICATIONS”.

The term “make ready” refers to attaching cables to utility poles in a manner such that the separation between new cables and existing cables is in accordance with the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC). The majority of the utility poles we see along roads and in back yards belong to two companies – the incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC), commonly known as the telephone company, and the local power/electric company. The companies that wish to attach to the poles are third-party companies, mostly cable TV companies, competitive local exchange carriers (CLEC), or internet service providers (ISP). These are broadband service providers and the majority of the cables they wish to attach to poles these days are fiber optic cables.

The telephone and electric companies own the overwhelming majority of the poles we see along the streets and in back yards. Many of these poles have been in “service” for decades meaning that they were placed before or during the first cable TV build-outs of the 1980’s. Utility company technicians did not anticipate the number of parties who would want to attach to the poles when they selected the “size” of the poles to be placed. Utility poles generally range in height between 25 and 55 feet. The diameter (Class) of the poles vary according the length and designed load of equipment that’s planned to be attached to the pole (Pole Loading Analysis). Depending on their engineering practices, utility companies may, or may not consider the need for taller poles in anticipation of potential third party applications for attachment rights.

 

CABLE SEPARATION REQUIREMENTS

The required height of a utility pole is dictated by what’s attached to it. As mentioned in the Introduction, the overriding specification for the required separation of cables and equipment on poles is the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC). The NESC dictates what the separation between cables and equipment primarily based on the voltage “carried” by the cables – generally, the lower the voltage, the less separation is required.

“Fig. 235-10. Example of vertical clearance between joint-use (supply and communication) conductors (Rule 235C).”

Excerpt From: David Marne. “National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) 2012 Handbook.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/Sw-_F.l

 

The telephone copper cables, the cable TV coax cables, and the CLEC, cable TV, and ISP fiber optic cables are low voltage and are attached at the lowest heights on the utility poles and with the least separation requirement – generally 12” vertical separation. The electric power cables and equipment are generally located a minimum of 40” above communication cables. The NESC contains many other separation requirements including the distance between cables at “mid-span” between poles. Additionally, the NESC specifies the required height of cables above roadways, highways, driveways, railroads, navigable waterways, and other similar structures. See fig. 232-4 from the NESC below for an example.

 

 

“Fig. 232-4. Example of how clearance values are determined (Rule 232B).”

Excerpt From: David Marne. “National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) 2012 Handbook.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/Sw-_F.l

 

How do third party pole attachment companies know if there’s enough room on the poles to attach their cables, and what happens if there isn’t enough room?

NOTE TO READERS: There are hundreds of variants to the process of applying for the right to attach to utility poles and the “make ready” engineering and construction that must precede the issuance of pole attachment permits. In the remainder of this paper I will be describing the generic process based on my decades of experience with numerous utilities, both telephone and power company pole owners.

 

POLE APPLICATIONS

Before the third party attachers submit applications to the utility companies for a license to attach to their poles, they must first design their route and therefore which poles they need to put their cables on. This document is called a route map or a strand map in cable TV days. A list of the poles being applied for is prepared using the utility company’s specific format(s). There’s no standardization for application formats between telecom and power companies and between states, counties, or municipalities throughout the US. Some attempts are underway to standardize application formats and nomenclature across subsidiary companies both in the power and telecom sector, but these efforts are largely related to standardizing internal database records and facilities management systems. The pole application formats usually have a limited number of spaces on the forms for listing poles, often twenty-five poles per form. The utilities also commonly restrict the number of poles that can be applied for in a time period such as a maximum of 200 pole applications in a calendar month. The utilities also commonly set a minimum time frame for their responses to the applications – commonly 45 to 60 days. Obviously, if a company is planning a large geographical area build-out, these limits will quickly become a bottleneck in their build schedule.

 

AND THEN, THERE’S MAKE READY…

The term “make ready” is defined in the introduction to this paper. The concept appears to be simple, but the actual procedure is anything but. Generally, the make ready process is led by the telephone company, and there are logical reasons for that procedure. In order to ascertain if there is enough space on the poles for the third parties cable, someone has to go to each pole and measure (literally) the height of each of the existing cables on the poles. The old-fashion method of doing this is with a fiberglass measuring stick that can reach the conductors on the pole and “measure” the height of each cable and piece of equipment. Many attempts have been made over the years to bring a technological improvement to this method, but to date I’ve only seen one automated system that is effective for the replacement of the measuring stick method – that is the ikeGPSÒ 4 system and equipment. I’ll write more on that later in this paper, after I’ve explained the make ready process in greater detail.

After the poles are identified and the applications submitted to the pole owners, the next action will be the initial make ready survey. The route survey may include identifying poles that require make ready, but that would be provided by a subcontractor working for the pole applicant. Therefore, it is likely that a make ready survey will be undertaken by the pole owners, starting with the telephone company staff. The telephone company usually starts the survey because having the communications cables lowered to make room for a new attachment is almost always less expensive than raising power cables and equipment. In some cases, the applicant’s engineering subcontractor may accompany the telephone company engineer on this first pass make ready survey. The applicant and telephone representatives may design a “re-route” in the field if they find difficult make ready situations. The first-pass survey will almost always identify poles where make ready is required, but the communications cables cannot be lowered adequately to provide space for the new cable. These poles are put into a file to be surveyed by the power company engineer to ascertain if the electric cables and/or equipment can be raised sufficiently to provide the needed space on the pole.

The power company engineer may visit the designated poles by his/herself, or may arrange to team up with the telephone company engineer for this third visit to the make ready poles. The power company engineer will make the determination if the electric cables and equipment may be rearranged sufficiently to accommodate the applicant’s new cable. Of course, there will be a handful of locations where no amount of rearranging of the existing communications and power plant can be done to make space for the new cable. In this circumstance, the owner of the pole will undertake the work of replacing the pole with a taller one. Pole replacements are usually expensive and are therefore only considered as a last resort for the company seeking an attachment permit. When the utilities determine that a pole replacement is required, the applicant will in most cases attempt to reroute their cable in an attempt to avoid changing out a pole. Of course, it would be more efficient both in time and dollars to identify the potential pole replacement during the route selection and mapping process and not apply for that pole from the start. While that seems logical it requires that the field technician who does the original route mapping to have adequate knowledge of communications and power outside plant to be able to make the determination about the make ready work requirements on a pole by pole basis. It is unusual for the route mapping field personnel to have that level of knowledge. If the concept of “One Touch Make Ready” (OTMR) were more commonly accepted and practiced, the need for multiple field visits to determine if a pole requires replacement (or even just extensive make ready) would be eliminated during the initial survey. I’ll provide a synopsis including the advantages of using OTMR at appropriate places in this paper.

The poles that are surveyed for make ready work will fall under one of the following categories:

  1. The pole is “clear”, meaning that there’s adequate room for the new cable to be attached and be in compliance with the NESC.
    1. The owner of the pole will issue a permit to attach once the fees are paid.
  2. There is not adequate space (nominally 52”) to attach the new cable in compliance with the NESC, but lowering one or multiple communications cables may be done to provide the space while staying within the specifications.
    1. In this case, the telephone company will write a work order for their crews to lower their cable(s). The telephone company usually will notify any other communication cable(s) owners who are attached to the pole (by permit) that they will also have to lower their cable(s). These days it is not unusual for there to be as many as ten communications cables attached on both field side and street side of the poles.
    2. The work orders are issued to the construction department or their approved contractors and the work is scheduled along with the new and routine work in the que.
  3. There is not adequate space (nominally 52”) to attach the new cable in compliance with the NESC, but a combination of lowering communication cable(s) and raising electric secondaries and related plant (street lights, transformers, neutral cables, etc.) will result in adequate space for the new cable installation.
    1. The telephone company engineer will notify the power company engineer of poles that fall into this category. A joint field survey will be scheduled for these and the other poles that required electric plant rearrangements. Each party determines what work they will have to perform to jointly “clear” the pole.
    2. The telephone company will write a work order for their crews to lower their cable(s). The telephone company usually will notify any other communication cable(s) owners who are attached to the pole (by permit) that they will also have to lower their cable(s).
    3. The power company engineer writes a work order for the electric company’s construction crews or their approved contractor to perform the make ready construction work.
    4. The utility companies schedule the make ready work along with their new and routine work.
  4. There is not adequate space (nominally 52”) to attach the new cable in compliance with the NESC, but lowering the communication cable(s) is not an option usually due to ground clearance issues.
    1. The telephone company engineer will send this pole sheet or format to the power company engineer for field survey and determination if rearranging the electric plant on the pole will provide adequate space for the new cable.
    2. It’s not uncommon for the telephone company engineer and the power company engineer to perform a joint field survey of poles that require electric plant rearrangements. In rare cases, this joint survey will result in the determination that the pole must be replaced.
      1. The pole applicant is usually notified when poles are determined to require replacement. In most cases, the pole applicant will go to the field (again) and attempt to find a reroute that will eliminate the time and cost of a replacement.
    3. The power company engineer writes a work order for the electric company’s construction crews or their approved contractor to perform the make ready construction work.
  5. There is not adequate space (nominally 52”) to attach the new cable in compliance with the NESC, but a combination of lowering communication cable(s) and raising electric secondaries and related plant (street lights, transformers, neutral cables, etc.) will result in adequate space for the new cable installation.
    1. The telephone company engineer will notify the power company engineer of poles that fall into this category. A joint field survey will be scheduled for these and the other poles that required electric plant rearrangements. Each party determines what work they will have to perform to jointly “clear” the pole.
    2. The telephone company will write a work order for their crews to lower their cable(s). The telephone company usually will notify any other communication cable(s) owners who are attached to the pole (by permit) that they will also have to lower their cable(s).
    3. The power company engineer writes a work order for the electric company’s construction crews or their approved contractor to perform the make ready construction work.
    4. The utility companies schedule the make ready work along with their new and routine work.
  6. The worst case scenario as mentioned earlier in this paper is when it is determined that no amount of cable and equipment rearrangements on a pole will provide adequate space for the new cable. This then becomes the dreaded pole replacement. Pole replacements are dreaded because they are expensive and time consuming. A simple pole replacement may cost a couple thousand dollars, but a complicated (and most are) replacement can cost more than thirty thousand dollars. Pole replacements are time consuming for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the necessity for all of the companies with cables on the pole will be required to detach from the old pole, and reattach to the new pole.
    1. The process is similar to that described in the above scenarios. No doubt, there will be multiple field trips by all of the parties to evaluate the field situation to determine if replacement is the only option.
    2. When all options have been investigated and the determination is made that a pole must be replaced, the respective pole owner and respective attachment owners will prepare the necessary work orders and the work is scheduled.
      1. The requirement for Pole Loading Analysis (PLA) documentation is becoming more common, especially in new pole/pole replacement situations.

At a minimum, there will be two visits to a pole in the process of mapping and applying for attachment permits. At the other extreme, poles that will require replacement may be visited between six to ten times by various groups including the pole owner, the pole applicant, and any/all of the current pole attachers before the work orders are written to perform the work. The delay caused by multiple visits to a pole will in most cases affect the processing of all of the other poles that are in the same group or packet with the pole replacement.

 

THE TRICKY BITS ABOUT MAKE READY

Even the specifications included in the NESC have local variations, but probably the trickiest bit about make ready is who pays for what parts of the work. When cable TV systems were first starting to be built in the suburbs the telephone and power companies took the attitude that whatever work was required to accommodate the cable TV plant would have to be paid for by the cable TV companies. The cable TV companies quickly pointed out that the telephone and electric cables were, in many places, not installed to NESC specification before cable TV came into the picture. After bouts of niff-nawing the utilities agreed that if they were out of spec themselves, they wouldn’t charge cable TV to “correct” the deficiency during the make ready process. As an example, a pole that has less than 40” separation between the top communications cable and the lowest power secondary will have to be rearranged before cable TV can attach, but the utilities will not charge for the rearrangement(s). The example is simplistic, the reality in these days of 3 to 10 communication company’s cables attached to poles is much more complicated.

The cost of moving cables up or down on a pole isn’t usually daunting, but the cost of replacing a pole to gain additional height is enough to get applicants excited. This is particularly the case when the original owner of the pole being replaced will end up with a brand new, taller pole and have all the cables and equipment transferred at no cost – in some cases.

The logistics of accomplishing make ready engineering and construction evolved primarily based on which utility would do work on the greater percentage of the poles requiring rearrangements, i.e. the telephone company. It made sense therefore for the telephone company to do the initial make ready survey and write the work orders for as many poles as they could clear before bringing the power company into the process. Presumably, after the initial survey, the only poles that will remain to be made ready will be poles that require electrical plant rearrangements.

The telephone companies took the lead in in the make ready process. Of course, the applicant must establish pole ownership during the route survey and submit applications to the appropriate company. The information required on the application forms varies in content and format from company to company. The number of poles that can be listed in an application varies as well, as does the minimum time frame before a response is sent to the applicant. Many pole application forms have a check box where the applicant is required to indicate if make ready work will be required. That means that the company that does the route mapping will also be making some rudimentary determination about make ready. Not what work needs to be done to clear a pole, only that there isn’t sufficient space on the pole today thus supposedly eliminating the need for the telephone company representative from having to survey every pole on the application. The route map field technician needs to “measure” the space between the communication cables and the power cables. Traditionally, this survey work was accomplished by the “stick and wheel” method. The “stick” in this case is a 35-foot collapsible fiber glass measuring ruler that can be extended to measure the attachment heights of the cables on the pole. The “wheel” is a device that resembles the front wheel of a bike, but with a handle attached where the fork would be. This device is pushed along the surface between poles and measures the distance between the poles. This is called the “span distance” and must be included on the route maps that are submitted with the pole applications.

 

AUTOMATING THE ROUTE MAPPING AND POLE SURVEY WORK

Many attempts to bring automation to the route mapping and pole survey (measuring) work have been made over the years. I have reviewed and tested many of these systems, but I’ve seen only one that I think is viable. That system is the IKE 4 (http://ikegps.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/IKEbase-datasheet-160503-forWeb.pdf). I won’t go into detail on the IKE 4 system in this paper. The link to the data sheet is provided for the reader to review if they wish. I have had experience with this system on a number of field projects and found it to be very useful when the equipment is intelligently utilized. A well-crafted and comprehensive Project Execution Plan is essential for success, as it is for any engineering project.

This may be the right place in this paper to make the following statement – computers cannot do make ready. Whether the survey work is done using state of the art equipment such as the IKE 4, or if it’s done with the stick and wheel method, the actual analytical process used in deciding what make ready work is to be done needs to be done by human technicians. I know I’ll get arguments about this statement, but be assured I’ve proven this conclusion on numerous occasions.

ONE TOUCH MAKE READY

There are no national codes or guidelines for make ready. The FCC 11-50 –  Implementation of Section 224 of the Act A National Broadband Plan for Our Future – April 2011 contains the section below.

  1. The record in this proceeding demonstrates that the current framework often results in negotiation processes that may be so prolonged, unpredictable, and costly that they impose unreasonable costs on attachers and may create inefficiencies by deterring market entry.

That wasn’t news in 2011 to people who dealt with make ready going back to the 1970’s. Obviously, there was NOT significant improvement in the process in the five years after the FCC 11-50 because Google Fiber is vigorously attempting to revive the “One Touch Make Ready[1]” (OTMR) concept in the Memphis network buildout. Google Fiber has reached the conclusion that they cannot meet schedules or budgets if they’re required to de make ready in the traditional manner (see “The History of One Touch Make Ready” by the author of this paper).

OTMR is just as logical today as it was when the concept was first conceived. There are no insurmountable challenges in implementing OTMR today in markets such as Memphis. All it will take to implement OTMR is a commitment by all parties that they want to use this method. Then there is the biggest challenge to using OTMR – finding a qualified engineering/construction firm who is acceptable to all parties. Of course, a reasonable and well-designed methodology for payment needs to be created. If the parties agree to the concept, the terms and conditions issues can be resolved.

Obviously, the firm that is selected to lead OTMR is most likely an engineering firm with established credentials. The engineering firm will need to have the services of an equally credible utility construction firm that is acceptable to the power and telephone pole owners, as well as all of the other pole attachers. Again I’ll state that if the parties agree in principal, the logistics can be worked out.

 

MOP FOR ROUTE MAPPING, MAKE READY AND POLE APPLICATIONS

This Method of Procedure is written such that it can be performed by the “stick and wheel” method or utilizing a GIS-based automated data acquisition tool such as the IKE 4. Where appropriate I’ll make side notes on specific topics.

  1. Without a doubt, my first and most important recommendation is to prepare a Project Execution Plan (PEP). This should not be a huge document that gets put into a three ring binder and placed on a shelf never to be consulted again during the project. The PEP should be five to ten pages and will cover the major assumptions, processes, and procedures that are anticipated to be a part of the project. The PEP should be given to and reviewed with all of the participants in the project from executive management on down to the field technicians and clerical staff during the project kickoff meeting. The PEP will be an organic document that may change, revised, or added to in the course of the project.
    1. Do not overlook the need to get specifications and filing instructions from the utility company contacts you’ll be working with.
    2. Also, be sure to obtain and include the names of all of the other attachers to the poles that will be included in your applications and also how to identify their cables on the poles before starting the survey.
    3. The headings in the remainder of this section of the paper will likely become the headings to be covered in the PEP.
  2. Select and procure base maps.
    1. Most readers will find that either their company or the pole owners will make this decision for them.
    2. Many route maps are created in Google Earth. GPS files can be overlaid and poles will populate the maps in the proper location.
    3. Poles in Google Earth maps can be tagged with photo and GIS data files. The IKE 4 system can imbed photo files that include photos of the poles that show all of the cables and plant and includes the heights of each attachment from the ground.
  3. Conduct a preliminary/exploratory meeting with the poles owners.
    1. Gather forms, formats, instructions, reference materials, and the names and contact information for the other attachers.
    2. Review intended survey techniques and deliverables with the utility companies.
    3. Review the proposed schedule milestones and order of march intended for the build-out.
      1. How does this preliminary schedule hold up against the availability of the utility company’s resource – both engineering and construction?
      2. What are the logistics of third party rearrangement requirements?
        1. Who schedules and coordinates this work?
      3. Based on the information gathered in number 3 above, prepare a sample deliverable using approximately 10 or 15 poles and run it through the entire submission, make ready survey(s), third party rearrangements, construction and permit issuance process. It is imperative to obtain approval of the sample application as early in the project as possible.
        1. I have witnessed companies by-passing this critical step in an effort to rush applications into the process only to see them have to do rework in the field and in the office to “correct” future applications.
        2. To the extent feasible, the sample submission should include as many of the different circumstances as may be encountered in the overall project.
        3. Use the sample submission for gauging realistic durations for the various tasks in the project’s Work Breakdown Structure.
          1. Use this information to revise and lock down a baseline schedule. THIS IS AN IMPORTATNT TOOL AND SHOULD NOT BE OVERLOOKED.
        4. Kickoff Meeting – Preplanning saves a lot of fan cleaning. Gather utility and third part attachers representatives along with the project staff at a project kickoff meeting.
          1. Present the tactical plan based on route mapping and sample submission processing and request that any potential revisions be discussed and decided before the survey is launched.
          2. Procedural conflicts that may result in delays and rework should be identified and resolved at the kickoff meeting.
          3. The baseline schedule for the project must be presented and discussed.
          4. The methods for gathering and report progress and a schedule for update meetings will be developed and agreed to during the kickoff meeting.
            1. The Progress, Plans, and Problems (PPP) is one of the best reporting and documenting formats available. See – https://wordpress.com/post/ventureinitiativesllc.wordpress.com/25 .
          5. Progress tracking and review meeting – These meetings should be held at a maximum interval of two weeks, but weekly is better. Of course, this depends on the size and therefore the duration of the project. The project manager may decide to have a joint project review meeting including the project team and the appropriate utility company representatives. Or, the project manager may hold internal staff review meetings. It’s often best practice to alternate meeting participants, or hold two meetings in each period.
            1. The throughput or product of the project is pole attachment permits delivered. This is the metric for measuring, tracking and reporting progress and should focus on the speed of throughput, i.e. permits received.
            2. The stakeholders in make ready projects are usually the management team of the company that is applying to attach to the utility poles. The stakeholders may attend the PPP review meetings, or the project manager may provide them with a redacted report. A one-page report format is ideal for this purpose. There are a number of effective one-page project reporting formats available today, but the one I find most effective and reasonable in the “One Page Project Manager” (OPPM). Here is the link:
              1. https://oppmi.com
              2. Based on my decades of experience in the general arena of project management related to engineering and construction projects, I recommend precise and succinct progress reports. The essence of the project’s progress can be communicated to the team with dashboard type reports preferably on a single piece of paper.
                1. Obviously, the one-page report may be supported by more detailed data and reports, but the “red flag” needs to be communicated to the project team at a high level.
                2. Solutions to the red flag issues must be addressed immediately. The effects of red flag issues must be integrated into the baseline project schedule as quickly as possible and those effects must be communicated to the project team, including stakeholders at the earliest possible time.

CONCLUSION

My decades of experience in projects that included make ready, but also design/build projects of other types causes me wonder why the lessons of preparing and executing a well thought-out PEP isn’t standard procedure particularly in a make ready project. Inevitably, the lack of such planning causes projects to overrun schedules and blow project budgets. Why does this lesson have to be re-learned so often? Why can’t OTMR be implemented in many markets where broadband to the home is the goal?

I believe that the cause of these overruns may be attributed to the “bean counters” and to over-optimistic project plans devised to “sell” projects to stakeholders. A project-centric approach can and should make the difference and that will require a logical application of the One Touch Make Ready

[1] The first concept development and actual deployment of the One Touch Make Ready methodology was by Henkels & McCoy in the early 1980’s. Approximately 42,000 utility poles were surveyed and make ready construction was performed by one company in the Philadelphia region.

The History of the “One Touch Make Ready” Concept

Most readers will not know the definition of the term “Make Ready”. However, those readers who do know what Make Ready is will understand why I call it a conundrum. The general public does not pay much attention to the “telephone poles” or utility poles that they pass along the road everyday, so the average person isn’t aware of how many cables there are on the poles. The local telecom company or the local electric company owns most utility poles. A large percentage of utility poles will have both telecom and power cables attached and these are called “joint-use” poles. In theory, each of the utilities should pay the other to lease space on the pole for their cables. Until the 1970’s there were only two primary utilities sharing poles – the telephone company and the electric company. Some effort was made between the utilities to have parity in the number of ownership of joint-use poles so there was rarely an exchange of money to compensate one or the other for attachment rights. A third party showed up – Community Antenna Television or CATV. CATV’s history goes back into the 1940’s, but serious CATV system builds really took off in the 1970”s. The utilities notified the CATV companies that they would have to pay a yearly rental fee for the right to attach to the utility poles. Not only that, the utilities mandated that the CATV companies must abide by the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) when attaching to the poles. That meant that there had to be specified separations between communication cables (telecom and CATV) and electrical cables and related pole-mounted equipment such as streetlights. It quickly became apparent that there wasn’t enough separation between communications and power to allow the CATV cable to be attached while staying within the specifications of the NESC. The solution was for the utilities to rearrange their cables on the pole to “Make Ready” for the CATV cable attachment. Of course, the utility companies demanded that the CATV companies not only pay for the rearrangement of cables on the poles, but also the survey and engineering work necessary to identify what work needed to be done and to prepare the work orders to issue to field crews. While this process evolved it became evident that the telecom and power companies hadn’t really paid close attention to the NESC while they built their plant before CATV came along. In other words, the separation between the cables didn’t in all cases meet the specifications of the NESC. The CATV companies quickly took the stand that they weren’t going to pay to correct the substandard conditions that the utilities had created for themselves Therefore the Make Ready work that was done on these substandard poles was performed at no-charge to the CATV companies. However, the CATV companies still had to pay the yearly lease fee for the pole attachment rights.

So far it doesn’t sound very complicated, but as CATV morphed into Cable TV (as we know it today) and the demand for the service spread like wildfire through suburban communities the process became increasingly complex and slowed to a pace that was even slow by utility company standards. Keep in mind that the Cable TV owners were entrepreneurs by nature and were looking for a “speed to market” solution that would produce quick turnaround revenue. The stage was set for a clash of titans such as no one had imagined. That clash is still going on today with the second (or third) generation of players.

To set the stage for the solution to the conundrum, the reader will need a bit more background, particularly the Make Ready process that evolved in the 70’s and 80’s. It was established early on that a cable TV company would be required to obtain a franchise to build and operate a system in a local municipality or township. The scandals and politics that grew out of the franchise battles will require another posting unto itself. The next process was uncomplicated and controllable. The cable TV company would send engineers to the field to select the cable route and then to create “strand maps” that showed pole numbers and pole ownership (telecom or power) as well as the cable route.

Back in the Cable TV Company’s offices, a pole permit application form was prepared for the poles shown on a strand map. Each utility had its own unique application forms with their own unique information requirements and formats. Once the telecom and power pole application forms were matched up to the strand maps they would be submitted to the respective utility where the application was added to the pile of applications already received and in process. Each one of these applications would now require a complete field survey of all of the poles in the application and by each utility separately. This is called the Make Ready Survey. Each telecom and power company has their own written procedures and rules governing the schedule and processing of applications. However, they all require a Make Ready Survey. Initially, the utility companies used in-house staff to perform the survey and process the results, but they were quickly overwhelmed and forced to out-source parts, or the whole process to their approved contractors.

The Make Ready Survey engineer physically measures the height of the attachments (cables, streetlights, transformers, etc) on many, or even the majority of the poles in an application. Using the NESC as a guide, the engineer decides if there is enough room available on the pole to attach the Cable TV cable without it being in violation of the code. If this is true, the pole is noted to be “clear” and the application process may continue. If the pole needs Make Ready work because there is not enough space available for the new cable, the engineer has to decide if the work to suggest to “clear” the pole will involved lowering the lowest cables, which are the telecom cables, or raising the power/electric cables, which are the ones toward the top of the pole. The NESC also specifies the clearance of cables above the ground, over driveways, crossing highways/railroads and many other situations. The NESC also specifies the required separation between various types and voltages of electrical cables and plant.

Okay, here’s where it starts getting tricky, not to mention weird. Also, keep in mind that the process I’m describing may have many local variations. There are no universal rules or procedures for performing Make Ready. A lot of the “process and rules” are developed between individuals from either side of the fence. Anyway, If the telecom engineer measures a pole and confirms that there isn’t enough room for Cable TV to attach, she/he will decide if it is possible to lower the telecom cables to make room for Cable TV without putting the telecom cables in violation of the NESC. If she/he can do that, they will write a work order to do the rearrangement work. Lowering the telecom cable(s) is usually the first choice because that work is generally less expensive than raising electric power facilities. If the telecom engineer decides that the pole can’t be cleared by lowering the telecom cables then she/he will put that pole sheet aside to be reviewed in the field with the power company representative. This will involve a second visit to the pole (called a Joint Pole Survey); perhaps it will be the third trip if the power company engineer has also decided to do his/her own Make Ready survey. And then, there’s the rare possibility that there isn’t enough room on the pole for the power company representative to move his/her cables and plant to provide adequate room for the Cable TV cable. This situation will require that a new (longer) pole will have to be placed and ALL of the existing cables and fixtures will have to be moved from the old pole to the new pole. This solution is obviously very expensive and the Cable TV company will make strident efforts to avoid this circumstance because they will usually be tagged with at least the majority of the cost of the pole replacement even if the pole was not in specifications when the application was made to attach to it.

The controversies over the process and procedures for the Make Ready process that would allow Cable TV companies to attach to utility poles raged in the early days of the Cable TV build-out and were dragged through the public media, not to mention the courts. Although the Cable TV companies wanted clearer guidelines as to who would pay for the rearrangements of cables on poles, they were more concerned with the time required to complete the complicated process through to their being issued pole attachment agreements that would allow them to build their networks. Frustrated by the timely process, many Cable TV companies instructed their contractors to “build” the networks without receiving permission from the utilities. This action caused the utilities to invoke what was called “Post Surveys” where they sent engineers out to inspect installations after-the-fact to ascertain if the Cable TV installations were within the specifications of the NESC. If the installations were not within the specifications the utilities would write work orders to correct the situation and back-charge the Cable TV companies for the rearrangements, including the engineering required to audit the attachments.

Clearly, the process described above included multiple surveys and visits to many poles by a number of different engineers and technicians to arrive at the final solution to many Make Ready challenges. The majority of the costs for these multiple surveys and the subsequent costs of rearranging the cables on the pole were born by the Cable TV companies. The only location where a significant effort was successful in streamlining this effort was in the five-county Philadelphia region. Henkels & McCoy was the chosen engineering contractor for Philadelphia Electric to perform Make Ready surveys on their behalf. H&M had also provided Make Ready survey services to Bell Atlantic in this region. I proposed to both these utilities that H&M could serve as an “honest broker” in providing a single engineer to perform the Make Ready survey for both entities with a single visit to the poles applied for by the Cable TV companies, and could also write the necessary work orders for rearrangements for both companies. Taking it a step even further, because H&M was a qualified contractor for both companies, we could also perform the physical rearrangements therefore of both the telecom and power plant on the poles that required Make Ready work, we could streamline the process that normally required multiple visits to the poles for the Make Ready process. The acceptance of this concept didn’t happen quickly, but when it was accepted it was a smashing success for all parties involved. Finally, the majority of poles applied for could be surveyed by a single person empowered to make the decisions regarding rearrangements required and had the ability to write the necessary work orders to have the work performed. Additionally, because H&M was authorized to perform the work whether it was telecom or power work, the Make Ready construction preceded at an unprecedented pace. 42,000 poles were surveyed and “made ready” for Cable TV installations in record time.

Google Fiber in the Nashville market has recently called the concept described above “One Touch Make Ready”. The battle to tame the traditional make ready procedures were recognized as the only hope for saving the Google Fiber builds in Nashville. Of course, it took an 800-pound gorilla to bring about the recognition and acceptance of the One Touch Make Ready concept.

After the deregulation of the telecom industry in 1983 and the subsequent Telecommunications Act of 1994 many other telecommunication companies wanted to attach their cables (most were fiber optic cables) to existing utility poles. For the most part, these companies were Competitive Local Exchange Carriers or CLECS. Most of these CLECS as well as alternate Cable TV companies now want to get their fiber optic cables on those already crowded utility poles. Most readers of this paper likely do not pay much attention to the cables on the poles along the streets and highways. But, if you look at the poles in urban and suburban areas these days you’ll see a minimum of three cables in the lower, communications space, but it isn’t uncommon to see seven or more cables in this space. In a large percentage of attachments, the separation of cables on these crowded poles is not in compliance with the NESC.

The efficient and streamlined method for surveying and rearrangement construction that we developed in the 1980’s disappeared in between the first cable TV builds and the advent of CLEC aerial construction in the late 1990’s. The process that involved multiple survey visits to the poles and the enigmatic application procedures and formats became the standard again. Most telecom companies (Incumbent Local exchange Carriers or ILECS) accept and process the applications for pole attachments independently of the power company until final decisions regarding rearrangements that require the power company are finally made. It normally takes months from the first survey of utility poles until a permit or license to attach to the pole is issued to the CLEC. It is not uncommon for competitive communication companies to attach their cables to poles before the utility company permits are issued.

The concept of One Touch Make Ready didn’t spread outside of the Philadelphia region in the 1980’s in spite of the logic of the process, not to mention the savings in time and dollars. The article I wrote for a trade magazine (TVC – Cable Television Business) described the One Touch concept and procedures, but the effort to transplant the model to other markets wasn’t undertaken. Make ready continued in the business-as-usual format until the battle of Nashville. If the savings in time and dollars is as significant as expected in the Nashville market, the One Touch method will spread to other markets if for no other reason than that it is so logical. Well, on second thought, logic didn’t prevail in the 1980’s, but we didn’t have an 800-pound gorilla on our team then.

 

A PROJECT MANAGEMENT MYSTERY SOLVED

Executive Summary: Do not assume that your company’s management or the project stakeholders have a firm grasp on the methods and procedures of Project Management. It may be that they don’t know what they don’t know about the methods and procedures. Be prepared to develop Project Execution Plan (PEP) even if it is not thought to be relevant. It is relevant in all cases.

The mystery is one that’s confounded me for years. I only recently discovered what the likely explanation maybe, and it’s not directly related to Project Management. My blog topics are usually based on a past situation where I violated one of the tenants of the Tao of Project Management, and the resulting chaos that resulted on specific projects. Four projects fell into this category in recent years and I saw these mangy dogs coming towards me, but I let them in the door anyway.

It’s easy to point at specific symptoms that caused each of the four projects to become mangy dogs, but it’s taken a while to understand that they all resulted from a common observable fact. To put it succinctly, upper management was incapable of envisioning or understanding the problem they were creating, or allowing to develop because they did not mandate and participate in or support the development of even a rudimentary Project Execution Plan. This conundrum has puzzled me for years, but I believe I finally understand the root cause, and you need to be watchful. There are many management people who don’t know what they don’t know about project management. Therefore they cannot envision how time spent on planning, scheduling, and tracking will result in maximizing profitability, or actually may even save a bad project from finishing with negative profitability and a disgruntled stakeholder. I’m not saying that the people I’m referring to are dumb. They are not, well mostly not. But they are not able to grasp and understand how and why project management works, rather in the same manner that many people do not understand calculus or quantum physics. These people do not look at project management as being valuable and therefore worthwhile work. This is the only logical explanation to this conundrum.

If my theory is correct, than how can I explain why so many otherwise intelligent people do not understand why PM is essential? The most plausible explanation includes the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The Wikipedia definition is; “The Dunning–Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than it really is. Dunning and Kruger attributed this bias to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their own ineptitude and evaluate their own ability accurately.” The corollary in this situation is manifested by projects being bid and executed with minimal, or no Project Execution Plan because that stuff is just a waste of time. The common wisdom is that it’s better to just get started as fast as possible and put as many resources as you have available on the work. The result of this strategy is that nobody on the team will know how the project is progressing, or even if it will make any profit until it’s finished.

This effect explains many sub-performing and failed projects I’ve observed directly, and that I’ve read about in books and postings. If Project Management concepts and processes are so obvious and requisite to my thinking, why have they eluded so many people I’ve worked with? More importantly, how can I recognize this effect in the preliminary stage of a project, and what can I do to combat the effect if the project is awarded to my team?

One of my previous postings titled “Be careful which projects you agree to manage” comes to mind. It wasn’t evident to me when I wrote that posting that the management people I referred to made decisions that negatively affected projects because they simple don’t know what they don’t know about Project Management. While that may be enlightening, it doesn’t help with executing a project. Therefore, if you cannot disown the mangy dog project then you need to document your situation, and the impact on the project. The “Progress, Plans, and Problems (PPP)” report is my recommendation for a format to capture pertinent data and notes. You will have to decide how far up the chain you will distribute your documentation. Do you share it with the stakeholders? That’s another decision you’ll need to use your discretion with.

Now, if you worked in an organization that maintained a functional Project Management Office (PMO) this entire scenario would be documented. However, if you work in an organization without a PMO, this whole effect wouldn’t evolve to begin with.

The Tao of Project Management

The Tao of Project Management is a collection of lessons-learned from years in the trenches.

  1. The Primary Principle of Project Management: I have always believed that “If I don’t control the project, I cannot be held responsible for the results!” This is a remarkably common problem that Project Managers suffer at the hands of well-meaning, but ill-advised management. Almost every project in my career that had substandard and/or unsatisfactory performance resulted as a direct result of violating this rule. Satisfactory project results are often directly proportional to allowing the project manager to manage the project. That is, of course if the project manager is capable, and knowledgeable in the art of professional project management techniques and as bid – as built procedures and practices.

 

  1. Be very careful what projects you agree to manage. You may be a participant in the proposal team and involved in the detail of the bid preparation and baseline schedule only to see the budget and schedule whacked before the contract is signed. The “whacking” is sometimes done internally in the pretext of a pricing strategy, but most often it results from client’s ability of negotiating the scope after-the-fact in an effort to force the project to fit their budget. An even more precarious situation can occur if you are assigned a project that you had nothing to do with at the proposal bid and schedule stage. In this case, you must examine the budget, schedule, and deliverables with great scrutiny before accepting this project, and be prepared to walk away from it if it’s a mangy dog looking for an owner. Sometimes you get a mangy dog by default. See the other articles in the Toa to deal with these situations. Be prepared and documented to defend yourself from “mangy dogs” or they will bite you on the butt really hard.

 

  1. Never prepare a proposal for a project for which you have not done a site visit and stakeholder deliverable expectations meeting. This one has bitten me on the butt many times. If you’re “forced” to submit a proposal without a site visit you can write caveats, clarifications, terms, conditions, and other limitations related to the deliverable, and of course you should. My experience is that you will identify those tasks that cause the project to over-run the budget and schedule about 20% of the time. The 80% of the causes for over-runs cannot be known if a site visit/meeting does not take place. Even then, there are site conditions that could not have been identified at the proposal level that will bite you on the butt. Have a strategy in place for dealing with stakeholder scope creep before you arrive on the project site. That strategy may include stopping the project until the scope creep issue is resolved. The Project Manager should be empowered to stop any project until the scope and deliverables are clearly defined.

 

  1. In every case possible, review your proposal document with the client after you have been notified of the intent to award to your firm. Review the Terms and Conditions and the commercial terms before executing the agreement. I most cases, there will not be a disconnect between your client’s and your understanding, but in the rare case where there is a discrepancy, this check will save angst and potential law suits at the end of the project.

 

  1. Bring me a rock. This is a common game in the telecom Engineer, Procure, and Construct (EPC) industry in recent years. Great care should be exercised to identify BMAR scopes of work when they are in the bidding/proposal stage. It might be possible to nail down a few attributes about the rock in your proposal. If you are lucky enough to have received a BMAR project, my suggestion is to STOP work and inform the client/stakeholder that you will not continue until the size, shape, color, and type of rock is defined.

 

  1. Multitasking. Let me be blunt – multitasking is BAD! Multitasking causes work tasks to take LONGER to be finished, and reduces the quality of the end product. If the reader is delusional and proudly points out their multitasking abilities on their resume and if I reviewed the resume, it would be in the trash as quickly as gravity would allow.

 

  1. Never-ever start a project or mobilize resources to a project until you do a site visit with the stakeholder and establish what the Scope of Work is, and what the deliverable actually includes. This concept is directly related to the concept above. If you cannot do a pre-proposal site visit with the stakeholder, than you must do a pre-project analysis of the deliverables with the stakeholders before you mobilize assets on site to perform the work. This is another concept that has bitten me on the butt almost every time I violated this model.

 

  1. The “As Bid – As BuiltÓ” Method. In my opinion, successful projects are born during the bidding/proposal stage. Build the “yardsticks” or measurement metrics in during the bid preparation. These metrics will then be used to track the performance of the project against the expectations and project plan through to completion. Track performance against the expectations, production numbers, schedule, and assumptions that were in the proposal and bid. Do not allow yourself to be lead down false trails of GAAP accounting reports.

 

  1. Accountability – Don’t undertake a project without it. I suggest that if the members of your project team (or yourself for that matter) cannot be held accountable for their actions and the performance of a project – run; run away, fast. This concept also applies going up the chain from the project team to management and stakeholders. If the managers and stakeholders are not accountable for the support of the project, or more importantly the success of the project, you could end up as “dog meat” that will be feed to the corporate and financial dogs when the project fails.

 

  1. Don’t start the schedule until you plan the schedule. It will take you at least three times as long to build a schedule if you start without the preplanning and the collaboration of all project participants in the process of storyboarding the schedule. Believe me; I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.

 

  1. Design the tracking method before the project starts. Establish your milestones (expectations) in terms of profits and productivity before the project begins. Review “Earned Value Tracking” procedures and apply it to the project you’ve been assigned. Re-read as bid – as built project tracking!

 

  1. Software programs and computers do NOT manage projects. There are hundreds of software packages available for purchase today. The prices range from $20 to enterprise program management systems that bolt on to large accounting packages that cost millions. So, why are 60% of projects still failing? Computers don’t “know” how to do Project Management. A lot of people who have a title of Project Manager also do NOT know how to manage projects. A true Project Manager should be able to perform basic Earned Value tracking and Gantt chart scheduling on a yellow tablet with a calculator. If the Project Manager does not grasp the fundamental concepts, all the computers and software programs will not make them effective or successful as at managing even simple projects.

 

  1. Real-time reporting and tracking data. The efficacy of “field reporting data” and “project tracking reports” diminishes exponentially with the passing of time. I recently participated in a discussion with a project manager from a very large international manufacturing company who related that the “ACWP” (Actual Cost of Work Performed) reports they received as a primary project reporting tool were three weeks or more after the actual work had been performed. It took a few minutes of discussion before he agreed with my assertion that three-week old ACWP was not only worthless, but could in fact be very dangerous. “Field reporting” and project tracking reporting must be as close to real-time as is physically possible for it to be valuable and useful in the controlling of projects in action. In my 40-year career I have yet to encounter a corporate accounting department that understood, or for that matter cared about this concept.

 

  1. Do not start a project before the contract is signed. Or, at the very least, have a Notice to Proceed or a Letter of Intent (signed) that clearly states what work will be performed and also states when the final Agreement will be executed (or work halts). This one has bitten me every time I have been forced to violate the principle (see first entry above).

 

  1. Do not start a project for which the Scope of Work and the deliverables are not clearly defined and agreed to by your team and the Stakeholders. Different expectations in the Scope of Work and deliverables are a primary source of client dissatisfaction during the course of a project (See communications).   Developing the SOW as the project progresses is a very dangerous practice – unless the project is structured that way from the outset and the stakeholders agree.

 

  1. Never mobilize assets before the support elements are in place. This is an old construction/fiber optic project axiom. Don’t mobilize your personnel until all equipment and materials are on site and ready to work.

 

  1. Stand by your Level of Effort Cost Estimate – Or be prepared to do Project Management by Blunt Instrument. On many occasions I have spent hours, even days researching and building a level of effort cost estimate for a project proposal, only to have other people whack the estimate (internally) so as to be more competitive. Sometimes the client has come back and whacked my estimate on Task Orders in Bench Contracts. You can watch your profits fade into the sunset, or you can stand your ground and refuse to accept the change (in which case the ground you may be standing on may be outside of your former office). The last choice is project management by blunt instrument. I devised this method while working for one of the big international engineering firms. Since I was never able to obtain actual cost data on projects I managed at this firm, the best I could do was to track hours as the BCWP and ACWP. I had to manually collect each participant’s hours each week. When people got close to the number of hours in the “whacked estimate” I told them to stop working and to NOT charge any more time to that project. Whatever was completed at that point got turned over to the client regardless of % completed. Crazy, but it never backfired.

 

  1. Too much documentation on a project is impossible. Archive all written documents pertaining to a project. Consider using tape recorders at meetings. All persons assigned to a project must keep a journal (bound with numbered pages) of their activities. Weekly PPPs (Progress, Plans, and Problems reports) must be prepared and distributed to the team and Stakeholders. Gantt charts, schedules, spreadsheets, databases, etc. may be utilized to support planning and tracking, but will also become a part of the project documentation.

 

  1. Read the contract before starting the project. Have all key members of the PM team read the contract (or a redacted version). Hold a group reading of the contract with a PowerPoint synopsis of the contract for key management team people. Extract and distribute key sections of the contract including, deliverables, schedule, definition of “extra work”, definition of “changes to the work”, and the process for applying for the latter two.

 

  1. Establish processes for quickly identifying significant “Out of Scope” or “Scope Creep” events (exception reporting), and have a plan ready for bringing these conditions to the Stakeholder’s attention. Key events to identify include “scope creep”, “changes in work”, and cost/time overruns on project segments. Cost/time overrun identification will require keeping an independent tracking process apart from the “financial software” (GAAP) system[1]. See “As Bid – As Built tracking above.

 

  1. “I would rather be approximately right then precisely wrong”. This is a concept I learned early in my Project Management career. This goes back to the theory that it is better to have the ability to track projects with a yellow tablet with a calculator than to rely on a sophisticated computer program that you are unable to replicate the results of from using a hand-held calculator. It also speaks to the challenge of knowing how the progress of a project will be measured and viewed by the stakeholders. Can you as the project manager speak to the overall evolution of the project off the hip? Do you know the fundamentals or are you relying on canned reports?

 

  1. It has to be quick! My experience has proven that if your as-bid tracking tool results aren’t simple enough to be understood at a glance, nobody’s going to bother looking at it. Management and staff generally will not study performance data any deeper than it takes for them to see an instant snapshot of a canned report on the project’s performance. With that in mind, I create one-page project dashboards that can be understood in less than thirty seconds. If the dashboard shows orange or red signals, the alarms will be raised. The challenge then is to create and implement an effective recovery plan.

 

  1. What’s the next action? Every project progress review meeting and update phone call should be completed by the project manager asking “what’s the next action”, and then he/she should document who owns that action and when it will be delivered. See “PPP” report.

 

  1. Scan the horizon for brick walls. When preparing the weekly Progress, Plans, and Problems (PPP) report, look forward to see if brick walls (potential obstacles or events that can stop or impede progress on your project) are on the horizon. Devise at least three alternate plans for going over, under, or around the brick walls. Never present your management or the stakeholders with a brick wall unless you have three plans for surmounting it.

 

  1. Begin closing a project the day you start the project. Review, understand, and plan for the “final acceptance” requirements of the project. Confirm periodically that you are working toward the “final payment” as defined in the contract. If final payments are predicated on testing and acceptance procedures, start planning how they will be conducted and documented at the early stages of the project. Actively pursue “retention”[2] until it’s collected. Send the client a self-addressed pre-paid express mail envelope three days before the payment is due.

 

  1. Review the Scope(s) of Work regularly. If your projects span more than a week in time you should review the Scope of Work yourself and with your team members on a regular basis – weekly is my suggestion. This is especially helpful if you and your team work on multiple projects simultaneously. This is not only a method for detecting Scope Creep, but also serves to refocus the team’s efforts toward efficient execution of the project.

 

  1. Related to the Review of the Scope of Work is this entry about Revisions. This entry applies to engineering and design projects, but it can surface on construction projects in the form of scope changes (or scope creep if you prefer). If you provide an interim version of a design, often referred to as a 40% or 60% submission, your client and his/her consultants will do a “mark-up” to drawings, and documents. Consideration and inclusion of all of the revisions proposed in the iterative process should produce the 100% design submission that should be ready to issue for construction. This never happens even with the most qualified and knowledgeable design team. Invariably, a new person from your client’s staff (who hasn’t been involved with the design to date), or someone from a governing body will review the drawings/design and start the process over from the 60% stage. My suggestion is to build the Level of Effort into your proposal, and provide at least one additional cycle in your reverse schedule.

 

  1. If your employer’s management does not understand Project Management – Run, run fast and find a new employer. If your employer relies on project performance tracking methods devised by accountants, and that are GAAP compliant, you do not stand a chance of being able to track and report legitimate earned value (read real-time) project performance results.

 

  1. Perhaps of the greatest importance to project success is Communications. Communications is two-way and requires both parties to clearly express their ideas, but more importantly, to understand what the other party is communicating. Poor communications is a primary cause of dissatisfaction for both stakeholders and managers on a project. Most of the previous entries in the Tao are related to communications. All Project Management Plans include a section titled “Communications Plan”. Make it the primary focus above all else.

[1] I’ve had this argument many times and I have conclusively proven that my statement is correct. I will defend it to the maximum effect.

[2] Understand what retention is actually intended to provide and question if it is truly applicable to your project. In many cases based on my experience, retention was not applicable to the contract conditions and I was able to negotiate the removal of retention because it didn’t apply to the contract terms and conditions of the agreement. If there are testing and acceptance provisions in the contract, then retention does not apply and should be removed from the agreement.

Progress, Plans, and Problems Report

Executive Summary

The Progress, Plans, and Problems (PPP) report is a succinct and highly effective format that provides executives with precise and timely updates on the status of numerous on-going projects. The PPP also provides excellent historical documentation that may be used to recreate the sequence of events and actions taken by a project team that is invaluable for resolving disputes that may arise on projects.

PPP BACKGROUND

I was first introduced to the Progress, Plans, and Problems (PPP) reporting format more than a decade ago when I was involved with one of the largest fiber optic network backbone construction projects ever executed in the US. Attempting to build 18,000 miles of fiber optic backbone IP network in a couple of years had never been considered, let alone undertaken.

My responsibilities included many of the installations east of the eastern US. The majority of this network was installed on railroad rights of way for reasons that I will not explore in this paper. I will however mention that building any type of parallel infrastructure along railroad rights of way increases the difficulty by a factor of 2 and even more depending on the railroad.

There were twenty to thirty construction projects underway across the US during this network build-out. The operations management team was made up of about twelve members including Directors and VPs. Cash fueled the build; so much of it that it wasn’t the gating factor during the project. Speed was our mantra. The faster we could put light on the cables, the more money poured in. The team needed a succinct, but robust uniform tracking and reporting tool that was reviewed every Monday morning, not just by operations, but also the sales executives who had made promises to clients to close sales that operations couldn’t possibly deliver on.

One of the VPs in the operations group had used a reporting format on previous projects and suggested that we use it on this build-out. It’s called the Progress, Plans, and Problems or PPP report. The PPP is remarkably powerful, elegantly simple, but devilishly difficult to master. When done correctly the PPP will provide management with a succinct picture of where a project is in cost, scope, and schedule within two or three sentences. In the Plans segment the PPP tells management what work is planned and what activities (such as obtaining permits, material orders, or right of way acquisition) are planned for the coming week. And then, the Problems segment of the report raises the red flags and explains what events caused the project production to miss the planned goals. I’ve made it a rule for people I’ve taught the PPP system that if you put an issue in the Problems section, you must also include two to three possible solutions that the author is working on in real-time.

APPLICATION

It sounds fairly simple and straightforward. Once the technique is mastered it is not difficult, but as I mentioned earlier, it is ‘devilishly difficult’ to master. The reason is that it is very difficult to train project managers in art of writing succinct, erudite statements regarding the progress, plans and problems related to their projects. This isn’t a “Millennial” thing. I encountered this challenge years before the Millennials entered the wok force. The challenge is to get project managers to state what the progress, plans and problems are on their projects related to the Work Breakdown Structure that should be an integral part of the Project Execution Plan that should be prepared for all projects that will take more than a couple of weeks (or months) to complete.

Here’s the essence of a “Progress” statement:

  • The contract stipulates that there are X number of units of work of this category to be completed under this contract.
  • We accomplished Y number of those units of work this week, or C% this reporting period. In total, we’ve completed a total of Z number of units.
  • Therefore, we have completed T% of the total number of units of work of this category to date.
  • The PEP (schedule) projected that we will have completed E% of the units of work in this category by this reporting date. Therefore, we are ahead/behind productivity projections by D% as of this reporting period.

This Progress report can be written in two or three sentences. A similar statement is to be written for each project and category of work that the project manager is responsible for and reporting on for each project.

Example of a Progress statement:

  1. There are 102,610 feet of ‘pull fiber optic cable in conduit’ installed under another unit of work in this contract. We installed 35,500’ of fiber optic cable this week (35%) for a total installed to date of 96,750’ to date (94%). We expected to be at 100% completion this week, so we are 6% behind schedule.

The Plans segment of the PPP may cover many topics related to the project that may include, but are not limited to:

  • Recovery plans for inadequate productivity to date.
  • Obtaining permits or rights of way or similar activities that will enable the project to progress.
  • Other activities including meetings, schedule updates, material staging, and other tasks related to moving the project forward.

Example of a Plans statement:

  1. We have a meeting scheduled for Wednesday with the municipality of Bear’s Ass Vermont to resolve the rights of way issues related to the path of our proposed fiber optic cable installation. We have prepared maps and graphics to present to the town council at their meeting on Thursday evening.

The Problems segment of the PPP is, well just as you would assume. This is the place where the project manager vents the conditions and circumstances that are having negative effects on project progress. And, this section provides the project manager a platform for documenting the corrective actions the team intends to take in the coming week.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

The PPP format provides a robust record of projects is an excellent document for pointing out and tracking out of scope work, and potential change order issues. Keep in mind that the PPP may be used strictly as an internal tracking/reporting tool, but you may choose (with appropriate editing) to share it with the stakeholders. Of course there are many cloud-based project documentation platforms available. The PPP report has a strong advantage because of the disciplined structure and planning that go into its creation. Of course, as with any project documentation system, poorly written PPP reports are worthless. Also, if the project team doesn’t have the discipline to review the PPP and other related project reports at an established day/time each week, it doesn’t matter what reporting format you use – your project is doomed to under-perform.