Rebuilding our Infrastructure!

To the future civil engineers of America! You will rebuild our infrastructure, and rekindle the spirit of building in our national fabric.

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Construction Scheduling Software > Factors to Consider

Remember that construction scheduling software is a tool and it has a purpose:  to provide relevant and timely information about the status of a project, in order to drive decision-making in a dynamic format that can be shared and communicated effectively.

When implementing a construction software tool, the objectives of the organization are to enable the following –

  • Creation of task-level activities with durations, start dates, finish dates and dependencies.
  • Linking of activities via several different logical relationships: finish-to-start, start-to-start, finish-to-finish, and start-to-finish.  These are often augmented with forced lags.
  • Tracking of the critical path, which is the series of activities that cannot be prolonged without affecting the overall schedule.
  • Comparison of baseline schedule with current status, usually via an overlay.
  • Calculation of float, resource leveling, and cost distribution.
  • Tracking of earned value metrics and integration with project accounting systems.
  • Ability to access information in a mobile platform (on smart phones).
  • Tailored reports which include views of interest to users (such as Project Managers and Planners).
  • A scheduling platform that is flexible, scalable and reliable.

Risks which management must consider and evaluate before committing resources to implementation of scheduling software:

  • Possibility that program will not be fully utilized.
  • User resistance due to insufficient training.  This usually results in inefficiencies and erodes the value which management is looking to derive from its investment in the software.
  • User resistance because of reluctance to switch platforms and fear of losing “perceived” expertise.
  • Not providing sufficient training.
  • Not initiating implementation soon enough; i.e., reducing the learning curve time for project teams to fully understand and gain familiarity with the program.
  • Not understanding the bandwidth (and organizational resources) required to use the program effectively.
  • Not establishing one team leader (or program champion) who would cast the final vote on the format of the implementation, and the manner and time frame in which it would be rolled out.
  • Obsolescence.
  • Not realizing that once corporate resources (especially time) are dedicated to a new tool, it is difficult for people to change gears and consider simpler, more effective alternatives.


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Less is More in Structured Cabling

Less is More in Structured Cabling

by Patrick Smith, President, SK Cabling Inc.

In today’s IT business environment, whether its virtualization or cloud servers, less is more.  Less space, less power, less management, less expense and more horse power, giving the business user more to work with.

The same principles should apply to Network infrastructure in the office.  There is absolutely no need to over-cable or over-wire workstations with more cable than one or two drops.  Similarly, it is NOT better to install the most expensive Category 6A cable you can get.  That’s a misnomer that most people don’t understand.  The more wire you install, and the more expensive it is, does not mean anything except for more money out of your pocket!

Always go with a reputable cable manufacturer who will provide a warranty.  Also, note that mid- range grades of Category 6 cable installed to the work station, provide more than enough bandwidth to take you to the moon or even Mars.

And when it comes to big data users like TV broadcasters or developers, just add in a good piece of OM3 or OM 4 fiber optic wires to the workstation at a fraction of the price of copper cable and fire away! Don’t let anybody fool you about the cost of fiber switches either; they have come way down in the last few years.

The other big development is IP systems that allow you to use one wired network connection for your work station CPU and telephone; so who needs more expensive wire? You don’t!!

So take my advice business users, less is more when it comes to network cabling, and in the process we can save more of our limited resources.

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Your People

If you don’t care deeply about the people who work for you, how can you expect them to view you as their leader?

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Challenge the Status Quo

Effective project and business leaders challenge existing processes and question the status quo. They recognize the need to rethink assumptions and evaluate issues objectively. Preconceived notions and biases favoring existing thinking limit our critical thinking, and diminish our ability to make informed decisions.

Break out of the need to be right.

1.     Let go of the need to conform to stagnant viewpoints promoted by those who cling blindly to inertia of the status quo.

2.     Evaluate issues critically and objectively.  Support opinions with facts and then check those facts.

3.     Explore options; especially those forwarded by those team members who are lower in the food chain.  Odds are, they have a much better handle on technical solutions than their managers do.

4.     Challenge existing paradigms.  Question assumptions.


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Negotiation for Project Managers (1)

Project managers should take a lesson from Lao Tse (Tao Te Ching) when negotiating. That which does not bend shall break. Be flexible and nimble.  Expand the zone of negotiation and make the pie bigger for all parties.

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Common Cost Control Problems on Construction Projects

Here is a list of common cost control problems found on construction projects:

  • Improper estimates, standards and budgeting techniques.
  • Unrealistic budgets.
  • Activities started or completed out of sequence.
  • Inadequate WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) or insufficient WBS detail.
  • Lack of management policy on control practices.
  • Poor corporate and project management governance structure and policies.
  • Reducing budgets or bids to be competitive.
  • Inadequate planning.  This is very common, particularly on privately funded projects.
  • Unnoticed and uncontrolled increases is scope.  The all too common “Scope Creep”.
  • Lack of comparison between “actual” and “planned” costs.
  • Unforeseen technical problems.  Inadequate contingencies and management reserves.
  • Project schedule delays and lack of systems to flag and deal with delays.
  • Additional overtime and acceleration costs.
  • Escalation of material costs.
  • Contractual discrepancies and inconsistencies.  These could result in gaps and ambiguities in contracts which often result in cost increases and erosion of bargaining strength.
  • Unrealistic appraisal of in-house resources.
  • Improper assessment of risks by the bidding team and by executive management.
  • Excessive pressure on the bid team to WIN the project.  “Must Win” projects are often destined for eventual failure.


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PLG ESTIMATING & PURCHASING > Buyouts on Large Vendor Contracts > 1

Construction estimating and purchasing executives are aware of the various issues involved with negotiating large equipment purchases.  On fixed price contracts, the ability to negotiate purchases on major equipment contracts affects profitability, schedule, project risk and overall project success.  The key is understanding the specification and ensuring that the focus is on complying with it.  Assuming that the specification is not defective, the first step is to speak with specified vendors and confirm the extent to which they can meet the specified requirements.  This begins the negotiation dance with the vendors.

A detailed comparison (between potential vendors) should be made for all attributes of the pending purchase including (but not limited to) lead time, delivery, acceptance criteria, installation labor, standby labor, interface with existing or planned work (and systems) and required supervision by manufacturer’s representatives.

Emphasis should be placed on TOTAL installed cost and not just the initial purchase and delivery cost of the equipment.  MFG REPS can add impact costs significantly as can testing and commissioning.

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Keep it Simple

Good project leaders make the complex look simple.  Poor project leaders add needless complexity.

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The “Silo” Effect in Large Project-Based Organizations

Delivering large and complex projects in accordance with contract requirements while meeting client expectations is difficult enough.  There is an added burden within large organizations that have not fully integrated project management into their fabric.  These organizations, particularly government agencies, are prone to the “Silo” Effect.  By this I mean that the core of the organization’s business (the delivery of large, complex and mission-critical projects) is either understood by too few people or there is an organization-wide disconnect between the project management and the finance & administration groups.  I have found this to also be common in large organizations in large private sector firms, but to a lesser extent than in the government sector.    Although these organizations focus on project delivery, they may not have managed to spread project management understanding throughout their functional groups.  This results in several significant and potentially costly problems:

  1.  Lack of alignment between administration and project management whereby financial staffers do not understand the drivers of successful projects.  They see project management as a mysterious “black-box” that they feed money into, but that they do not understand.  They lack the awareness needed to effectively question, challenge, monitor and comprehend the reports generated by the PM group.  They understand the business case and the financial expectations for the project, but do not know how to measure project status and cannot relate to the performance metrics (such as earned value and critical path scheduling) reported by the project managers.
  2. To make matters worse, their lack of understanding puts them at a disadvantage when interacting with the company PMO (project management office) and project teams.
  3. Failure to see the early warning signs of project problems and inability to react to these signs.
  4. Lack of context in reading project reports.   They lack the know-how and experience to question project leaders and adjust forecasts.  This can lead to indecision and poor decision-making related to the funding of scope changes, claims and subsequent phases.
  5. Risk assessments that do not properly account for the total extent of project risks.
  6. Inability to implement company-wide project portfolio management reporting, strategy and decision-making.

The resolution to the “Silo” Effect involves a commitment by senior management to aligning the culture of the organization.  This entails the prioritization of project management training across functional groups.  Within construction companies, employees with insufficient experience in project management should be exposed to the core business of construction management and contracts management.  They can then become more conversant with the concepts of project management.  In larger organizations, training can be supplemented by rotational training and cross-pollination so that financial and administrative professionals get acquainted with project management and with the levers that drive successful projects.


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