Project Management 101
"Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems."
- Brian Tracy
"Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised."
- Denis Waitley
What is a Project Manager?
- Someone convinced they can successfully leverage nine women to deliver a baby in one month.
- An organizational leader dedicated to the imposition of order upon chaos, even if chaos is perfectly happy with the status quo.
- The person assigned by the performing organization to achieve the project objectives.
While there may be some truth in each of these options, the sixth edition of the Project Management Institute (PMI) Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines a Project Manager (PM) as choice C. After twenty-five years of transportation project, program, and portfolio management, I like choice B.
The mental image of boldly facing the raging tempest and taming the chaos seems especially relevant to transportation projects. Most other engineering disciplines operate in closed systems where you can quantitatively define, and directly control, most project risks. Transportation projects are decidedly different.
Project boundaries and scopes can be expanded with citizen input. Project objectives and success criteria can unpredictably change with the political tide. Legislative action and agency promulgation can dramatically change the rules of engagement mid-project by modifying processes, procedures, standards, and grandfathering new regulations. Weather can directly impact your schedule. Market conditions may increase your estimates even as your disconnected budget is declining. Other private entities are also constantly playing in your sandbox and often do not coordinate their efforts with your project. You work closely with a myriad of local, state, and federal organizations that often have very different definitions of "a helpful and timely response." Bureaucratic inertia, indecision, and personal and professional agendas are commonplace. And so much more.
Transportation Project Management is a fascinatingly complex game. It will challenge your patience, intelligence, and determination. And it will fill you with pride as you develop and deliver tangible and enduring products that improve the safety and quality of life for the community.
This book will paint a broad-stroke, contextual picture of foundational transportation knowledge, provide a comprehensive examination of project management fundamentals, and offer practical guidance on how to efficiently plan, develop, and deliver public transportation projects.
1.1.1 The Big Picture
At their core, most transportation owner-operators are funding organizations. This is increasingly the case as more design, development, construction, maintenance, and operations activities are being contracted out and not performed with in-house staff. Public agencies operate under completely different paradigms than private companies. They are not a for-profit enterprise. They are also not a bank. Their continued existence and success is not dependent upon the size of their cash reserves or its ability to optimize a positive financial advantage in the transaction of goods or services. Their directive is to spend the money in a reasonable and responsible way that directly and significantly improves the public's safety, mobility, and quality of life. While the public entity may own and operate the transportation asset, it is important to understand that the money that flows through its various projects, programs, and portfolios supports and enables a host of other public agencies, consultants, contractors, manufacturers, suppliers, and services that drive an entire industry with far-reaching economic impacts.
Most state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) have remarkably similar mission statements. They typically include planning, delivering, operating, and maintaining safe, accessible, and reliable multimodal transportation systems that enable efficient movement of people and goods, enhance the economy, and improve the overall quality of life. Most DOTs also cite shared values that typically include safety, trust, honesty, integrity, accountability, transparency, fiscal responsibility, innovation, sustainability, and responsive service. These are ambitious and noble goals. The PM plays a critical role in the execution of this mission.
To meet these challenges, DOTs and other transportation system owners and operators must work collaboratively and strategically to ensure they are planning, developing, and delivering the right projects. Significant time and effort is spent evaluating and prioritizing the projects that make cost-effective and significant impacts to the transportation systems and the traveling public. Once a project is selected, funded, and initiated, it becomes the PM's responsibility to develop and deliver the project.
I have yet to meet an engineer who went through the gauntlet of an engineering education so they could live their dream of filling out forms and shuffling papers. Engineers solve problems. Engineers create and innovate. Engineers build things. That is why we are engineers. A transportation PM has to juggle many factors and risks, work with a wide range of stakeholders, all while strategically and stubbornly navigating their project to satisfy sometimes complex and conflicting success criteria. At times this can be exhausting and overwhelming. Resist surrendering that sense of wonder and excitement you had building Lego creations as a kid. Remember, the goal is to build a solution that solves a problem and improves the community's quality of life. That is a noble goal.
Life is short. Harvey Mackay said, "Time is free, but it's priceless. You can't own it, but you can use it. You can't keep it, but you can spend it. Once you've lost it you can never get it back." In your professional career you only get so many projects to manage and lead. Seize the limited opportunities to make a tangible and significant difference in the world.
1.2 Triple Constraint
"Nothing is so simple that it cannot be misunderstood."
- Freeman Teague, Jr.
In 2016, the worldwide management consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimated large transportation projects typically finish 80% over budget and 20% beyond the original schedule. Pending the sample set of projects, the results can be even more bleak. Bent Flyvbjerg, of Oxford Business School, estimated 90% of mega projects go over budget. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, small local transportation projects may be no better. While the lack of holistic and consistent performance metrics over the life of the project and across state and locality lines can make it difficult to determine if transportation organizations are developing and delivering projects on-time and on-budget compared against a common schedule and budget baseline, there is no denying transportation projects have a history of being chronically late and over budget.
Why is this? In a recent Gallup poll of most trusted and ethical professions, engineers rank second behind nurses, ahead of medical doctors and pharmacists. Top college engineering programs are among the most competitive for entrance, and most rigorous to complete. Transportation professionals are typically well-intentioned, bright engineers who are driven to solve problems and build solutions. Where is the disconnect?
Many of the reasons for this uninspiring performance will be discussed and addressed in this book. Some of these reasons are outside of our control, but most are not. An organization or individual cannot expect success if their level of transportation project management expertise and experience is low. This book will equip you to succeed.
We start at the very beginning. Project Management 101 is the Triple Constraint. It is so simple. Most every engineer, manager, or administrator can describe it. Yet project performance indicates most don't understand it, properly utilize it, or grasp its power.
As PM, the Triple Constraint is fundamental to all you do. It is graphically shown as a triangle, with the three legs being labelled for Budget, Scope, and Schedule.
This triangle, illustrated in Figure 1.1, represents your project. Your project's budget, scope, and schedule are individual constraints that are inherently interconnected. Once set, you cannot change one without impacting the other two. Think of the area within the triangle as fixed. The option of simply enlarging the triangle is rarely realistic without compromising the project's success. So, if you extend the schedule line, the budget and/or scope must decrease in order for the area within the triangle to remain the same. This results in the common quip that you can have your project fast, cheap, or good - pick two of the three.
Figure 1.1 Triple constraint.
It is important to recognize that you don't have a project unless that project has a budget, scope, and schedule. You may have an idea, a hope, a plan, or even a commitment, but you do not have a project until you have a budget, scope, and schedule. Once the project is active, the triple constraint is established. Once established, the PM lives within this triangle. All project work should be conducted within this space. To be successful, you must fiercely monitor and guard these three...