Article #180 Can You Afford to Continue Playing Chinese Whispers on Delivering Your Engineering and Construction Projects?

Valuable and critical information gets generated every day during capital project delivery. Information that relates to financial, technical, administrative, and other aspects needed to manage the project get generated by the different entities involved in this delivery. Some of the information could be formal and have contractual implications if not managed by the contract agreements terms and conditions while others could be informal yet critical to provide a complete understanding of the project’s performance. Many organizations continue to use fragmented, manual, or semi-manual methods to capture, store, aggregate, analyze, blend, review, share and report project information thus creating barriers that drain the value of this critical information sharing.

Understanding the Information Barriers

When it comes to capital project delivery, there are usually six types of information barriers that organizations could encounter when it comes to reporting projects’ performance and status. The first barrier is the link between the project communication and the documents that are usually attached to those communications to provide additional information. Project communication usually uses document templates such as a request for information (RFI), submittals, transmittals, meeting minutes, daily reports, requests for inspection, non-conformance reports, potential change orders, change orders, and progress invoices among many others. In addition, project communication includes letters such as a letter of award, notice to process, and termination letter among many others. Usually, the organization would have a folder for each type of document template and maybe letters. In addition, the organization would also have folders to store the project documents that are usually attached to those project communications. There could be folders for drawings, pictures, catalogs, and specifications among others.

The second barrier is the barrier between the document templates for each project communication type. For example, if the project team member wants to identify what change orders were issued due to unforeseen site conditions, he or she needs to review the complete change order folder records to locate those documents. Of course, some might assume that this barrier can be eliminated by logging the details of the project communication in an MS XLS file. Nevertheless, the issue is how much of the data within each communication record we need to retype in MS XLS which carries its risks of data quality and time validity. In addition, even if those project communication details are captured in the MS XLS spreadsheet, one still needs to go back to the file folder and locate those records.

The third barrier is the silos created using MS XLS for each type of project communication which are usually created by different project team members depending on the relevance of the communication to them. For example, the document controller might be the one responsible for maintaining the RFI, submittal, transmittal, meeting minutes, daily reports, request for inspection, and non-conformance reports logs while the cost manager might be the one responsible for maintaining the logs for potential change orders, change orders, progress invoices among others. If a project team member needs to understand what project communications have contributed to the change order, he or she needs to check different project communication MS XLS spreadsheets and eventually the document folders that have those records to have a comprehensive understanding of the issue.

The fourth barrier is the ability to have a single project status report or dashboard that provides real-time visualization of the overall project’s performance status. The MS XLS logs created to capture some of the data included in the project communications carry the risk of data errors, lack of data consistency, and data silos, and could be stored at different locations. Therefore, multiple MS XLS files need to be collected, loaded, linked, or copied to a single MS XLS file, analyzed, manipulated, reviewed, and prepared to be used for the progress report or dashboard. Not only this is a time-consuming process, which might take one week to complete but also requires the involvement of key project team members and carries the high risk of faulty data manipulation and analysis, as well as the validity of the time-sensitive, reported information.

The fifth barrier is the requirement of the organization’s executives to have projects portfolio performance and status report and dashboard. This could be at the program level, projects group level, or enterprise level. Even if we assume that the organization has invested in a business intelligence and data visualization application like MS Power BI, this requires receiving an MS XLS file from each project that consolidates the project’s performance data needed for that report or dashboard. This entails the risk of not receiving that MS XLS promptly with the exact form and format of the project’s performance data needed to be reported on.

Nevertheless, the worst barrier of all is the knowledge barrier. Having project information captured in hundreds if not thousands of MS XLS files is a direct waste of the knowledge that an organization would expect to have from delivering projects. The wasted knowledge is not limited to the current projects being delivered by the organization but it extends to all other completed, shelved, and planned projects that usually have their MS XLS files deleted, corrupted, or misplaced. Even if the organization creates a task force to capture all of those MS XLS files, the efforts and associated costs for locating those files and making use of their content might not be justifiable.

Those barriers not only carry the high cost of using expensive resources to capture, store, aggregate, analyze, blend, review, share, report, and present the needed projects’ information but also the time lag between the date that this information is captured and the date it becomes available to be shared which raises the major concern on the validity of this reported information to provide the project team and executives with the insight to make better and faster-informed decisions that could impact the project’s success.

How Can Technology Remove Those Barriers?

Using a Project Management Information System (PMIS) like PMWeb not only eliminates those barriers but will ensure the quality of captured data by enforcing the use of the right forms, by the right project team members, to capture the right data in the right format and at the right time. This will be done on a single integrated, web-enabled platform for all project management processes across the complete project life cycle and the complete organization’s projects portfolio regardless of their status, type, phase, and location among others.

PMWeb will be used to automate the project management processes by providing input forms to capture the needed data. Many of the capital projects delivery forms come ready with PMWeb but the custom form builder can be also used to create additional input forms.

Each project communication can be attached with documents that are either uploaded and stored in its appropriate folder or subfolder in the PMWeb document management repository or can be uploaded directly. In addition, links to other PMWeb records can be added as well as to email communications that were imported to the PMWeb database. This will remove the first information barrier as all attached documents are now available for review from within the project communication itself.

Workflows can be assigned for each form to map the steps for submitting, reviewing, sharing, and approving or rejecting the project management process. The workflow could include branches and escalation conditions to map the project authorities’ level usually set for each project role. Notifications can be added to remind those involved in the workflow process to avoid delays in performing each process. For some forms, there could be a need for ad-hoc collaboration rather than a formal workflow where project team members are simply invited to provide their input or feedback on the project communication using the input form.

The data captured in each form will become automatically available for displaying the transactions log for each project communication. This real-time log of all those transactions removes the second barrier between those communications. Layouts can be created to display the data in the desired format with the option to order and filter the transactions by the desired field.

Since all types of project communications are captured on the same PMWeb platform, the project team member can search and locate all records that are relevant to a specific topic. The record search function in PMWeb allows searching for records across multiple projects, and across multiple record types with all possible record statuses. The identified records can be then selected and saved to an electronic folder known as an issue where the project team member can drill down to each selected record and review. This removes the third barrier of not being able to relate to information captured in different types of project communication records.

With all related project communications’ data being captured in PMWeb with the option to import data from other applications either directly like the schedule data from Oracle Primavera P6 or MS Project or import data through application integration, the organization can have a single version of the truth project performance dashboard. This will allow the organization to monitor and evaluate real-time project performance and status. Accordingly, the fourth barrier to reporting the project’s performance is eliminated.

As PMWeb allows the organization to capture all of their projects’ portfolios regardless of their status, location, type, phase, and size among others, the organization can have dashboards to report on a program, group of projects, or all projects. Dashboards can be designed to include maps to visualize the location of those projects as well as include other visuals to better analyze and visualize the project’s portfolio performance. The dashboards can be designed to allow drilling to a specific project as well as project information. This eliminates the fifth information barrier.

Finally, PMWeb is one of the very few PMIS solutions that continue to be available as an on-premise solution where it can be hosted on the organization’s own data center or any other preferred data center of their choice to provide what is known as a private cloud. In addition, PMWeb public cloud offering or SaaS provides organizations with the option of having their dedicated data server to ensure that their confidential and valuable data is not mixed with other organizations known as tenants. This enables the organization to use business intelligence and other applications to analyze the everyday data captured across all of their projects’ portfolios in confidence. The captured data is not limited to the project communication needed to manage the project but could also include data captured in custom-defined lessons learned document templates to enforce knowledge capturing and sharing in the organization. This data can also be made available to machine learning and other new technologies that will help in improving the use and dissemination of projects’ knowledge thus eliminating the final information barrier.


In conclusion, organizations who are keen on improving their insight to make better and faster-informed decisions as well as make use of the everyday knowledge gained in delivering projects to become more efficient and knowledgeable, have no other choice but to use technology to take advantage of their projects’ information. Project Management Information Systems (PMIS) like PMWeb are an example of how readily available technology today can remove the barriers to improvement, otherwise, you might be forced to play Chinese Whispers.


About the Authorfounder

Bassam Samman, PMP, PSP, EVP, GPM is a Senior Project Management Consultant with more than 35-year service record providing project management and controls services to over 100 projects with a total value of over US $5 Billion. Those projects included Commercial, Residential, Education, and Healthcare Buildings and Infrastructure, Entertainment and Shopping Malls, Oil and Gas Plants and Refineries, Telecommunication, and Information Technology projects. He is thoroughly experienced in complete project management including project management control systems, computerized project control software, claims analysis/prevention, risk analysis/management (contingency planning), design, supervision, training, and business development.

Bassam is a frequent speaker on topics relating to Project Management, Strategic Project Management, and Project Management Personal Skills. Over the past 35 years, he has lectured at more than 350 events and courses at different locations in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and South America. He has written more than 250 articles on project management and project management information systems that were featured in international and regional magazines and newspapers. He is a co-founder of the Project Management Institute- Arabian Gulf Chapter (PMI-AGC) and has served on its board of directors for more than 6 years. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute (PMI), a certified Planning and Scheduling Professional (PSP), an Earned Value Professional (EVP) from the American Association of Cost Engineers (AACE), and a Green Project Management (GPM).

Bassam holds a Master’s in Engineering Administration (Construction Management) with Faculty Commendation, from George Washington University, Washington, D.C., USA, Bachelor in Civil Engineering – from Kuwait University, Kuwait, and has attended many executive management programs at Harvard Business School, Boston, USA, and London Business School, London, UK.


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