Article #181 Does Your Engineering and Construction Project Remind You of the Blind Men and the Elephant Story?

Many organizations that are in particular involved in delivering engineering and construction projects find that their projects tend to remind them of the Blind Men and the Elephant Story. It is very common to find that within each project, there are groups that will focus on capturing, analyzing, monitoring, and evaluating the processes that relate to their own assigned roles and responsibilities but with very little and even no coordination with other project groups who are responsible to cover other project management processes. Thus, none of those groups as well as the project manager and other executive stakeholders can have the complete 360-degree single version of the truth on how the project is performing.

Each one of those project groups will usually create the dashboard and reports that can best provide them with details of their processes’ performance and status. Those could include dashboards to report the project’s schedule performance, budget and cost, procured contracts, quality and site inspection, document management, health and safety, risk, and issues among others. Each dashboard would usually include key performance indicators, other performance, and trend measures as well as summary logs of key actions that need to be performed.

There will be another project group, maybe the project control group, that will then consolidate the information from those different spreadsheets or applications used to produce the monthly project performance report. The team can use the same MS XLS file used to consolidate these multi-data sources or any other data visualization tools like MS Power BI, Tableau, and Qlik among others to generate the monthly project dashboard in the desired form and format.

Nevertheless, the issue goes far beyond the wasted effort in consolidating, reviewing, analyzing, and reporting the information from the different data silos and the delay in sharing this information which could make it of no or little value when it comes to making informed decisions. The real issue is that many transactions for the different processes managed by each group are interrelated with the processes managed by other groups. The links between those transactions must be identified and managed if the organization is serious about having a single version of the truth when it comes to managing, monitoring, and evaluating their projects’ performance.

Differing Site Conditions

To explain the seriousness of this issue, we will use the “Differing Site Conditions” event which will always have the likelihood to occur on every engineering and construction project. We will also use the PMWeb project management information system to explain how can technology available today can address and support the resolution of such issues.

The risk of encountering differing site conditions should be always part of every project risk register. The likelihood and impact of this risk vary depending on the project’s particulars and set objectives. The most common response action for this type of risk is to escalate as we cannot avoid the cause, transfer to a third party, effectively mitigate its impact or simply accept the additional cost and delays associated with the event.

To ensure that all the particulars of the differing site condition are captured when it occurs and the right project team members that need to be involved in managing this risk are escalated to, a risk occurrence template is created. Those are pre-defined templates for the top 39 risk incidents that could occur during the delivery of engineering and construction projects. The template “Occurrence Report: Differing Site Condition” has specific data fields and actions that must be performed as soon as such a risk event occurs. Pictures and other supportive documents will be attached to the form as well as will be linked to the risk form that was originally used to capture and analyze the differing site conditions risk. The form will have a workflow that will map the steps to submit, review and decide on the actions to be taken to protect the interest of the organization.

Based on the particulars of the differing site condition captured in the form, the contractor’s contract administrator will issue a letter to the project owner or the authorized representative to formally notify them of this incident. The contractor would usually have pre-defined letter templates for every possible formal notification needed during the project delivery. Those are letter templates that are drafted by the organization’s legal team taking into consideration the terms and conditions of the contract agreement. The notification letter could have pictures and other supportive documents captured in the occurrence report attached to the letter as well as the link to the occurrence report.

The project owner and his/her authorized representative would require the contractor to submit his formal change order request that will be reviewed and assessed by them. PMWeb potential change order module will be used to submit this change request as well as any other changes that the contractor feels there is an entitlement for an additional cost and/or extension of time.

The contractor will be required to quantify the change request as usually the associated cost with differing site conditions are not readily available in the bill of quantity. Therefore, the best source for quantifying those damages is to review the resources, labor, and non-labor, that either became idle or used to rectify the situation. The daily report is the best formal communication that details what has happened, resources consumed and project schedule activities impacted.

To assess the time impact of the differing site condition incident, the contractor will use all of the information captured in the occurrence report, daily reports, and updated project schedule to run the analysis. The details of this analysis will be captured in the Delay Analysis form created using the PMWeb form builder. The form will be linked to all other relevant communications as well as the Time Impact Analysis (TIA) and other project schedule details will be attached to the form.

All clarifications and change order negotiation meetings will be captured in the PMWeb meeting minutes module to maintain track of all events and actions taken to settle the change order. The meeting minute module is also used to capture the many project-related meetings including but not limited to project kick-off, safety, submittal review, progress review, interface management, and handover among others.

When all is done and approved by the project owner, the contractor will receive the formal change order from the project owner for the differing site conditions incident. The change order will detail the financial adjustment to the contract amount along with the approved days for the delay impact.

Not only all the above processes were managed on one single platform, that is PMWeb, but the link between those interrelated processes is all captured and documented. The authorized PMWeb user can trace the records and documents that were part of any project communication captured in PMWeb. This is even more important when there is a project incident or event that was not successfully identified as an incident that could impact the project cost and/or schedule. The search command allows the PMWeb user to search and locate all those records using keywords that relate to the incident. Those records can be saved in an issue file where the PMWeb user can review the selected records and trace the other project communications that were linked to those selected records.

In other words, the organization will not only have all the dashboards that they need to share available at all times without wasting the effort in capturing, analyzing, preparing, and reporting the information, but they can drill down to the data source to identify the project communication and all related records and documents behind what was reported.

So, if you still feel that your project reminds you of the “Blind Men and the Elephant Story” and if you strongly believe that visualizing a “Single Version of the Truth” of all project management processes across a project or all projects is a must, then you have no choice but to adopt digital transformation for your project management processes.

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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