Article #186 Managing Conversation Threads for Project Management Processes and Communications on Engineering and Construction Projects

Email applications such as MS Outlook as well as project mail applications like Aconex provides the option of conversation threads to visually group email messages with their replies by the topic those messages relate to. These groups are called conversation threads. Conversation threads are of great importance in engineering and construction projects as they help to track the status of each communication as well as review completed reviews and response actions. In addition, they have great value after the project completion should there be a claim or dispute where the conversation threads will be crucial to document what has happened in each communication.

Those conversation threads are a must in mail communications because those communications are not governed by a workflow. Mail communications are between a sender or “from” and a receiver or “to” for which the receiver could be one or many. Accordingly, conversation threads are the only way to track the status of all issued mail communications. Nevertheless, if those emails had a workflow that details the steps of how the communication should be directed and sequenced, then conversation threads will not be needed as the progress of those workflow steps will serve the same purpose as conversation threads but in a structured and organized format.

Project Management Information Systems (PMIS) like PMWeb have process workflow as an integral part of the PMIS. Each project management process could have its predefined workflow to detail how the process steps will be sequenced, determine the duration allotted for each step, available actions to select from such as reject, approve, and return among others, to which step in the workflow the transaction needs to be returned or resubmitted and whether when multiple team members are assigned to a specific step if all of them must approve or any can approve the step. In addition, the workflow could include conditions to enforce the approval authority levels in performing a process that involves financial transactions. Those conditions could also be used to direct the workflow steps to the responsible reviewer depending on the record category. For example, Requests for Information (RFI) that are specific to the mechanical scope of work will be reviewed by the mechanical engineer whereas those that are specific to the structural scope of work, will be reviewed by the structural engineer.

PMWeb can also display the workflow conversation thread in the project management process output form should there be a need to either print or have a PDF version of the form. The fields that will be displayed for the workflow conversation thread can be designed to display the needed information.

In addition, PMWeb comes ready with two out-of-the-box reports that allow consolidating all workflow steps or conversation threads across the processes being managed on a project as well as the complete projects’ portfolio. The first report groups the workflow steps by the process type which could include for example Requests for Information, Change Orders, Budgets, Progress Invoices, Work Permits, Submittals, and Punch Lists among others. The second report is for the workflow steps or conversation threads but grouped by the PMWeb user involved in those conversation threads. The ability to report on conversation threads by project, process and team member among others provides unprecedented insight and improved tracking that mail communications cannot provide.

Of course, in addition to the structured project management processes where a workflow is assigned, there could be the need sometimes to have unstructured or ad-hoc collaboration or conversation for processes that do not need to follow a specific workflow when they are performed. In those cases, the “Collaborate” option needs to be assigned to the process instead of the “Workflow” option.

As an example, one of the PMWeb ready-to-use modules is the Actions module where a PMWeb user can initiate action and invite the project team members who need to be part of this communication. The “invite” command is similar to the selection of “To” to determine the communication recipients list. For those invited to Collaborate (shown in the Blue Frame), the action initiator can determine if the invited recipients would have the privilege to edit the record, notes made, and uploaded attachments as well as be notified on a team of recipients’ changes. Comments made by the recipients and documents attached will be captured under the Actions section (shown in the Green Frame). The Log section (shown in Burgundy Frame) will detail the ad-hoc conversation thread for this communication showing comments made, documents attached, action is taken, response, auction date and time, signature if it was already uploaded for the user, and the response due date if it was provided. It should be noted that PMWeb allows for the expansion or collapse of the Actions, Log, and Collaborate sections.

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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