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Save money, improve results with consistent project management

By Richard Ciammaichella: Director, Control Systems Integration, The RoviSys Company

You can save money and time plus get better results on every project. Not through some magical new technology, but through how you systematically manage tasks and people.  

Project leaders typically focus most on direct project expenses and sequences. Meanwhile, lack of a consistent project approach, inadequate preparation and communication misfires contribute to cost and budget overruns, project after project.

Worse, these deficiencies can lead to unfinished projects (as high as one in two, according to some studies), capabilities shortfalls and the impression that the project leaders are ineffective. Fortunately, you can take steps to avoid these issues.

Many companies have minimized engineering and maintenance staffs. To gain actual savings from these reductions, remaining staff must operate more effectively. A consistent approach to project execution, preparation and communication can help any automation team achieve this goal.

Control through consistency

Your approach can be as simple as a checklist shared with every team member. Or it can be customized software integrated into your company’s enterprise management system. In between are a growing number of applications that might be suited to your situation.

Some companies add project management staff, but we prefer the lower overhead approach of training existing staff in project management. If you do few projects or just want to get moving, you might prefer to select an automation partner with proven project execution capability.

Whatever your approach, your goal is to reduce surprises and calmly manage those certain to occur. That’s control. A consistent approach also enables you to review and improve your process.

Project preparation

The need to prepare is clear when a project requires equipment or services to be shutdown. Even if production or customers services will be uninterrupted, preparation reduces unpleasantness and delays. Procedures should include:

  • Defining achievable and meaningful objectives.

  • Reasonable expectations. Can it be done? What are we likely to get?

  • Likely costs and potential escalations.

  • Clear scope. This doesn’t mean you must bypass savings or capabilities discovered mid-project. It means being able to identify and control scope creep. 

  • Confirmed existing equipment and resources.

  • Confirmed access to all areas and ingredients, including people, electricity, water, communications, drainage, storage and entry and exit limitations.

  • A real-world schedule. Review the final time and costs similar prior projects. Be, optimistic, but also realistic.

If a shutdown is required, pre-stage what you can before hand to minimize its duration.

Communicate with acknowledgement

During the preparation phase, contact team members to verify capabilities, project roles and potential issues. This can be by group or individual meetings, phone calls or written communications.

With E-mail, messages can get stuck in your out basket, deleted by spam filters and missed in the daily deluge. An on-line project collaboration center with manual (never automatic) message acknowledgment and a shared document library is a better choice.

Things will go awry. Verifiable communication procedures improve your ability to monitor, respond and move ahead. Project changes are bad if they result from poor planning. Being ready and able to identify, evaluate and select capabilities and savings uncovered along the way is highly desirable.

No system is good if people listen and read too fast for comprehension. Message senders and respondents can help by being concise and remembering that haste makes waste.

Is it worth it?

Good project management methodology helps you control costs. It also helps you reduce errors. Still, the most important benefit might be effectiveness: the ability to get meaningful work done.

Consistency, preparation and communication are your tools.