Paved with Good Intentions

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Categories: decision making


The title of this blog post will be explained at the end of the post.

It’s a different sort of a post – one which asks YOU a question and looks for your feedback.  I’m really interested to know what you think.

I’m going to give you a scenario and it’s intentionally highly-simplified, because I don’t want you to labor (or argue) over the technical details of the construction project it represents – take the general information that is given at face value.  I would like you to rather think this through as a decision-making exercise, in which I’d like you to challenge your own thought process and to expand your “consideration” of inputs and context.

Let’s say you are the project manager of a major road-resurfacing project.  Let’s say it’s a 50-mile section of an interstate highway in the northeastern US – prone to heavy traffic (including trucks) and some temperature extremes (freezing, snow, heat, humidity).  Further, we’ll say that this is a Federal highway, so the stakeholders are the US Government which is sponsoring the project, and of course the (taxpayer) drivers who are driving on this surface.

Your project team is deliberating over the choice of paving material.  They can choose Material “S”, the standard paving material, or Material “LT”, a new paving material made from recycled tires and construction waste, which is more expensive, but has some characteristics which are very attractive.  Its cost, 3 times the standard, will mean that you must go to a senior executive for an increased budget.

Here are the details of these two materials:

As you can see, the LT material, while costing 3 times as much as Standard (Material “S”) will provide better traction for drivers (better “grip” of the road, especially during wet conditions).  It also provides better fuel efficiency.  For example, vehicles that would get 20 MPG (miles per gallon) would actually get 30 MPG on a stretch of highway paved with LT.  Also, because Material LT is flexible and resilient, it will require much less in terms of repair – fewer potholes, cracks, and other imperfections appearing over time.  There is an intangible here – it’s not just cost of repairs; fewer repairs also means less inconvenience for drivers.  You’ll have less frequent lane closures, and reduced risk of accidents involving construction crews.

So here are your questions:

The big one: should you go for the LT?

The subtending questions:

  • What drives your decision?
  • What did you consider?
  • What was your “planning horizon”? 
    • Are you thinking about handing off the project to the highway department and moving on to the next project, or are you thinking through to the ‘benefits realization’ portion of the highway?

Make your decision now, but also… please read on to have a little more ‘advice’.

Let’s look at the same information presented a little differently, and now I can reveal that LT stands for Long-Term (as in Long-Term thinking):

Framed this way, what are your thoughts?

Does this change your considerations?

Note that the benefits are economic (accelerated breakeaven point for the maintenance department, lower fuel costs for your drivers), ecological (reduced carbon emissions) and social (you are keeping your stakeholders alive).  This is the point.  By extending your planning horizon to beyond the handover to the highway department, extending it to “operation”, I assert that you are improving the quality of your project decision making.

So now, back to the title.  The expression “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is meant to be (among other things), an admonishment that a good intention is meaningless unless followed through. 

So I think the “follow through” in this case is the consideration of the product of the project.  In this case the product of the project is – literally – paving.  Your projects will have other ‘follow-through’ items.  Are you considering the long term? Step back and think about what happens to the product – the outcome – of your project.  You may be paving the way for big improvements for your stakeholders.

What do you think?  No, really, what do you think?  I’m very interested to hear your feedback about the scenario and even more so about what went through your mind as you drove through this decision.

Thanks!

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: September 30, 2017 03:03 PM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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Very interesting, thanks for sharing

I likes the ezpression :" you are keeping your stakeholdersĀ alive". This is so important in project management.
Thank you for interesting article.

I likes the ezpression :" you are keeping your stakeholdersĀ alive". This is so important in project management.
Thank you for interesting article.

I'm confused here. MTTR refers to the time required to execute a repair. If LT takes 3 times as long to effect a repair, that is a useful piece of information in planning for a downtime. However, you reference less frequent need for repairs, which is typically expressed as mean time between failures (MTBF) and is not listed in the table. Personally, I would go for the LT since more of the cost of a highway project is attributable to labor than to paving material and the other saving you describe, if quantified, would probably far outweigh the incremental cost of the paving surface in computing total cost of ownership. OTOH, selling that to the decision maker is another matter entirely.

But as always, interesting and thought-provoking. Thanks!

@DaveGordon, thanks - as they say in the old Westerns, you...got...me. My intent is that the material is flexible and durable and thus needs fewer repairs over time. Also.... less orange barrels, flashing arrows, hired police officers and so forth...


Takeaways:
1. Think long term
2. Go for win-win situation for stake holders / sponsors and don't push yourself to wall of project constraints
3. Learn how to present situation in meaningful way that every stakeholder feel good
4. keep eyes wide and observe things and current global trends and utilize it in a personal as well as stakeholder favour

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