Project Management View from Rail Transit Programs and Projects

A collection of articles sharing project processes, design and construction experience, best practices, and lessons learned along with operational knowledge related to executing programs and projects in the rail transit industry.

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Good Practices for Project Outreach

Good Practices for Field Monitoring Construction

Good Practices for Project Team Members

Good Practices for Project/Progress Meetings

Good Practices for Design Document Development Process

Good Practices for Project Outreach

By following an established plan, project managers routinely communicate with the team, stakeholders, contractors, consultants, technical contributors, projects sponsors and funding partners. In rail transit projects there is added consideration to the system users/pre-paid customers, system operating personnel, agency oversight, public officials, and communities that are served and impacted by the system.

Most rail transit agencies have a Community Affairs/Government Relations Department or assigned designee that is responsible for dealing with external entities. As part of the communications plan, project managers will be assisted by the in developing letters, press releases, newspaper ads, posters, brochures, and videos that will targeted to specific audiences and timed for issuance with critical milestones of the project. While these communications are normally tied to the project schedule, project managers will also need to respond to complaints or inquiries at any given time.

Public outreach plans and deliverables for project will likely follow the agencies standard format and contents, and include contact information for a designated representative – not necessarily the project manager. The content and purpose of each deliverable will be targeted to the audiences, such as Community, Public officials, Customers, and On –Site visitors. Each deliverable may have unique content. The core topics may consist of project description, overall schedule and milestones, benefits to the community and customers, impacts to customers and the community during work periods, and contact information for corporate spokespersons.

Good Practices for Outreach
• Create a strategic plan for creating and distributing deliverables that allows adequate time for development and issuance that is timed with project milestones
• Ensure project records are collected to support outreach content with photographs
• Collect quotations from project team members, stakeholders, contractors, consultants, technical contributors, projects sponsors, funding partners, Subject Matter Experts and oversight consultants
• Consider other topics such as innovation methods implemented by the project, such as a contracting process, goals/opportunities for minority or disadvantaged business, resiliency feature in the project design, and benefits to the local construction industry
• Coordinate content with other corporate plans and content for marketing and sales
• Assure project team members are trained in effective communications and situational techniques for speaking with the public.

TIP: While mega-projects are most likely to have an extensive outreach even small projects may need outreach.

TIP: Treat your project as a brand for the Client, consultant, contractor and individuals involved.

Good Practices for Deliverables
• Assure content is consistent with other project documents such as Project Charter, Project Management Plan and external project reports
• Ensure deliverables indicate a data date so the content is time scaled
• Cite statements from Subject Matter Experts and oversight consultants
• Have copies of deliverables at work locations for project team designee distribution to visitors.

TIP: Have a one-page sheet of Frequently Asked Questions and Answers available on-site so the project designee is prepared to discuss the project with visitors.

TIP: While mega-projects are most likely to have an extensive outreach even small projects may need a internal/external website to share information with internal customers and interested parties and with external public customers and interested parties, oversight and government officials, transportation advocates and politicians.

TIP: On a daily basis, ensure there is a project representative designated on-site to address visitor comments, questions or complaints.

Posted on: January 19, 2018 06:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Good Practices for Field Monitoring Construction

Based on my experience in project management on rail transit projects, here are my best practices on field monitoring construction, which were compiled from work on capital projects for railroad infrastructure.

More often than not, most rail transit projects include multiple construction contracts and the use of railroad construction trades (referred to as Force Account - FA) to perform work over a vast project site. The work locations will change as work progresses and there not always barricades or work zone fences to protect the work site nor is there an on-site project office. All work is performed on the Right-Of-Way (ROW) with train service maintained for customers. Each active work location will be controlled by the individual FA work crews or by Contractors with appropriate railroad construction managers, protective services for track outages and power outages, safety escorts and/or flag protection services where sites have moving trains or on-track vehicles.

Contractors and FA will provide full supervision on site to create and safe and secure environment and to assure work performance meets schedule, work quality and safe work practices. Additionally, Contractor’s will submit a Safe Work Plan and detailed site specific work plans for each work location, and as specified by contract or purchase order, will assign Safety and Quality Managers to supplement supervision and project management. FA will establish a dedicated Safety Manager, and assign FA Managers accountable for monitoring of quality and safe work practices of in-house forces. FA will also assign personnel for inspection and acceptance of work performed by Contractors.

While contracts include Monthly Progress Reports and Meeting Minutes, these documents alone do not provide a continuous daily record of project work. Although there may be no fixed office, contractors maintain on-site logs and records of construction activities. However, these documents are not always available or accessible to project managers and other team members, who may be located at a project office miles from the work location. As a result, the daily construction oversight by project management (PM) personnel (or designated staff and GEC consultants) is critical to filling communications gaps and providing the project management staff with daily reports on activities in the field. The field activities will consist of:
• Reviewing Daily Field Reports from contractors and FA
• Visiting active work sites to observe safe work practices, signage and safety equipment, and to assess work means and methods
• Inspecting and recording contractor or FA compliance with construction documents
• Submitting field reports and coordinating observations with project controls and quality personnel
• Assuring controls for the entry and exit of personnel, equipment and materials at each work location
• Supervising activities of all visitors to site, including Independent Testing Agencies (ITA), mark-out contractors, safety officers/inspectors, code compliance officers, and FA/owner inspectors

Plan for Field Conditions
Field work on railroad construction project can vary greatly as will conditions regarding field offices and access to equipment and facilities for monitoring activities. For work on train stations, shops and yards and electrical substations, the site can usually be a fixed area where a fence can be erected to secure and control the work zone. The area will also allow for project offices, employee facilities, parking, and storage for materials, tools, and equipment.

However, for infrastructure systems such as track, power, signal and communications, the work area can cover miles of ROW. With the work zone and access changing daily with progress, there is no fenced work zone or offices available for meetings, administrative work and employee lockers. As a result, contractors, ITAs, construction managers and project oversight need to adapt. This typically means carrying the essential contents of the project office with them in vehicles, such as contract documents, safety equipment, telephones, test equipment, and outreach information. All other project offices activities will be performed at home office locations or designated headquarters.

Good Practices for Field Activities
• Conduct site walkthroughs at the start and end of the workday
• Observe and assess safe work practices and site housekeeping
• Verify work activity comply with the contract requirements
• Participate in job briefing and safe work meetings
• Assure work activities respect and minimize inconvenience for the day to day interaction with parties outside the work area
• Take and transmit photographs to main offices throughout the workday showing progress, field conditions, safe work practices and quality checks
• Submit Daily Field Reports to main offices by close of business or before next day start-up
• Notify the PMO and as needed, local authorities of any vandalism or stolen property

TIP: Always have access to the contract documents, approved work plans, and utility mark-outs, and use them while observing work. As needed, cite them in verifying compliance or providing field direction.

TIP: To aid in reporting of vandalism and stolen property, contractors should maintain descriptions and serial numbers of equipment and tools stored at the site.

TIP: Conduct telephone status meetings with main office at the start and end of workday.

Good Practices for Field Reports
• Document Timeline of progress throughout the work period
• Identify all subcontractor and visitors to the work site
• Record verbal reports from conducting special inspections by ITAs or Owner/FA representatives
• Correlate observations to specific contract requirements
• Indicate results from pre-construction field surveys and mark-outs

TIP: Record field direction to contractor from differing field conditions, including underground utilities not shown on mark-outs by in-house asset management or by outside “One Call” contractors hired on behalf of outside utilities/companies with assets in the construction work zone.

Posted on: January 13, 2018 06:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Good Practices for Project Team Members

From other discussions in November 6, 2016, my Project Management .com colleagues provided constructive feedback on best practices centered on communications. The feedback, paraphrased below, was in response to best practices for project/progress meetings and they reflected a focus on expectations for project team member performance.

If they stay silent at the meetings, they don’t need to be there.

We don’t need another checklist, we need a list of good skills and examples.


Project performance can be measured by various project metrics.  But the realization of the project is dependent on the Project Manager (PM) and the project team working to achieve the project goals.   Whether assigned or selected specifically by the PM, team members need to understand, buy into, and commit to striving to meeting the expectations of the PM, other team members and program management.   Depending on the organization, the PM's expectations may need to be balanced with functional managers, who may have their own expectations for the team members with dual project and operational roles and responsibilities.  

Prompted by the feedback,  here are some good practices for project team members:
• Commit to the Project, the Project Charter and the Project Management Plan
• Demonstrate core values and competence for your assigned role and responsibilities
• Lead by example and develop a positive reputation centered on teamwork and professionalism
• Acquire and share knowledge on the business of the group you represent
• Attend, be prepared to report progress, and contribute at all meetings
• Undertake and follow-up on action items assigned from meetings or other project team requests
• Communicate proactively during and in between scheduled meetings, and coach less experienced team members
• Update your supervisor on project progress and share project documents within your organizational silo
• Provide timely feedback and comments as requested on submittals and deliverables
• Take responsibility for actions, deliverables and decisions assigned to the group you represent
• Send updates to the project team for meetings you are unable to attend
• Thoroughly review all correspondence before sending replies

Practices to avoid:
• Arriving late to meetings
• Going off-topic at meetings
• Failing to respond to requests by due dates
• Ignoring voice mails from team members
• Sending replies to Emails with “Sent by IPhone”

Posted on: January 06, 2018 10:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Good Practices for Project/Progress Meetings

Categories: Construction, Quality

The most critical skills and activities by project managers is communications with the team, stakeholders, contractors, consultants, technical contributors, projects sponsors and funding partners.

In order to maintain project progress, many direct and indirect activities need to be performed and completed effectively and efficiently. Just as important as direct activities on construction projects such as excavation, concrete installation, steel erection, and systems installation, management meetings need to be held and attended in parallel with the more tangible activities.

Most capital projects contain interdependent phases for design and construction. As work progresses there are many types of recurring meetings that will be conducted such as oversight meetings with Owner/funding partners, project schedule meetings, contractor progress meetings, and design phase meetings with consultants, construction phase meetings with contractors.

Meetings are an essential part of management and supervision roles and responsibilities such as monitoring activities, reporting progress, assessing performance, and measuring quality of work. At the meetings, Agenda topics will be discussed, action items will be closed and new actions items will be assigned to project team members. As needed, the Project Manager will escalate and expedite resolution of issues or to obtain management decisions on topics outside the project team authority.

Effective and efficient meetings allow management personnel to spend more time on action items and on direct activities to assure continued progress. Conversely, an imbalance in the frequency of meetings and the time to complete assigned actions will make management less effective on direct and indirect activities. Project managers and the PMO need to find a balanced of process that avoid non-value added activities that detracts staff and takes manhours away from managing the essential deliverables.

Equally important, is properly documenting the discussions at the meetings and indicating the actions required for maintaining progress on direct and indirect activities. Meeting minutes should be concise, identify action items, due dates and assigned party. Critical decisions and approaches for work execution should be agreed upon and recorded for traceability along with appropriate documents that are part of the meeting handouts.

Good Practices for Project/Progress Meetings
• Schedule meetings in advance with a written purpose and Agenda
• Establish meeting times, dates and locations that are recurring on a calendar and that are aligned with PMO reporting periods and oversight meetings
• Provide copies of Agenda and handouts at the meeting and assure invited participants are consistent with the Project Management Plan
• Allow Subject Matter Experts to present deliverables, such as updated project schedules, financial reports, quality documentation, contract administration, and risk management
• Routinely engage participants in discussions and disposition of topics and action items
• Present progress based on specific data dates and consistent with other project reports and metrics
• Introduce new personnel or first time attendees prior to the start of the meeting
• Promptly generate and distribute Meeting Minutes so that action can be undertaken to report progress at the next meeting.

TIP: If the meeting Agenda includes obtaining comments on review of specific documents or making project decisions, the meeting Announcement should conspicuously indicate the expectation and the appropriate documents should be distributed with the Announcement.

Good Practices for Meeting Minutes
• Establish a consistent format for content, numbering and labeling
• Paraphrase discussions and assure actions are specific with due dates and assigned party
• Content should accurately reflect the meetings discussions
• Distribute Meeting Minutes and Handouts to all attendees and all non-attending invited team members
• Transmittal should highlight a summary of participants and assigned action items
• Record any progress made on action items since the meeting and up to issuance of the Minutes
• Rather than names use participant titles, departments or company names for contractors and consultants

TIP: Before distributing Meeting Minutes, check to see if there is any progress on action items since the meeting. As needed, update and distribute the Minutes with a note indicating the content reflects progress since the meeting.

Posted on: December 31, 2017 04:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Good Practices for Design Document Development Process

Categories: Construction, PMO

Based on my experience in project management on rail transit projects, critical skills and activities by project managers are communications with the team, stakeholders, contractors, consultants, technical contributors, projects sponsors and funding partners. On rail transit there is added consideration to the system users/pre-paid customers, system operating personnel, agency oversight, public officials, and communities that are served and impacted by the system.

The effective review of design documents can impact the quality of construction contracts, including specifications and drawings. Coupled with a presentation and review meetings, the input from diverse reviewers can be vetted and focused on the scheduled completion of design deliverables that meet the project plan, project purpose and objective, and the expectations of various project participants and stakeholders.

Unless an Owner has designated staff, the development of technical requirements for construction contracts is usually performed by a design consultant. The Owner identifies the consultant’s scope, deliverables and performance schedule, and establishes the process for Owner representatives to participate with the consultant in developing and reviewing the design deliverables. In order to manage the work, the Owner typically assigns a Project Manager (PM) to monitor the consultant and to ensure project participants complete activities to support a defined project plan, schedule and budget.

Design deliverables typically consist of iterative packages, such as 30%, 60%, 90% and 100% design, that are reviewed and revised before becoming the technical requirements in a construction contract. The content, format and level of detail in the deliverables are defined in the design scope, which is supplemented by the Owner’s design input such as design criteria, standard terms and conditions, model Division I specifications, industry standard specification formats and contract forms, operating standards and rules, and government code and regulations.

During the design process, the consultants will submit the deliverables to the Owner, and the PM will promptly distribute deliverables to a pre-established list of reviewers along with initial assessment/comments. As needed, the PM will provide guidance to the participants in reviewing and returning comments on the deliverables regarding technical compliance, quality and completeness of content, and consistency of format and requirements for integration with other contract components.

In order to facilitate and maintain progress on the design schedule, the PM will compile comments and conduct meeting s to assure the consultant addresses the Owner’s comments in subsequent deliverables through acceptance of the final contract-ready deliverable.

Good Practices for Design Comments
• Use a pre-defined matrix for recording comments and documenting their disposition – with fields for item numbers, reviewer, comment, specification section/page, drawing number.
• Submit comments that are presented in context for action – prefaced by change, delete, replace, verify, confirm
• Complete and provide the comments by the designated due date
• Resolve duplicate or conflicting comments before submitting the comment matrix
• Avoid comments on typos, punctuation and format that can be addressed through word processing or CAD software and administrative processes
• Avoid open-end questions that can be answered through review of design scope or design criteria
• Avoid multiple line item comments for global comments/changes – change “vendor” to “contractor”

TIP: Comments should be measured for appropriateness with the design Scope of Work (SOW) in the contract issued to the consultant for the design work. Comments outside the SOW should be presented to the Owner for disposition, and as needed, the Owner will formally modified the contract, SOW and design criteria.

Good Practices for Design Review Meetings
• Schedule meetings for a date that allows time for attendees to prepare initial comments
• Identify meeting objectives, specify input needed or decisions that are required
• Outline the expected change in content for the next iteration of deliverable
• Clarify design questions and refine the feedback into actionable comments
• Record the meetings, establish action items, and identify comments in the matrix
• Review Lessons Learned on similar contract types with comparable scope

TIP: If the meeting Agenda includes finalizing comments on specific documents or making design decisions, the meeting Announcement should conspicuously indicate the expectation and the appropriate documents distributed with the Announcement.

Posted on: December 31, 2017 03:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

- George Bernard Shaw