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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Part 2 of 10-The Book that Most Impacted My Career-Excellence in Engineering

Part 1 of 10-The Book that Most Impacted My Career-Excellence in Engineering

Good Practices for Lessons Learned

Good Practices for Making Decisions

Good Practices for Estimates and Schedules

Part 2 of 10-The Book that Most Impacted My Career-Excellence in Engineering

This blog will cover sections of Excellence In Engineering by W.H Roadstrum, 1967, and relates them to Project Management Institute’s Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK).

My career at Long Island Rail Road, NY involved over 20 years working on teams managing design and construction projects with varied scope including infrastructure, rolling stock and joint agency projects.   Now as a consultant for over 10 years, I continue to use the book to get refreshed and to re-invigorate the work ethic grown from this book.

In  Excellence In Engineering Chapter 3-The Project and the Project Team, the major factor in project success can be traced to cohesiveness of members, a proactive approach to performance and goals, and attentiveness to team performance and planned progress.   Roadstrum listed 4 observations for teams at each end of the performance spectrum.

For Excellent groups: 

  • Technical work generally on time and within budget
  • Engineers busy but give impression of being on top
  • Necessary changes and redirection are made in a timely way and taken in stride
  • Each group member is obviously growing fast in experience, and readiness for bigger assignments.

For Poorer groups:

  • Seems habitually behind on assigned tasks and money
  • Always rushed to meet deadlines
  • Radical changes are made too late, often at the last minute, with traumatic consequences
  • Group members feel frustrated and stagnant and complain that they are learning little.

In PMBOK  Chapter 2, various paragraphs reference the attributes of a successful Project Team.   Here are the implied observations:

  • Acted together in performing work of the project to achieve objectives
  • Comprised of members with specific subject matter knowledge or a specific skill set to carry out the work
  • Committed members for fulfilling defined roles whether in a dedicated or part time basis
  • Structured in the organization with authority equal to accountability in a projectized hierarchy
  • Supported by a strong organizational governance that is decisive and provides adequate resources to the team. 
Posted on: March 18, 2018 05:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Part 1 of 10-The Book that Most Impacted My Career-Excellence in Engineering

Shortly after starting my career at the Long Island Rail Road, NY, I discovered a book in the Equipment Engineering library and have used it as a constant reference.

Every Engineer, Project Manager and Construction Manager should own a copy of Excellence in Engineering by W.H Roadstrum.   One of the mantra’s throughout the book includes “Engineering work is project work.”

Since most Engineers design assets to be built and Project Managers manage the project processes and performance through its design and construction lifecycle, the book can be equally useful to under graduates, recent graduates, experienced professionals and business leaders in manufacturing and construction.

Roadstrum, an alumnus of Worester Polytechnic Institute, concisely lays the framework for the Engineering profession.   Similar to more recent writers of management texts, he provides insights that have not faded with time.  The Chapters cover engineering roles, responsibilities, processes and products, and each chapter typically provides multiple one line statement summarizing good and poor practices.

The book reflects the knowledge and best practices in the profession at a time the United States had finished its participation in the World Wars and other conflicts leading into the cold war era.   Having built infrastructure during and following military action in Europe and Asia,, the US was transitioning to a world leader in major projects involving government and privately funded endeavors such as expanding the interstate highway and bridge system; constructing water control and power generating systems; developing vehicles and equipment for space exploration; creating an airline system catering to passengers; building ports and facilities for faster movement and transfer of products and people; and improving facilities for the production of automobiles, aircraft, and consumer and household goods. 

Although published in 1967 by John Wiley & Sons, the content is still current today.  While the Preface starts “This book is intended primarily as a tool for the young engineer”, Roadstrum covers the entire sphere of ethics, qualities, attributes and skills necessary for an Engineer to succeed. 

This blog will cover sections of Excellence In Engineering and relate them to Project Managements Institute’s Project Management  Book of Knowledge (PMBOK).

In Excellence in Engineering, Chapter 1-What Engineering Is, the engineering cycle is defined as:

  • Conceive-Get new ideas
  • Experiment-Try them out
  • Design-Work out the details and record on paper
  • Make-Build one or more from the design
  • Test-Try out
  • Recycle-Repeat and improve as needed.

In PMBOK Chapter 3, the project life cycle is defined as:

  • Initiating-Define new project
  • Planning-Establish scope, objectives, and actions to achieve objectives
  • Executing-Define the project management plan
  • Monitoring and Controlling-Track, review and regulate progress and performance, and identify and process changes
  • Closing out-Finalize all activities and document realization of project deliverables with objectives.
Posted on: March 11, 2018 10:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Good Practices for Lessons Learned

Sharing experiences, solutions to problems, tips for effective management, and templates for project documents are all part of a healthy and successful project management environment.    Some of the tools include review of added value documents created by project managers on other projects.   The documents that are most useful between projects include risk registers/logs, Submittal Registers/Logs, Project/Contract Change Logs, Project Management Plan Change Log, and Lessons Learned.

This article presents good practices for Lessons Learned, which is defined by Project Management Institute (PMI) in the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) as “The knowledge gained during a project which shows how project events were addressed or should have been addressed in the future with the purpose of improving future performance.”   The importance of this knowledge in integrated into the Project Management Book Of Knowledge areas for Quality Management, Communications Management, Procurement Management and Stakeholder Management.    However, Lessons Learned can cover all areas and apply to the operation of the Organization executing the project.

Lessons Learned are part of PMI processes and they are essential for continuous quality improvements under Organizational Quality Management Systems.    Lessons Learned help project managers, program managers, portfolio managers, leaders in Project Management Offices and leaders in the Organization by reinforcing established requirements and processes or showing resolutions to specific experiences while providing input for future applications.   The project/program/portfolio (Project) lessons may lead to changing standard form requirements in contracts and purchase orders, improving management techniques and tools, and modifying project and organization processes and procedures. 

Lessons Learned can occur at any level in the management hierarchy and it can involve micro and macro topics that are encountered throughout the Project lifecycle.    The topics should be monitored to ensure that substantive Lessons are highlighted and shared throughout the project management domain as well as other Organizational silos that support projects.   These silos may realize corporate benefits from implementing corresponding changes that are escalated for consideration throughout the Organization. 

Projects rarely have processes, procedures or standards that are not integrated with an Organization’s existing operation processes, procedures, and transactions for executing day-to-day activities for delivery of business services and products.   Many organizations already have business units that support projects, including Human Resources, Material Procurement/Warehousing, Contracts, Engineering, Fiscal Control and Strategic Planning.    Each of these units have well established processes and procedures that will be adapted for project work.   As a result, Lesson Learned on a project scale may be applicable to making the Organization more effective and efficient in meeting business goals and objectives.  

A Lessons Learned document should be a summary level Matrix where the reader can quickly assess if it is applicable to their project.   If needed, White Papers/Discussion Narratives can supplement the summary and be part of the project records as well as a shared records and knowledge site.  The PMO, Program Manager or the manager of Project Managers, should establish the format, content and frequency for projects to propose Lessons Learned for sharing with other project manager and project teams in the PMO or the Organization.   

Good Practices for Lesson Learned Documents

Lessons Learned should follow the format and content set by the Organization and its Project Management Office.   The topics may include:

  • Project/Contract Description
  • Project/Contract Status at time of Lessons Learned
  • Existing Requirements
  • Specific Project Experience
  • Resolution of Negative Experience
  • Reinforcement of Positive Experience
  • Application on Future Projects

Good Practices for Lessons Learned Process

The true benefit of Lessons Learned is the ability to collect data and to make it available to project teams for research throughout a project life cycle.   Lessons Learned may most commonly  be created at the completion of predecessor projects and reviewed at the start of planning for successor projects.      However, it is equally important to review Lessons Learned at critical project milestones or at the time of risk events.     Organization or PMO processes should include:

  • Establish Lessons Learned requirements
  • Access to Shared LAN Drive for viewing Lessons Learned
  • Categorize Lessons Learned scope in a file tree and Index
  • Require project manager reviews as part of PMP/Project Charter Development
  • Discuss Lesson Learned at Management Review Meetings for Quality Management System


TIP:    Project management oversight and program managers should monitor project progress and suggest topics and experiences based on events that provide teachable moments for documenting and sharing Lesson Learned.

TIP:    Project management plans and program management plans should integrate Lessons Learned requirements.

TIP:     Program managers should champion changes from Lessons Learned for improving project outputs applicable to processes in various PMBOK knowledge areas. 

Posted on: February 28, 2018 06:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Good Practices for Making Decisions

In the rail transit domain, detailed operating plans and standard operating procedures are well-used, exercised and updated to achieve business goals  -  safety, on-time performance and customer comfort.  While decisions in an operating capacity are routine, their frequency dictates a comprehensive procedure, extensive training, and prescriptive actions on  “what if then scenarios” for all potential events. 

Decisions on projects, particularly at critical milestones, should follow an objective process that assures the best data is available and synthesized to arrive at a responsible and timely determination for action.   Project Managers are responsible and accountable for decisions during a project life cycle.   The decisions can cover the full spectrum of situations including:

  • Determining division of work, scope of work packages, and procurement acquisition plans
  • Selecting responsive and responsible contractors from bids and request for proposals
  • Implementing value engineering changes
  • Executing project changes requested by Owners
  • Assessing changes in work sequencing for proposed schedule recovery
  • Updating construction design for alternate means and methods

Critical decisions are most often required to resolve problems encountered during project execution.    Under these circumstances, it is essential that the Project Manager follow a process that is thoughtful,  thorough and that provides a record documenting the rationale for selecting solutions for implementation.      It also serves to create knowledge for use in resolving similar problems on other active projects and for creating Lessons Learned that can be accessed for review to avoid  the problem during development on future project.

In general, the Project Management Plan (PMP) should provide the framework and criteria for evaluating and making changes to the project scope, schedule, budget and quality requirements.   A typical PMP may indicate that the cost of the solution should be outweighed by the value of the anticipated benefit to the project, the lifecycle costs and the long term operating and maintenance costs for the business.    

Problem solving is a skill required by all project managers and staff, and it includes consideration of several solutions and a systematic and rationale process, tools and techniques for identifying, evaluating, selecting and implementing the solution that provides the best value to the project and any interdependent project affected from implementing the solution.

The framework for making decisions typically includes statement of problem, description of solutions, cost for implementation, schedule for execution, advantages/disadvantages relative to the project, risks with implementation plan, impacts on interdependencies with other projects, and influence on other projects or organizational assets.  

Measuring the quality of decisions – bad or good, can only be determined after execution.     Analyzing the outcome of the decision to the anticipated benefits should also be part of periodic management reviews for the Quality Management System.    The reviews should assure that bad decisions are not repeated and good decisions are repeated. 

Good Practices for Decision Making

  • Specify the project conditions at the time the solution is selected
  • Identify the problem that the solution will solve
  • Describe the criteria for selecting the solution
  • List the expected benefit/outcome from implementing the solution
  • Establish realistic dates the decision and the realization of benefit
  • Determines/specify the inputs needed for the decision process
  • Record the Decision in a document that covers all proposed solutions and the conclusion
  • Assure that subject matter experts within the project and from the organization are providing input

TIP:    Perform the process by balancing urgency and diligence

TIP:   Always ask if something is missing from the criteria for selecting the solution.

TIP:   Avoid decisions that can not be reversed if it turns out wrong.

TIP:   Establish the order of selection criteria.

Posted on: February 22, 2018 06:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Good Practices for Estimates and Schedules

Construction of buildings, building systems, infrastructure assets, and systems  in most industries, including rail transit, follow well established and repeatable means, methods, work sequences, and best practices to predict project cost and schedule outcomes.     In turn, this provides project teams critical input for repeating good practices, avoiding poor execution decisions and creating accurate deliverables containing quality data and metrics to monitor and measure project performance.

Estimators and Schedulers are specialists in using software tools to create deliverables and provide technical observations critical to effective planning, performance monitoring and decision making.   Most typically, they provide services and deliverables through a centralized Project Management Office and are assigned responsibilities to support multiple projects and various project participants.    While accountable to the PMO’s project control managers, they serve the needs and expectations of a much larger group of project participants.  

Their expertise supports:

  • Strategic Planners:    Program and project development with estimated order of magnitude budgets, project duration, summary milestones and calendar relationship with other projects.
  • Budget Analysts:   Analysis of project costs and operating and maintenance expenses, and financial plan and timelines for securing, allocating and distributing project funding.
  • Contract Officers:    Contract bid estimates, change order estimates and contractor schedule review and claim analysis.
  • Project Control Managers:  Project budget and schedule baselines, earned value calculation sand proposal for schedule/cost recovery.
  • Project Managers:   Cost/schedule performance index reports, analysis to plan, and recommendations for improvement.
  • Risk Managers:   Cost and schedule data supporting risk impacts, mitigation activities and response plans.

Developing estimates and schedules for project work, design and construction businesses apply historical data on other projects as well as the successful processes, new materials, and tools and equipment presented by industry leaders and advocates.   This allows the designers and contractors to continuously improve these deliverables using best practices for work execution, selecting the most efficient systems, equipment and materials, and to test, start-up and commission project products. 

There are industry handbooks to assist estimators and schedulers with guidance for creating the most complete and realistic deliverables to support project managers throughout the project life cycle.   However, the application of the handbooks requires a balanced approach that allows PMs, estimators and schedulers to make good judgments backed by results specific to the Owner’s experience. 

The format and content of deliverables is dependent on the Owner’s preferences or as defined by the Owner’s Project Management Office (PMO) for creating deliverables using software tools such as Timberline, MSProject, and Primavera.    Additionally, estimators and schedulers are usually uniquely qualified with working knowledge of estimating and scheduling standards and procedures, training in the Owner’s software tools, and have a work record that is dedicated to the profession of creating high quality estimates and schedules. 

Good Practices for Estimators and Schedulers

  • Demonstrate familiarity with projects in the rail transit industry
  • Establish processes and logic sequences for construction and system delivery
  • Review actual expenses from Owner’s projects similar in scope and magnitude
  • Conduct field visits to the project site and to completed project sites
  • Chair development meetings with project team
  • Review Lessoned Learned documents from successful and problematic projects
  • Understand and explain interdependencies of project work
  • Provide recommended solutions and alternatives for deliverable results that fall outside project limits

Good Practices for Estimate and Schedule Deliverables

  • List all input documents, design level and data dates such as project charter, project management plan, project plans, contract documents.
  • Reference and/or append all industry sources of data such as vendor quotes, and labor and productivity rates
  • Itemize assumptions for work jurisdiction, contract packaging, procurement method, and contract delivery
  • Describe the basis for cost and schedule contingency and risk allocations
  • Identify critical interfaces between work packages and project milestones
  • Specify typical crew size as reflected in labor agreements
  • Provide contact information on the creator, checker and approver

TIP:    Retain working documents, including material take-offs, for future review to substantiate the deliverables.

TIP:    Provide separate line items in estimates and schedules for Contingency and Risk Reserves with responsibility designated to the project manager.

TIP:    Complement contingency and risk reserves with plans in the Project Management Plan for managing and distributing funding allocations at various project milestones or as needed to mitigate or respond to risk events.

TIP:    Create activities for track/power outages or services changes that support construction activities, and tie them with predecessor, successor, and concurrent activities. 

Posted on: February 15, 2018 06:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

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