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Topics: Construction, Stakeholder Management
Project misses target
Hi All,

Currently I am facing an unpleasant situation regarding a large construction project. Just to get you on board I will give a high level description of the situation.

A project that consists of three phases, is currently in the design phase. The project phase was initiated and planned by another company and we took over the MEP design during the execution process. The project was going well until we reached the milestone of design freeze which was 1.5 months before the final design submission. The client ignored it and decided to continue issuing changes and kept doing it until now, almost two weeks before the final design submission. Because time was running out the architectural team tried to implement changes without following a proper change process and fit it all within the current schedule.

To make a long story short the architectural team lost aim of the project by pressing things and focused only on the final milestone. This resulted in low quality, many mistakes within the design, other teams struggling to keep up by dedicating more resources from outside the project and low client satisfaction.

I was wondering how would you handle such a situation occurring so close to the final milestone.

Thanks in advance!
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Given the impact of design flaws on near and long term success criteria, I'd suggest evaluating whether the milestone date needs to be pushed back to avoid that risk being realized.

Likely lots of good lessons around having a more disciplined approach to change control and sticking to freeze dates.

Kiron
The only thing I never give as a possibility to be discussed in everything I am assigned is a project management change process will be in place. For me is the life jacket for the project manager. I always said "every change is welcome. Just take into account each change will be process inside the project management change process". With that said, I understand your situation because I was in the same place lot of times.
In my experience this is a common occurrence in construction projects using a linear process - design, tender, construct, closeout. The stakeholders, usually subject matter experts, are provided numerous opportunities to review, comment and influence the design - usually at 35, 50, 75, 90 and final design.

The problem starts when stakeholders can't be bothered to have a serious review until the end of the process. Then hell breaks lose when the proposed design does not, in their opinion meet their requirements (in some cases revised requirements).

The obvious answer is communications though integration - do not allow the design team to work in isolation, sometimes called collaborative design (co-design). Failing that or in conjunction with:

1) reduce the review opportunities, 2 or 3 versus 5 or more
2) define the purpose of each review
3) document the review and commentary process including design responses to inputs (spreadsheet format?)
4) assign followup on all review inputs rather than wait for the next review opportunity
5) Review commentary should be based on the initial scope and mandate - don't use the review to introduce changes.
6) make sure the stakeholders understand the impact of review commentary, especially on time and cost.
7) Set adequate, yet specific review periods acceptable to the reviewing stakeholders, maybe incorporate a pre-submission progress report
8) communicate, communicate, communicate.
I do agree with Peter. He made good points
Fess up and take responsibility, they made changes out of the process but you let them. So make it a shared fault because you have to let them know changes can't happen like that. Then de-scope part of the work and create a phase 2. Tell what you are going to do to get back on track. Or what you can get done by the original date. All the rest is phase 2 at this point. Stick to the change process on phase 2. Add this to your risk registry to highlight the risk frequent changing, in or out of the process, has on the schedule and budget. Maintain good assumptions and dependencies and keep those forefront in your reviews.
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1 reply by Nikolaos Blanas
Jul 28, 2020 1:03 AM
Nikolaos Blanas
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Dear Margaret,

It's nothing to fess up here. The company I work for does not have the whole management of the project. The problem was initially created by another organization and the owners management team haven't seen this coming. This, however, impacted the whole project and consequently our function and work.

So I am just wondering how you can protect your interests and the project (although you may have a great part of it but not all of it) from disorienting. I understand that this may not be our total responsibility but I believe it is also our duty to protect a project that will create many job opportunities.
Change process is a tool to guide both parties in solving change requests when they occur, it does not help to enhance project's quality and ensure project success. Project products have to meet customer requirements, failing in do so will lead project to be considerred as a failure even it completes on time and within budget. In your case, I think the design company did not apply proper techniques to elicit and manage requirements and did not work closely with customer during design process. I think the design company should change to Agile approach, using co-design techniques, and work closely with customer, as Peter pointed out, for the rest of design phase.
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1 reply by Peter Rapin
Jul 25, 2020 8:40 AM
Peter Rapin
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Keep in mind that change management needs to involve all parties - the owner/client, the project management team and the designer. Typically the design team is under contract with either the owner or PM and can only influence the other parties rather than dictate. The PM has to assume responsibility for project delivery strategy and methodology.
Jul 24, 2020 10:19 PM
Replying to Nguyen Khai
...
Change process is a tool to guide both parties in solving change requests when they occur, it does not help to enhance project's quality and ensure project success. Project products have to meet customer requirements, failing in do so will lead project to be considerred as a failure even it completes on time and within budget. In your case, I think the design company did not apply proper techniques to elicit and manage requirements and did not work closely with customer during design process. I think the design company should change to Agile approach, using co-design techniques, and work closely with customer, as Peter pointed out, for the rest of design phase.
Keep in mind that change management needs to involve all parties - the owner/client, the project management team and the designer. Typically the design team is under contract with either the owner or PM and can only influence the other parties rather than dictate. The PM has to assume responsibility for project delivery strategy and methodology.
...
1 reply by Nikolaos Blanas
Jul 28, 2020 1:15 AM
Nikolaos Blanas
...
In our case the design team is under contract directly with the owner and the main management team is the owners. The other organizations have also their internal PMOs.

It is true, that the proper thing would be for the owners PMO to follow a proper change process with whatever that may mean in terms of schedule. The problem is when an organization that works on a project endangers this project but actually this behavior does not actually falls outside the contract. What happens if a project despite the schedule restrictions has not matured by someone that coerces a milestone that is not feasible anymore (for any reasons that this organization may have)?
NB-
You received some great advice here. Kiron, Sergio and Peter are spot on!
Margaret seems tough, but in my world of Tier One Project Management (either Contractor or Owner side) I agree with her that you need to rigidly assume responsibility for Goal setting and meeting KPI's.
I always have a change management plan in place which always includes additional costs (scope creep) and duration additions ordered by the Owner. The Owner does not have a Blank Check! Your job is to communicate this to your Client-if it is a PM he needs to be involved in the communication process with the Owner. Please remember- everybody in the process has an ego and proper communication will alleviate hurt feelings.
I have become an expert at performing Constructability Reviews to make sure no Detailed Design flaws come back to bite me-this is usually performed at the 75% phase of detailed design.
When necessary I involve my internal SME's in these meetings. We always uncover some errors no matter the trade.
Almost every Detailed Designer fails to coordinate with the other trades-Str, Arch, MEP, Str. Stl., Curtain Wall glass performance, etc. I wish I had $100 USD for every time an MEP Designer ran a main supply line through a structural element, or the sprinkler line or cable tray conflicted with exhaust ducts in a Parking Garage---I would be Retired Now!
I wish you well- take control of this challenge before it takes control of you!

From the Trenches!
M
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1 reply by Nikolaos Blanas
Jul 28, 2020 1:42 AM
Nikolaos Blanas
...
Dear Mark,

You totally understand the situation by working in this exact field. The fact is that the owners PMO bears the main responsibility for the project.

During the design, a design review team is mandatory in order to ensure that conflicts are minimized. Especially in large projects that implicates different organizations for each discipline the need for coordination becomes more important. However the owner failed to realize this early in the process.

Also to my experience, especially in construction industry, changes cannot be avoided. It is a key issue to control them and communicate the information to all the teams.

Just a last comment we should also have in mind is the responsibility and who bears it and this sometimes may be an unidentified risk. By that I mean that I have worked in projects that changes had an impact in schedule and cost. People who should make decisions (accept or deny) for these changes avoided to do so and the reason was that they did not want to be responsible for burdening the budget (risk of loosing their job etc.).

I wish you also well!

N.
Jul 24, 2020 2:52 PM
Replying to Margaret Stauth
...
Fess up and take responsibility, they made changes out of the process but you let them. So make it a shared fault because you have to let them know changes can't happen like that. Then de-scope part of the work and create a phase 2. Tell what you are going to do to get back on track. Or what you can get done by the original date. All the rest is phase 2 at this point. Stick to the change process on phase 2. Add this to your risk registry to highlight the risk frequent changing, in or out of the process, has on the schedule and budget. Maintain good assumptions and dependencies and keep those forefront in your reviews.
Dear Margaret,

It's nothing to fess up here. The company I work for does not have the whole management of the project. The problem was initially created by another organization and the owners management team haven't seen this coming. This, however, impacted the whole project and consequently our function and work.

So I am just wondering how you can protect your interests and the project (although you may have a great part of it but not all of it) from disorienting. I understand that this may not be our total responsibility but I believe it is also our duty to protect a project that will create many job opportunities.
Jul 25, 2020 8:40 AM
Replying to Peter Rapin
...
Keep in mind that change management needs to involve all parties - the owner/client, the project management team and the designer. Typically the design team is under contract with either the owner or PM and can only influence the other parties rather than dictate. The PM has to assume responsibility for project delivery strategy and methodology.
In our case the design team is under contract directly with the owner and the main management team is the owners. The other organizations have also their internal PMOs.

It is true, that the proper thing would be for the owners PMO to follow a proper change process with whatever that may mean in terms of schedule. The problem is when an organization that works on a project endangers this project but actually this behavior does not actually falls outside the contract. What happens if a project despite the schedule restrictions has not matured by someone that coerces a milestone that is not feasible anymore (for any reasons that this organization may have)?
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