Written by Bassam Samman, PMP, PSP, EVP, GPM
A project’s engineering consultant faces many challenges when managing the project’s design stages. The engineering team is not only tasked with producing the design deliverables within the agreed-upon milestones, but it also must ensure that the cost for delivering this scope is within the approved budget. What’s more, engineers are responsible for ensuring that the contractual obligations for producing the project’s design deliverables are fulfilled.
Unlike contractors, which deliver the project scope based on specific drawings and specifications, the engineering firm must come up with the design deliverables based on the owner’s requirements. Given this, the risk for scope creep, delays, and budget overruns are much higher during a project’s design stages. To mitigate these risks, the engineering team must strictly adhere to project management best practices.
Web-based project management solutions like PMWeb allow engineering firms to easily incorporate the industry’s best practices, so they can produce design deliverables on schedule and within budget. Further, PMWeb’s project management information system (PMIS) helps reduce the massive amount of knowledge that gets wasted when engineers fail to capture the valuable data that’s generated from the different project management processes.
Defining the Project Scope
As with other project stages, the work breakdown structure (WBS) for a project’s design stages needs to be well defined and agreed upon. The WBS typically sets the design stages at level 2, while the project is at level 1. The WBS can be further detailed to improve the level of control of the design stages.
It’s recommended that engineers use the WBS dictionary to detail the scope of work that’s both included and excluded at each WBS level. Having a list of exclusions is particularly important, as it must be shared with and approved by the project owner.
Developing the Project Schedule
The WBS helps the engineers produce a complete and well-integrated project schedule. The schedule needs to be oriented around project deliverables, so that all deliverables are clearly defined and properly sequenced. For example, the design schedule lists the different drawings, specification sections, and other deliverables as tasks. The tasks of creating, reviewing, and approving the deliverables will be part of the activity duration. The actual review and approval process details are captured in the deliverable submittal review and approval process, which we will discuss later.
The schedule needs to be resource loaded with the different design team members, such as the project manager, architects, discipline engineering, BIM modelers, draftsmen, etc. The schedule can also be loaded with the equipment resources such as a CAD workstation.
Regardless of the planning and scheduling software that’s used to create the schedule, the schedule tasks must be imported into the PMIS to ensure that all future records and documents are linked to the schedule when needed.
Creating the Project Budget
The project budget is usually based on a detailed cost estimate that’s created by the engineering firm. The budget should include all direct and indirect costs as well as the contingency reserve for all accepted project risks. It’s highly recommended to align the budget line items with the project WBS levels. For the ultimate cost control, the budget can be detailed to the project’s deliverables level.
For each budget line item, the planned spending must be distributed based on the project schedule. If the budget was detailed to the deliverables level, the spending will be associated with the relevant deliverable schedule task.
Developing the Deliverables Register
The engineering firm needs to have a detailed log of all the deliverables they need to produce in order to successfully fulfill their obligations. These deliverables can include drawings, specification sections, contract agreements, etc. Each deliverable needs to be associated with the relevant WBS and schedule activity it relates to.
The workflow steps for submitting, reviewing, and approving each deliverable can be created using PMWeb’s workflow engine. The workflow steps might vary from one deliverable to another depending on the submittal type, stage, and other user-defined attributes.
Enforcing Governance in Project Delivery
The project stage gates are used to enforce governance in project delivery. For each project stage designated as level 2 of the WBS, the relevant schedule activity will be linked to provide the planned dates for completing the stage. Additionally, all deliverables identified in the deliverables register should be mapped into their relevant project stage.
This helps ensure that there is a formal review process in place for approving each project stage. A scoring system should be added to each stage that lists all items that must be verified before the project can proceed to the next stage. PMWeb allows for an unlimited number of items to be listed, and each one can be scored and weighted.