A/E/C Project Management Bootcamp
20 Ways to Overcome Project Problems
No matter how carefully you plan your project and protect yourself against the possibilities of trouble, problems will arise. You will fall behind schedule, or you will run over budget.
What can you do to eliminate or mitigate these problems? PSMJ suggests the following:
- Pick one solution and go with it. Every design alternative you have developed is 90% work on alternative solutions is wasted time and money. Pick the one guaranteed to work and go with it.
- Only do that which is required by the contract. Review the scope of the work and make sure you are only doing those tasks you are being paid for. If the client is insisting that you add to the scope, then you have every right to ask for additional fees and a schedule extension.
- Keep production on schedule. If the schedule slips, ring in some outside help for a short period to get the production back to where it should be at this time. You can borrow staff from another project; even borrow staff from another firm that you work with. For some non-technical tasks you can even use clerical and administrative staff to do routine jobs.
- Use temporary help. The firm can save payment of some fringe benefits by hiring temporary help. Since fringe benefits may cost the firm an added 20 percent of direct labor, major budget savings could be realized if the temporary help is able to immediately bolster project production.
- Use principals. Putting principals to work "on the boards" can take advantage of valuable expertise (especially from individuals who tend to charge time to the project anyway). An experienced professional can accomplish more in one hour than a green technician can in five.
- Use overtime when you must, but make sure the overtime is productive. Everyone works overtime. It’s usually the first technique employed to get back on schedule. But be careful not to consider overtime as a cure-all. Anything more than nine or ten hours a day will cause productivity to drop dramatically. If you must use overtime on your project, make it Saturday and Sunday, rather than working all night. Don’t depend on overtime to get every project done. If you do, you are not scheduling projects effectively. Overtime should take place only about five percent of total project time.
- Make sure you are using the correct balance of experienced staff on your team. Too many beginners on the project make time- and fee-consuming mistakes that you can’t afford when you are trying to get back on track. Senior people are much more productive if they do not have to spend time supervising trainees. Likewise, the project manager can do more technical work while eliminating supervisory time.
- Examine each task. Be sure that experienced people are working on those activities requiring judgement and junior people are working only on tasks that merely require persistence.
- Get permission from principals to postpone non-critical administrative duties until the crunch is over. Then spend the extra time on the most critical aspects of the project. (Be careful not to over use this technique—principals may tire easily of such requests.)
- Identify the critical activities and concentrate your efforts on them. Also, ask the client which items are most critical to him and can be allowed to slip without harming the schedule.
- Optimize your production techniques. Are there CAD or reprographic tricks you use to reduce the time it takes to finish the set of drawings? Make sure your best people are working on CAD because they know the most advanced productivity techniques.
- Renegotiate consultant contracts. If the total budget is in trouble, perhaps consultants are the culprits. Review and renegotiate their contracts if necessary. Also, if some of the consultant's tasks will not be needed, eliminating them may save the project budget.
- Don't hide in your office doing paperwork. As the PM, it's your job to be out there with the team focusing on the productive work of the project. The paperwork will wait until after you get back on schedule.
- Have a talk with your client. Instead of immediately asking for an extension, suggest ways in which the client can help achieve the target date, such as the use of client staff for certain tasks. They may have access to resources that can help you, or they might be willing to let certain activities slide until a later date. They may even be willing to give you more time. Review the project to see if the client has been the cause of any unnecessary delays. If so, you have every right to ask for an extension.
- Don't "detail" yourself into a hole. Don't draw things more than once. With the accuracy and neatness of CAD you can add extra detail to a smaller scale drawing rather than doing it again at a larger size.
- Reorganize the drawings. Conduct a planning meeting with consultants, CAD operators, a representative from a blueprint company, and the firm's word processing operator to discuss how to produce the required construction documents using fewer sheets and less information on each sheet (especially elaborate details). Also, explore graphic techniques such as photocopying details or entire sections of a drawing. Eliminate hand-lettered notes where possible.
- Excess perfection can destroy your schedule, while adding little additional benefit to the project. Keep a firm hand on your engineers and designers, and be ready to bring any activity to a halt when it becomes adequate to meet the project requirements.
- Examine the figures. Before making any changes, be sure that the project is actually over budget. Check all charges of time and expenses to the project. Ask the financial manager for current assessments of overhead charges to be certain that all charges have been made as planned (when the project was budgeted). Also check all charges of time and expenses against your project to make sure the project has not become a dumping ground for other projects or staff.
- Be a squeaky wheel. If the project is over budget, do not try to hide it! Inform everyone in the firm that the project is in trouble, and individuals (such as principals)—who might otherwise charge a random hour to your project--will think twice. Saving even one hour per week may make the difference between project profit and loss.
- If all else fails, ask the client for a budget or fee increase. If the scope or other circumstances have changed, do not be afraid to go back and ask for more. As a matter of fact, it’s your job to go to the client and ask for more. Even if the client says no, the firm has at least informed the client that it is closely watching changes. This could discourage the client from calling with “nickel-and-dime” changes. The firm may, indeed, receive the fee if the request is legitimate and the client is generally satisfied.
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