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Dealing with Complexity and Continuity on Mega-Projects Using Expertool<br />Neil Jacobson, PMP, Principal at Project Gest...
Issues, risk, options and tradeoffs analysis is consistent across projects and programs
Interactions and impacts of status details across projects and programs identified
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Mega Project Support


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Mega Project Support

  1. 1. Dealing with Complexity and Continuity on Mega-Projects Using Expertool<br />Neil Jacobson, PMP, Principal at Project Gestalt<br />85725-7620Complexity is in the DNA of mega-projects. These projects, often costing $1 billion or more, attract public attention because of their impacts on communities, environment, and budgets. Mega-projects require sponsors and their implementation teams to be able to plan, program, design, and deliver projects of immense size and complexity effectively. Effective decision-making on mega-projects requires consideration of the systemic interactions between the political, regulatory, environmental, financial, contractual, and technical contexts. No small feat! Now consider the added dimension of time as it applies to multi-decade duration of most mega-projects. Decisions appropriate for one era may no longer be so 15 years hence. Clearly, mega-project participants can benefit from methods for dealing with complexity, improving decision-making, documenting the context at the time of the decision, and capturing expertise for re-use in support of efficient operations and future decision-making.<br />Expertool founder Joe Glick, PMP developed and evolved the Expertool methodology and tools to help project managers cope with this sort of project complexity. The effectiveness of Expertool has been proven in support of project management offices (PMO) responsible for multiple projects. This success directly applies to mega-projects since many mega-projects are in fact “programs” that integrate multiple projects, delivered independently, to realize the end result of constructed infrastructure. In the PMO context, the unique value that Expertool provides includes:<br /><ul><li>Sponsor’s agenda and priorities are modeled and embedded in management activities
  2. 2. Issues, risk, options and tradeoffs analysis is consistent across projects and programs
  3. 3. Interactions and impacts of status details across projects and programs identified
  4. 4. Data-driven, objective status reporting and analysis across projects and programs</li></ul>These are all relevant and can be delivered by using Expertool on programs and projects of any scale or duration.<br />Unique Opportunity for Mega Projects<br />Let’s look more closely at the unique opportunities that Expertool enables for mega-projects. Expertool was developed to help improve the decision-making process on large-scale, multi-disciplinary projects in order to deliver high quality results as efficiently as possible—certainly value-adding activity on mega-projects. There is additional and significant value for mega-project participants enabled by using the Expertool methodology and toolset: building and maintaining project continuity. <br />I was at lunch with an old friend recently talking about his firm’s new role on a contract related to a NYC mega-project. We laughed since we first knew of the mega-project over 16 years ago through our former employer and the work of one of our former colleagues—we called it the “Peter Planner-era” of the project (names changed to protect the innocent). <br />We then spent most of our lunch in a dialogue about the issue of “project continuity in the extreme” embodied by mega-projects with durations spanning 15-25 years. For these projects, the real value of project “old-timers” is not that they know “what is”, but that they understand “why it got that way.” Due to their long duration and multi-disciplinary complexity, mega-projects in infrastructure are ripe to benefit from systemic management of project expertise over their entire life-cycle. Due to the sheer number of people involved in these projects, the number of contributing technical disciplines, and the fact that the overall life-cycle passes responsibility from planners to designers, designers to builders, builders to owners and operators, significant expertise is lost along the way.<br />I learned first-hand, and with great personal pain, the gap between project records and project understanding. I was the first person to enter a vacated floor of a mega-project design office when my firm took over as lead consultant from a competitor firm that had been summarily removed after they worked on the project for over 5 years. My job was “easy”: determine the status of the mega-project so we could take over, but do this without contacting the former consultant’s team. Searching desks, emails, and vaults of project documentation to understand the “why” is difficult if not impossible. And not understanding the “why” can lead to wasted efforts or worse—poor decisions. While mine was an extreme case, primary responsibility for the elements of mega-projects routinely passes between firms and joint ventures over the decades from planning to operations. It’s also not unusual to hear of 5-10 different client project managers serving “at the pleasure” of 4 or more elected official administrations over the life of a mega-project.<br />Expertool provides methods and tools for modeling the business and regulatory context surrounding key decisions, relevant multi-disciplinary technical considerations and the options and trade-offs considered at each key decision point. A case-based reasoning engine allows decision makers to more deeply understand the impact of their decisions within the modeled business, regulatory and technical environment. Employing this approach not only improves the quality of decisions, but also creates a critical repository of expertise for use by planners, designers, builders and construction managers, as well as the owners and operators. Unlike typical project documentation that records key decisions in meeting minutes and decision memos, the Expertool decision support process frames the decision in the context of the business, regulatory and political environment at the time of the decision, and creates a repository of the decision and all the options and trade-offs considered within that context. <br />Looking into the future, project delivery organizations could realize additional value from the Expertool approach by combining the individual repositories of project expertise to codify organizational expertise currently held within the heads of their current and past employees. Expertool does not replace the mentoring these people can provide, but leverages previous analysis and advice to deliver scenario-based expertise to future projects without having to re-convene the experts. This leaves senior experts free to evaluate new and emerging issues, and to update and improve the expertise repositories.<br />The beauty of the Expertool approach is that it can start at any time and build incrementally. Unlike traditional information systems, there is no requirement to adopt Expertool as the “official” project standard. Nor are we in competition with project collaboration or knowledge management tools. In fact, Expertool can increase the value of project management, project collaboration, and knowledge management tools by linking the content of these into a holistic view of the project in its environment: political and technical. <br />Regardless of a project’s current stage, we suggest a proof-of-concept pilot. During the pilot project our experts build a model of the current project environment, mapping contract scope, status and solution architecture back to the project charter, as well as to the stakeholder, regulatory and political requirements (including relevant provisions of the adopted EIS). This initial model can then be used to help the project team discover issues and risks, frame key decisions, and to perform scenario-based analysis of options and trade-offs on the horizon. As decisions are made, the related expertise is captured and available for re-use, creating operational savings and improving the management of quality and risks.<br />The Expertool web site provides a good overview of Expertool and some its applications. See the following web page and the presentation linked to it:<br /> <br />Neil Jacobson, PMP is a mega-project veteran. He got his first taste of large-scale programs 25 years ago when he served as the Program Manager for a $92M construction program to support a new aircraft mission at Malmstrom Air Force Base. In the early 1990’s he was working at Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) where he developed automated capital asset management methods that governments used to assess the condition of their physical assets, and plan and execute programs of projects to maintain those assets. At PB he led a number of large-scale condition assessment/capital planning projects, some mega-projects in their own right, for clients like NYC Office of Management and Budget, NYC Board of Education/Schools Construction Authority, the Port Authority of NY &NJ (PANYNJ), and Amtrak. Also at PB, he led the planning function and later served as engineering program manager for the early action projects on the $1.1 billion+ AirTrain mega-project for the PANYNJ. For the past 15 years he’s been leading teams to build and deliver IT products and consulting services, and managing enterprise-scale business transformation projects. His products have been used by clients including Amerada Hess, Royal Bank of Scotland, Deutsche Bank, FedEx, and the NBA. His consulting service client successes include Pfizer, Fannie Mae, and numerous NY and NJ agencies, and not for profit organizations.<br />