004 Interview with an WI State CIP Project Manager

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Craig Weisensel MBA, PMP, PE, AIA manages the capital improvement projects and maintenance projects of Wisconsin state facilities. He is the Team Leader for the Project Delivery Section and he oversees a staff of project managers with a portfolio of over 300 major capital development projects and over 1000 maintenance and repair projects for a combined total budget of $700 Million.

[Q] I work closely with design teams [A/E] on our state projects and sometimes they share with me their frustration with our internal review process.  What do you think are the biggest complaints that architects and engineers [A/E] have when they work on your campus projects?

[A] The most common issue during the technical review process is when the A/E does not involve our technical reviewer staff early in the process for complicated or unique issues. It is very important to have the basis of design completed and coordinated by 35% Design Development review. 35% Design Development review is a major milestone review in our process where budget is reviewed to ensure the project can be completed within the estimated budget. An accurate budget estimate can only be put together if the basis of design is clearly understood and coordinated. If the scope is not clearly understood, there is a potential for significant changes, which puts the project at risk. It is therefore critical to ensure the design team is allocating the resources needed to fully understand the project scope and challenges at this early milestone.

The second most common mistake is the A/E’s not performing an in-house QC/QA before sending a project for technical review. A technical review has significantly less value when the documents are incomplete, not coordinated or incorrect. Successful A/E’s leverage the technical review process to further improve their documents, improve their relationships with our technical review staff, and share technical knowledge between peer groups. A/E’s that understand the technical review staff, typically have very successful projects and meet the expectations of the client.   

[Q] When you review the work of an A/E team, what are the biggest mistakes that you see?  Also what are the biggest project management mistakes that you see?

[A] The most common issue for both the A/E and the project manager [the owner’s representative] is aligning expectations of the A/E and stakeholders [owners and users groups] early and often. Typical owners and users groups are not experienced with the overall design and construction process. It is very important for project managers to communicate expectations early and often to the owners/user groups and align these expectations with the A/E team. For large projects, owners/users are making monumental decisions 2-3 years in advance (i.e. programming), and they need to fully understand the impact these decisions have downstream on the process. Project Managers need to have the foresight to understand the impacts of the decisions being made today, such that the impacts can be clearly communicated to the owners/user groups.

It is the responsibility of the Project Manager to make sure that the owners and users understand the process.

This challenge is further compounded for large and complex projects where the stakeholder team of users/owners may change over time. The introduction of new stakeholders into the process can very quickly change the dynamics of the decision making. To help work through this challenge, it is important to have an approved decision making matrix, and to also document all decisions made by the owner / user groups. 

[Q]Do you have a problem finding funding for your maintenance and repair projects or does your maintenance and repair work have a set budget every year?

[A] Forecasting and allocating the appropriate amount of funding for maintenance and repair projects is very difficult. This is especially true for a public entity which has significant pressure to reduce budgets. Maintenance and repair historically has not been a priority (see example of I-35 Bridge collapse in Minneapolis, MN). Therefore, the funding which is allocated needs to be guarded and spend wisely for appropriate priorities and needs.

Wisconsin has spent a significant effort to identify and prioritize maintenance repair projects. (See Small Project Program Guidelines here)

The key to this document is to prioritize maintenance work, identify how specific projects are funded, and help facility manager plans and budget for future maintenance work.

[Q]How often do you initiate new projects and where do you advertise?

[A] Projects for the state of Wisconsin, with a construction budget over $50,000 are required to publically bid. The projects are advertised on a website here.

Projects under $50,000 are bid through a less formal process, and are not shown on the above website. On average we have about 1000 projects per year, which vary from small repairs and maintenance projects with a budget of $5000 to new construction of capital projects over $100 Million.

[Q]Our design teams use a few strategies to keep the project on schedule and within budget.  What project management tools do you use to ensure that your projects stay on schedule and on budget?

[A] The state of Wisconsin has a construction management system “WisBuild” which manages the financials of a project. This tool ensures that contracts, payments, change orders, etc are tracked and logged.

Additionally, this system tracks and logs technical review comments at both preliminary design and final design. This helps to track and document all review comments to ensure that the design team addresses each issue. The design team responds to each comment within the system to document how each comment was addressed.

Our system also links earned value through our payment systems. Contractors are required to report % complete for each division of work when submitting payment requests. The project manager then reviews the payment request, and claimed work completed and compares this to actual progressed completion of the project. This measure of control is critical in the process to ensure that contractors are not paid for work which has not been completed.  

[Q]You have many letters after your name. Do you find it useful to have PMP certification and if so why?

[A] The skill of project management for most professionals is learned on the job. This can be learned through informal training, mentoring, just trial and error. Additionally, this can be learned from solid project managers who follow solid project management priciples, or from others who are less qualified.

The benefit of the PMP, and other formal training is learned through a proven system which has been approved by national / international organizations which have vetted the system. PMI and other organizations have taken the time to work through universal systems which can be applied to almost any profession and process. The PMP certification was really just the capstone to an organized and formal training for project management. While the system was broad in the approach, it stressed core values, techniques and tools required for all project managers.

I cannot stress enough how important this training is for any project manager. Additionally, continuing education is needed to maintain this skill and knowledge. My staff has been taking project management courses over the past few years. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, as this training has helped them in their day-to-day project management activities.

[Q]You and I have similar backgrounds in that we both have education and/or licensure in architecture and engineering.  I have my own opinions about architects and engineers, but I am curious to know if you think architects or engineers make better project managers and why?

[A] From my experience the best project managers continue to work at a high level and have the understanding to delegate technical work to staff or A/E consultants. It has been my experience that when project managers start to become the design staff, then focus is lost at the leadership level.

It is very important for any project manager to understand the technical issues, but having the discipline to delegate this responsibility to the technical staff. While project managers provide overall guidance, the project manager needs to rely on technical staff to perform their duties.

I have seen both architect and engineers fall into this trap. At times, a project manager needs to dive down into technical details when required. The trick is to provide enough guidance to get the technical staff aligned with expectations or goals, and then let the technical staff complete the job.

 

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