008 Interview with Corporate CIP Project Manager

Untitled-1Kent Mitchell is a registered architect and project management professional with over 28 years of experience in the design and construction industry. He has worked in both the public and private sectors and is currently a business lead and senior project manager of capital projects for Syngenta.

[Q] On your latest project, how many stakeholders do you have?

[A] I have a lab project in design phase that I have +/-50 stakeholders.

[Q] What is Syngenta’s process for hiring consultants?

[A] Our procurement business partners issue Requests For Proposal to pre-qualified AE teams.  We would generally short-list the firms and invite 2 or 3 firms to interview.  The Syngenta selection committee might consist of 6 or more cross-functional decision makers who vote on the firms.  The selection is based on multiple criteria, not just low bid. 

[Q] Name one thing that your preferred consultants do consistently?

[A] Communication – our organization is a matrix organization with a multitude of stakeholders so it is vitally important that our engineering design consultants work closely with our project managers to identify the stakeholder groups, collect requirements, validate requests, and keep the project manager informed of all design decisions.

[Q] Name one thing that consultants do consistently that makes you want to fire them?

[A] Making changes to scope that affect the project budget and schedule without support and authorization from the steering team and project manager.

[Q] What tools do you use to keep your projects on schedule?

[A] Our Engineering Project Processes are based on PMI so we are closely aligned with PMI processes. In Syngenta, there are 5 steps to the scheduling process: 

  • Identify Activity 
  • Define Sequence 
  • Estimate duration and resources 
  • Develop schedule 
  • Control schedule. 

We use work breakdown structures to decompose project activities into lower level activities and a key ingredient to developing a successful schedule is to be sure that you’ve identified all items within scope and all project deliverables.  Each project differs on the type of Gantt chart used to depict the schedule and each project manager / team elects the scheduling software most appropriate for the particular project.  During construction, continual monitoring of the schedule with 3-week look ahead and monthly milestone progress reports help keep the steering team aware of schedule fluctuations.

[Q] What tools do you use to keep your projects within the budget?

[A] We have 4 classes of estimates that we use to develop a project budget:

  • Class 1 “Placeholder” (no accuracy)
  • Class 2 “Order of Cost” (+50%/-25% accuracy)
  • Class 3 “Concept” (+30%/-15% accuracy)
  • Class 4 “Sanction” (+10%/-10% accuracy). 

The estimating methods used are stochastic (little scope so we use analogous or parametric data) or deterministic (detailed quantities, quotations).  We also use a Watson Matrix, a method that defines Known Scope, Known Unknowns, and Out of Scope (Exclusions) items.  Another method we use is an estimating tunnel that identifies key categories as checklists that can be tracked using a traffic light scenario (red, yellow, green light). 

We also use Monte Carlo Analysis and Crystal Ball software to predict the likelihood of estimated costs (bell curve showing most likely, best case, worst case).  For each project the project manager works with a finance business partner to determine the best way to track and manage costs throughout the project life cycle.  Some could be managed with SAP, others with spreadsheets.  Monthly updates track actual vs. forecast and we report an Anticipated Final Cost with each monthly update.

[Q] What was the one biggest benefits of getting your PMP certification?

[A] Applying the PMI methodology and systems directly to all projects such that there is a common language in a global, multi-cultural company.

Thanks Kent.

If you have a question for Kent, leave it in the comment section below.

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