About the author: Don Archibeque is a Project Executive with Planifi, bringing more than 25 years of experience in construction and A/E (architecture and engineering) Project Management, as well as associated professional managerial services.
As my son was growing up, I coached his little league baseball teams, and even went to the Little League World Series twice. I learned a great deal from coaching, or should I say from teaching these young people about baseball, preparation, and success.
Herb Brooks, University of Minnesota and USA Gold Metal Hockey Coach once said, “The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win.” Everyone would like to succeed in whatever endeavor they chose, and some “naturals” do succeed without much preparation. However, for the greatest percentage of us, success requires a vision that is planned, executed, and measured.
When I was coaching little league teams, we measured everything from number of pitches thrown to batting average to on base percentage. Over the years, I realized coaching baseball or, more specifically, teaching kids how to be successful at playing baseball, shares many of the same fundamentals as being a successful A/E project manager.
Achieving Repeatable Success
Scope, schedule, and budget – the Big Three for project managers. Otherwise stated as vision, cost, and time frame. In baseball many asked, “how do you win so often year after year?” Well, like many that excel in a certain field, we looked at the game differently than our opponents. Our team focused on not only winning games, but winning each and every inning, every at bat, and every single pitch. We broke the game down into bite sized objectives and focused on making the most of every opportunity. It works!
Project Management in the A/E environment is unique, and more abstract in nature than a construction project. In construction, you set out to build what has been engineered, specified, and blueprinted. That’s not to say construction project management is easy, but it has different goals and therefore requires a different approach.
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Breaking Down A/E Projects
As a design professional, on the other hand, you research concepts, develop designs to meet the specified objectives, and apply creative analytical skill sets to create the “Project.” When taken as a whole, this seems like a daunting task – impossible to effectively manage and direct. However, it’s not. It’s common practice to break down the design process into phases – Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Drawings etc.
We can even break that down to each discipline within those phases. This is done every day when design professionals provide proposals for project fees and structure project schedules. There are two key pieces that I often find missing.
- Much like baseball games use a scoreboard, firms need a way to keep score during the project. The project manager should treat each phase like an inning. Then, at regular intervals, review pitching, hitting, and defense (disciplines) and player (project staff) performance to identify any coaching adjustments (staffing or schedule changes) that must be made. If you’re only reviewing projects at the beginning and end, you’re missing multiple opportunities to course correct or improve project delivery.
- Coaching doesn’t end when the games over. Review and discuss your projects with your team after close-out. Identify successes and challenges the team encountered during the project and figure out how you can improve upon these results on future jobs.
Prepare to Win
There are tools to help organize this data and streamline the effort required to manage at this level, but it requires discipline to enter and maintain project plans. This is where I call back to Herb Brooks – “The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win.” Consistent, elite performance for A/E project teams doesn’t happen by accident. Projects are already broken down into phases, take the next step and put review processes in place for continuous improvement and more successful project delivery!
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