By: James Matz, Senior Project Manager & Director of Development at JOA Group
As an experienced Project Manager, I’ve learned that maintenance projects are different than Capital projects in several fundamental ways. They require a different approach and a different set of tactics to manage successfully.
Maintenance projects commonly deal with a failure or even a critical failure. As a result, there are typically no plans, no warm-up, and no lead time. At the outset of the project, there is little to no information about what needs to be done nor is there a process in place. And often, the client is surprised, angry, or upset about the failure, leading to heightened emotions and needs from everyone involved. The project manager may become the de-facto counselor as well to keep the project on track.
When faced with a maintenance project like this, the most important thing is to tackle the hard parts first. Don’t procrastinate the challenging bits, and you will find the project gets easier as it progresses instead of more difficult.
Here are my Nine Tips for knocking your next maintenance project out of the park.
1. Find out what went wrong
Learning = Value Add, so bring value and insight to the project.
Taking time to figure out what went wrong in the first place. Doing so will help you now as well as with future projects. Find out why the item failed—was it a lack of maintenance, lack of safeties on the equipment, or end of its useful life?
Then spend time looking for solutions instead of immediately replacing the item with new product. For example, can it be repaired or reused somewhere else? Providing insight into available options and making sure they comply with the future plans of the client can save them time and money.
If you do have to replace the item, decide what the future holds for it. Is the system obsolete? Is there a better solution? Should it be tied into something else? All are viable options, depending on the client’s needs.
2. Define the scope of work (SOW) with the project stakeholders
First off, seek out and talk to all the stakeholders. Communication is key at this early stage. Usually, there are multiple parties involved including the end-user, engineer of record, maintenance, facilities, etc. Quite often they have different views on the needed Scope of Work (SOW). Find out what they think and why, as well as their justifications. Once you’ve heard their point of view, pull it all into the SOW and get approval. Everything else will move more smoothly if you get an early buy-off on the SOW.
3. Establish the budget early
We can (and will) do an entire blog about the budget. Let’s just say, it’s one area where the PM can look incredibly foolish if they don’t plan properly. Setting up the budget requires several steps early in the project. Without them, you could significantly and disastrously under-budget for the project.
The first step is Forecasting which typically requires research to ensure that the project goals and expectations are possible at the location requested and that the money is allocated properly.
The second step is Project Development. This includes (among many other things) checking site conditions, code requirements, prevailing wage, or living wage, specs for materials, and preparing square foot cost estimates. It also includes architects, engineers, and the engineered estimate as well as the all important contingency plan for scope creep.
Third, may sure you include Preconstruction and Documentation. These are the costs to prepare all the material needed to bid the project and the labor required to review the documents. (There are often unaccounted-for costs here.)
Fourth, consider both the Hard and Soft Costs. Hard costs are easily quantifiable e.g. linear foot, square foot, square yard, yard, gallon, pound, ton, cubic foot, cubic yard, British thermal unit, drum, each, board foot, roll, loose cubic yard, compacted cubic yard……you get the point. Soft costs span a gray area that can easily be estimated too high or too low. They are also difficult to track costs like accounting, architecture, legal, safety, community outreach, permits, inspections taxes, human resource costs, environmental, property maintenance and safety, insurance, security, warranties, commissioning, etc., etc. Then there is also project management, construction management, software, travel, meals, and possibly entertainment on larger projects.
Given all the complexity listed above, I recommend making a standard budgeting protocol to ensure you have turned over every rock, instead of just relying on competitive bids which could unintentionally exclude important costs.
4. Post a schedule to communicate progress
A project schedule is a must when there are multiple segments, stakeholders, and milestones.
GANTT Charts are the best way to communicate how the schedule is going. Be sure to build some flexibility into the plan, including some “Oh No!” time for unforeseen delays.
5. Proactively plan for procurement
Due to the “rush” nature of most maintenance projects, everything is typically fast-tracked by necessity, frequently resulting in additional rush costs or charges. The adage better, cheaper, faster, pick two, definitely applies here.
To avoid extra costs, take the time to negotiate upfront. Try to temporarily fix the issue or turn it off for safety. Doing this will give you extra time to order replacements and/or schedule workers. Contractors increase prices knowing your back may be against the wall, so give them as much lead time as possible.
6. Communicate and be kind
As mentioned in the first tip, communication is paramount to a successful project. Stakeholders include everyone involved—contractors, suppliers, end-users, etc. Make them all feel valued and part of the team.
Always be considerate to the team. Get to know them – this helps with communication and working together to solve unforeseen conditions.
● Create a positive working environment for them to remember in the future.
● Be positive with change – take the stress out of the situation.
Throughout the project and particularly at the conclusion, send thank you’s and celebration emails to the team, thanking them no matter the pain and suffering endured during the project. Doing this will help people forget any anger or resentment should the team work together again.
7. Fight for your project to do what is right
Every project is different. Organizations often waste money on short-term solutions rather than looking at things wholistically. The outstanding or failed piece of equipment may be too large or complex to be a maintenance project and the situation may be better served by being included in a Capital project. Or the maintenance project itself should become a Capital project, which then provides the needed time and money to perform a thorough investigation, design, and opens doors for procurement options. You’ve done the right thing, bringing insight and recommendations. You have added value and saved assets in the long run.
8. Plan for the future
Complete the project the way you started; take time to do it right. Be sure to include the extra tasks along the way that can help the client save money in the future. These can include Operations and Maintenance manuals, preventative maintenance tasks, training, and asset management for depreciation (material cost). These items should always be included but are often skipped because the PM is tasked to start the next set of projects. Include provisions for these in every maintenance project.
9. Pay attention to lessons learned
Last but not least, learn from each project. Continuous improvement will make the next project better. Collect data chronologically and report it clearly and concisely. Don’t rely on emails, and maintain a list of everyone involved for future reference.
Sometimes I like to compare a project to the first book in the Bible, “Genesis”. While creating the world, God made sure to do the hard stuff first. Then God broke the project into several phases, communicated with the stakeholders, and took time to celebrate each achievement. And when the project was over, God was able to rest, recognizing a job well done.