Project management secret: Manage your plan

After all, the word management means follow-up. PLANNING HOW TO manage your project is the most critical business decision you will make today. All businesses have structure. Contracting is no exception. Yet structure in our business is spread across a much larger landscape than other businesses. Contractors have groups of people working offsite running millions of dollars of work on multiple projects,

After all, the word management means follow-up.

PLANNING HOW TO manage your project is the most critical business decision you will make today. All businesses have structure. Contracting is no exception. Yet structure in our business is spread across a much larger landscape than other businesses.

Contractors have groups of people working offsite running millions of dollars of work on multiple projects, day in and day out. Logistics can be a nightmare. Having people and materials in place at the right time challenges everyone who manages multiple projects. So how does this work?

After you have your people in place, and your structure has been built, the work begins. Having weekly production meetings with your staff and bi-weekly meetings with your production workers is a great place to start.

Planning begins when you gather information by having project management/production meetings with the people who already know and the people who will need to know your plan. By following a regular meeting schedule, people get comfortable. They open up with their problems and problems are solved.

We begin our week with a Monday morning meeting. This is where project management begins. Our agenda includes reviewing all sold projects, percentage of completion, critical material needs and delivery dates, work assignments, project manager assignments, a two-week look ahead, safety issues, design issues, material movement, fabrication needs, project closeout and problem areas.

Strategies are created and everyone knows the plan. As time goes on, follow-up is a critical factor for success. After all, the word management means follow-up. Someone has to make sure things are moving as planned and everyone must know the plan.

Bringing the production workers and foremen into the process is the next important step in project management. Passing project information, timing issues, material needs and your "plan of attack" to the field must happen if your plan is going to work. Empower your people in these meetings. Pass assignments, set goals, discuss coordination issues and encourage everyone to participate. Getting your people involved will boost morale.

Many contractors fail to communicate with their people as they should. The cornerstone for all project management is involving everyone. If you expect a healthy, successful and productive organization, you'd better be talking to everyone in your company. When things are tough, we communicate; when things are good, we communicate.

Here are some additional tips that have aided in the successful management of our projects. Use technology to your advantage. E-mail has given us a great way to communicate. It is a strong tool for staff and production personnel. By using this technology, everyone can communicate on his or her own time.

One of the best ways to prepare for a production meeting is by gathering preliminary project information through e-mail with as many people on your team as possible. Before your weekly meeting, have your staff and field foremen send a weekly report on Friday. This will encourage them to do look-ahead planning as well.

Incorporate as much information from the field and other staff members into your production meeting outline as possible.

Give specific assignments to the people in the production meeting. Name the persons responsible who are to follow up on the assignments you hand out. Discuss these assignments at the following week's meeting. It's important to keep all assignments in your outline open until you know these issues have been resolved. You may want to keep a date beside the assignment to show the time it was assigned.

Look ahead at least two weeks with your production schedule to identify what work and projects your production department will be working on. Make sure you tie critical material needs into this schedule. This will give your staff the information it needs to have materials and equipment onsite and on time.

Gather information in the production meeting that needs to be communicated to the other departments. To keep money moving, for example, be sure you identify completed projects and billing information to your accounting department. This will help speed up the billings, which will improve your cash flow.

Make sure you have all the right players in the room. Our production meetings are made up of the project managers, shop foreman, purchasing agent, contract administrator, general production manager (me) and the service manager.

Input from everyone is necessary for a strong and effective production meeting. Insist that each of these people submit a written report of all production-related issues with which they are currently dealing.

In business there is no right way, but there are specific ways to succeed. The secret is having a plan and managing it. Find a plan that works well for you and get everyone involved. When your people leave the room, they will be ready to perform and produce.