A Brazilian project management case
A pioneering South American construction company blends modern project management tools and practices with 30 years of history.
Carlos Reynaldo Camerato
Camargo Corrêa, a Brazilian heavy-construction company with headquarters in São Paulo, was founded in 1946 to perform earthmoving, grading and paving services.
Convinced that technology makes the difference in getting the best quality, early completion, and consequently, a competitive edge, the company gained prestige for overcoming challenges and for its pioneer leadership. It helped with large projects such as airports, railroads, hydroelectric power plants, subways, oil and gas pipelines, “intelligent buildings,” shopping malls and industrial complexes.
Project Management System
In 1993, Camargo Corrêa began developing a new site-planning project management system to standardize its project management activities (see Figure 1), provide conditions and criteria to the continual improvement of site management, and allow measurement of the planning team's evolution.
This system aimed at operational and managerial improvement and was developed based on experience gained over time. Camargo Corrêa hoped to gather information to establish strategic management as well as unite their ability with the speed of available project management software.
Selection of PM Software
To implement the site-planning project management system, it was decided to buy an out-of-the-box software package and to customize it to meet the company's requirements.
Candidate software was evaluated based on time scheduling, WBS, customization, reporting, local technical support, and project management consulting. After testing various high-end project management systems available in Brazil, Open Plan from Welcom Software Technology of Houston, Texas, was chosen. Two major issues supported this decision:
- Ease and scope of customization—the open architecture of Open Plan accepts the planning culture of Camargo Corrêa and its clients better than a closed software.
- Local technical support and project management consulting services—Gamapar Assessoria (a WST distributorship based in São Paulo) had a record of software support, knowledge on Open Plan features and functions, and could provide training, software customization and project management consulting services.
To meet some major project management goals, the out-of-the-box software system had to be customized. Various customized programs were developed, such as:
- Import historical data from the mainframe into the chosen software
- Calculate activity from productivity rates
- Handle monthly quantity of work
- Use weights
- Develop customized reports.
Import Historical Data from the Mainframe into the Chosen Software. In order to benefit from the 30-year database of civil works executed by Camargo Corrêa stored in the corporation's mainframe (i.e., compositions of resources per type of construction activity and respective productivity rates), it was necessary to import this database into Open Plan.
Camargo Corrêa's computer department and Gamapar Assessoria created a program to extract selected data from the database of the mainframe and make it available for personal computers and to import the data into Open Plan project files. The selected data included activity types and description per civil work type, resource description and internal code, unit cost, resource unit, as well as compositions of resources required per activity and productivity rate per resource.
Figure 1. Project Management System Flow Chart
New fields were added to the project file structure to receive the type of data not available in the basic software. Changes were made to the file structure in the Open Plan data dictionary so that all future projects would include those new fields, instead of just doing it on a project-by-project basis.
Calculate Activity Duration. When creating a new activity or before project scheduling, Open Plan expects the project planner to input the activity duration. However, Camargo Corrêa management thought that this approach would rely on personal experience and would not take full advantage of past corporate experience, so they customized the software to suggest durations to the project planner.
A program was developed to calculate the estimated duration of each activity from the productivity data of a similar activity, based on the imported data from similar types of projects. It allows the planner to select an adequate resource composition for each activity from the historical data and to choose the particular key resource that sets the duration of the activity. The productivity rate of that resource is then used in the calculation.
The planner inputs the total quantity of the job, based on the bill of quantities of the project, and the actual calculation uses the total quantity of work, the resource productivity and the amount of the resource that the project planner estimates will be available for that job.
The program suggests a duration in days for every activity (excluding mile-stones)—the planner may accept that number or change the quantity of the resource available for the activity and have the program recalculate a new suggested duration.
Instead of going through the activities one by one, the planner might accept suggested durations for all activities, run a time analysis of the project, and after an evaluation of time schedule, critical paths and targets, decide whether to keep or change durations.
Handle Monthly Quantity of Work. The planning methodology of Camargo Corrêa is based on quantity of work to be performed monthly, and the production schedule sent to crew managers on site is quantity-oriented and includes total and monthly quantity of service per activity. Therefore, a top priority was the development of a customized system to handle information on the quantity of work per activity and per level of WBS.
Since the monthly quantities scheduled might change due to weather or soil condition, availability of materials, technical constraints, etc., the monthly quantity could not be simply derived from the total quantity and the total duration, on a direct proportion, because the work scheduled (or performed) does not actually vary linearly with time. The project database was consequently modified to include new fields for monthly quantities.
The planner may input total quantities per activity defining each activity of the PERT network, or later, before computing duration. Once given the total quantity per activity, the program computes a forecasted distribution of monthly quantities per activity on a linear basis.
The computation attributes to each month, within the start and finish dates of the activity, a quantity of work proportional to the working days of that month, based on the calendar of the activity and the holidays, leaving the planner only the task of looking for those activities that are really wanted to schedule the monthly quantities on a non-linear basis. For those activities the planner may change the monthly quantities for a certain number of the coming months and have the program recalculate the quantities for the remaining months.
Use Weights. Weights were introduced at activity and WBS levels, using an approach that is typical to some large clients, such as Petrobrás, which requires a weight to be attributed to each activity as a percentage value so that the weights of all activities with the same WBS code will add up to 100 percent, and the weights of each WBS “child level” will add up to 100 percent, and so on up to the upper level of the WBS hierarchy.
This rule of just multiplying the weight of the activity by the weights of all the ascending levels of WBS codes up to the topmost level simplifies the calculation of the weight of an individual activity in the total project. If the weight is proportional to the price of the activity, then an “earned price” can easily be obtained, and compared to the earned value based on cost.
This customization was added to take into account customers' requirements to provide reports based on a weighting factor per activity, allowing tracking of weighted project performance to monthly invoice control.
Develop Customized Reports. Several customized reports were developed using WRL—Welcom Report Language—to include the new data, such as total and monthly quantities of work in bar charts, time-scaled logic drawings, and tabular resource and cost reports.
Reader Service Number 5021
A set of time-scaled reports showing monthly quantities above the bars was developed with fixed time frames, which was very useful for programming and controlling purposes. Another set of tabular reports was developed that compared volumes of work scheduled to actual performed, on a weekly or monthly basis. These reports also include performance ratios and indexes, both for the current period and accumulated to date. These weekly and monthly progress reports are the basic controlling tool in the weekly meeting between project managers, production, technical and planning managers, and crew supervisors.
After system implementation, the first year was designed to adapt the project management software to the company's culture and to heavy-construction projects, by means of customized service supported by Softhouse. In the year and a half since the project management system was implemented, some developments stand out:
- About 75 percent of work units are standardized.
- Several planning teams are properly trained and in constant evolution.
- Team development is measured by means of auditing and then taking due action so that a team does not fall behind the others—because we know exactly where we are, we know how much farther we have to move ahead.
- Isolated development of each team is benchmarked into the project management system.
- There is major interaction among crew, operators and planners because “brainstorming,” a tool included in the project management system, is helping work units evolve into a single team.
- We notice progress in the art of planning, involving all employees in the same level and among the various hierarchical levels in the company. ■
Carlos Reynaldo Camerato is engineering manager for Camargo Corrêa. He has over 18 years of experience in project management and is a former project management professor at Brazil's Mackenzie University.
PM Network • September 1996
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