A PM Technique for Complex Projects with Multiple Sub-Contractors

Project Work Authorization Sanctioning; A Contracted Project for the Metropolitan Bus Authority


Jill E. Ricken, PMP

Project Manager, Consulting Services, EVERTEC, Inc.


In order to expedite, keep focus, manage conflicts and concentrate project effort towards deliverables, a specific project management technique is project work authorization sanctioning. A work authorization system for sanctioning project work was implemented during the project performed by EVERTEC, Inc. Consulting Services for the Metropolitan Bus Authority in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to ensure that work was done at the proper time, in the proper sequence, and synchronized with sub-contractors scheduling, client current scenarios, and the master project schedule. This project sanctioning process, also called the “critical sanction path”, is based on the rationale that there are many parallel tasks that have to occur at the same time in a complex project, many sub-contractors, aggressive deadlines, and potential labor unions demands; hence working with the specific deliverables, concurrence, and communication effort are necessary to keep a constant progress tracking among these many variables.


The “PMI Project of the Year 2005” Finalist “Metropolitan Bus Authority, Rehabilitation of the Communications Command Center (Purchase and Installation of AVL and Communications Equipment)” is a specific example of a complex project with multiple sub-contractors. The Metropolitan Bus Authority (MBA) operates the public bus transportation service for the San Juan Metropolitan Area in Puerto Rico. The project was contracted with EVERTEC, Inc. EVERTEC Consulting Services led the effort; with Epi Badillo, PMP as acting Program Manager, and Jill E. Ricken, PMP as acting Project Manager. The Metropolitan Bus Authority team was directed by Adaline Torres Santiago, MBA President and Wilfredo Ramos as acting MBA Project Manager.

The EVERTEC Project Manager Responsibilities were:

  • Complete authority to plan, direct, and control project resource allocation;
  • Defined, scheduled, controlled, and adjusted all tasks for the project;
  • Responsible for all aspects of requirements management, such as established requirements, documented requirements, and managed changes to requirements throughout the entire lifecycle of the project;
  • Facilitated team development;
  • Coordinated meetings;
  • Managed and monitored master project plans, project risks, project deliverables and documentation;
  • Communicated project status to stakeholders, customers and management;
  • Responsible for procurement;
  • Responsible for project completion.

Summary of Project

Project Features and Functionality

  • Installation of the Radio Infrastructure (Voice and Messaging radio communications infrastructure, Mount Morcelo radio tower, AVL data radio communications infrastructure) providing constant voice and data communications with the MBA bus fleet;
  • Refurbishment of the Command Communications Center providing a central location for control of the MBA fleet;
  • Implementation of a Transit Scheduling System (for Fixed-Route Bus Operations and Paratransit On-Demand Operations for the disabled) for improved bus and Paratransit schedules;
  • Implementation of a Operator's Bidding and Dispatching system for managing daily operations, maintenance and absenteeism;
  • Installation and configuration of an Automatic GPS-based Vehicle Location System (AVL) to supply realtime, graphic information of the true location of individual buses and their compliance with trip schedules;
  • Automation of a Radio Frequency Bus Log in / Log off at the garage and terminals to track the actual bus exit times compared with the schedules;
  • Implementation of an Automatic Passenger Counting System (APC) to perform statistical analysis of ridership to improve the bus schedules in the future;
  • Creation of an On-Board Emergency Alert System for assistance in alerting the necessary officials of any emergency situation on the buses to secure the safety of the Puerto Rican bus riders;

Project complexity

The project was complex due to the high level of technological innovation and integration of a wide variety of subcontractors with different technological expertise. For example, the use of GPS satellites added to the level of complexity, since this is cutting-edge technology. As detailed in the project description, the project included communications towers, bus radios, furniture consoles, computer hardware, computer software, consulting services, to name but a few examples. The complexity also increased due to the numerous quantities of products and systems platforms required for the project; hence creating sub-projects that composed the entire project.

Unusual conditions, issues and barriers

The most unusual condition present in the project that required special management team action was the high level of sub-contractor involvement; and as such the facet of interaction with multiple sub-project managers. EVERTEC was the primary contractor in the project. There were at least five (5) additional large sub-contracted project teams. Additionally, there were other smaller sub-contracted project teams that assisted in the overall execution of different tasks, sub-projects and sub-project phases. These sub-contractors were all managed by the EVERTEC Project Manager. Initially, there were specific loyalty barriers created by team members when they were required to report to the EVERTEC Project Manager, when they normally reported to another company Project Manager from their respective companies. There were logistics issues that arose in the handling of multiple teams running multiple sub-projects, all running at the same time. The coordination effort required by the EVERTEC Project Manager was challenging. The management of these continuous and overlapping sub-projects made this project more complex. Because of this unusual project condition, it was necessary to implement a specific project management technique to manage the effort.

A Specific Project Management Technique

The project team developed a work authorization system procedure for sanctioning project work. The procedure was defined at the very beginning of the project with the project kick-off meeting; where we described the way we were planning to manage the project, the forms, processes, procedure and plans that would be used, including typical examples of each. At this meeting the methodology that would be used for the integration of the project was agreed upon. This meeting established the team players from both EVERTEC and MBA, and required formal buy-in from MBA. During this meeting a detailed definition of the work authorization tasks of the project was presented. These tasks were a subset of the list of project deliverables, and each had an expected duration to complete. (Exhibit 1)

Work Authorization Task List

Exhibit 1 – Work Authorization Task List

The tasks in the list to be authorized by MBA were listed in such a way to ensure that all work would be done at the proper time and in the proper sequence. The creation of the list required input from all the sub-contractors and synchronized each sub-contractors scheduling plans along with the master project schedule.

This project sanctioning process called the “critical sanction path” (Exhibit 2) as originally defined and agreed upon in the initial project kick-off meeting was then monitored on a weekly basis.

Critical Sanction Path

Exhibit 2 – Critical Sanction Path

When a specific Work Authorization Task was ready to begin, based on the input from the sub-contractor, and the monitoring and comparison with the Master Schedule, a request for Work Authorization was presented to the Metropolitan Bus Authority. They had 48 hours to respond to the request for authorization to proceed with the work. When the Work Authorization was received, the list was updated with the Work Authorization received date. Then the work task had to be completed in the duration specified in the list. A corresponding Work Authorization was also created for the sub-contractor, authorizing them to commence, and reminding them of the expected duration of the task which would specify when the task must be completed. The entire project was managed in this way.

An internal project team weekly meeting (primary contractor EVERTEC and sub-contractors) was held each week to monitor, review, synchronize and sanction deliverables progress. The Work Authorization List was analyzed, and discussed in these meetings. It was adjusted accordingly. One of the main meeting deliverables was revised action plans that were leveled and/or balanced against the main project critical path. Another important deliverable from these meetings was the discussion and agreement on the part of the sub-contractors regarding potential scope changes and change request requirements that were out-of-scope of the initial project. All out-of-scope changes were presented to the MBA as change requests and required approval from them. If accepted, an adjustment would be made to the original work plan. The constant management of the scope and change requests drove the future effort and kept the project on track. It was necessary to use a strict adherence to change management since the scope was specifically defined by deliverable. Each new change request could have potentially generated a modification to the Work Authorization List. In this case, new tasks may have been added, as well as the timing for requesting the Work Authorizations could have changed.

An external project team meeting, which also included the Metropolitan Bus Authority, was held weekly as well. This gave EVERTEC clear accessibility to the client for work authorization sanctioning, shortening delivery times, and deliverables formation. The Scope Definition and the initial project requirements were managed, discussed and monitored to ensure enhancing future project performance. The work being authorized to begin was clearly defined in these meetings. Configuration items definition and baseline creation were included into our continuous integration approach. (Exhibit 3)

Continuous Integration Management

Exhibit 3 – Continuous Integration Management

Project Risk Management

Throughout the life of the project, the list of risk events was an input for discussion at the weekly meetings, as well as the risk triggers. In this way, there was continuous risk management. The following list represents the top priority risk events that were identified, quantified, analyzed, and controlled throughout the project:

  1. The involvement of the MBA Union and their potential inability to accept the changes necessary to implement a new computer system. This risk was accepted. Since EVERTEC did not have any means of communicating directly with the MBA Union, it was not possible to eliminate this risk; however, contingency fees were put into place to assist in this risk mitigation if needed. Negotiations were performed by the MBA with the MBA Union to reduce the risk of jeopardizing the project.
  2. There was no alternative to the radio tower used in Monte Morcelo. If the tower was deemed not functioning for whatever reason (e.g., hurricane, vandalism, etc.), the entire system of communication from the buses to the Command Control Center would go down. This risk was mitigated. A change request was created for the installation and configuration of an alternate tower at Minillas Station which MBA accepted. Hence, during the project, a business continuity plan was created for the Mount Morcelo radio tower.
  3. We at EVERTEC relied on subcontractors to perform many of the tasks. The penalties in case of failure in any of the points of the contract should be deferred to them in case the failure was in their work tasks. This risk was transferred. In accordance with the contract with MBA, some of the risk was included into the Statement of Work for the sub-contractors so that they would be liable for specific project outcome as well.
  4. The interface to be designed for Schedule Adherence between 2 separate systems was on-line with a required quantity of seconds for the data transference per the contract. If this transfer was not performed in that time, the on-line system would fail. This risk was accepted. Since the data transfer was being performed by sub-contractor equipment, EVERTEC did not have a way to mitigate the risk. Again, contingency fees were put into place to assist in this risk mitigation if needed.
  5. The equipment on each bus must be certified immediately upon placement into a bus so that the equipment immediately becomes the responsibility of MBA. In case of vandalism after the fact, it is the responsibility then of MBA to replace the damaged /vandalized equipment. This risk was transferred to the subcontractor performing the radio installation. Since it was the sub-contractor who was responsible for the bus equipment installation, it was required that they certify the buses immediately upon completion. The sub-contractor needed to assure that the buses got certified on-time, and if they did not and a bus was vandalized, it was the responsibility of the sub-contractor to correct the situation, at no additional cost to EVERTEC or MBA. This was stipulated in the Statement of Work with the sub-contractor.
  6. EVERTEC relied on an outside contractor (consulting services contracting) to assist in specific tasks that required technical expertise in the specific area of transportation systems. This risk was mitigated since the outside contractor's contract was terminated and all consulting services were performed by EVERTEC from the beginning of the project.
  7. Undefined specifications for the interface to a payroll system. This risk was accepted and contingency fees were put into place to cover it. The contingency fees were not required to be used since the interface was not complex.


Project Time / Schedule Management

The project schedule was managed according to the Work Breakdown Structure. Using Microsoft Projects Gantt charts, the tasks were controlled comparing baseline versus actual. Each time that a client approved a change request, it was added to the scope and the baseline was adjusted and a new baseline was managed. Using continuous scope management and monitoring of the Work Authorization Task List, the project was completed ahead of schedule. The Actual Project Start Date was 2/19/2002, and the Actual Project Finish Date was 10/21/2004. See Exhibit 4 for planned versus actual scheduling results.

Scheduling Results

Exhibit 4 – Scheduling Results

The actual finish date of 10/21/2004 constitutes 172 business days after the expected original finish date of 2/25/2004 due to the change requests included. The 24 Change Requests that were approved by the President of MBA constituted an estimated addition of 427 days of work to the baseline finish date of the project. Hence, the estimated finish date together with the estimated time to complete the 24 approved Change Requests was 10/13/2005. We actually finished the project on 10/21/2004 so the project came in prior to schedule by 256 business days. A Project Control Analysis spreadsheet was analyzed monthly to monitor the schedule indicators. (Exhibit 5)

Schedule Analysis

Exhibit 5 – Schedule Analysis

Project Cost Management

In total the project came in under budget by 10.06%. A Project Control Analysis spreadsheet was analyzed monthly to monitor the cost indicators. (Exhibit 6)

Cost Analysis

Exhibit 6 – Cost Analysis

Project Results

The EVERTEC contracted project for the Metropolitan Bus Authority, the “AMA-RCCC” was selected as a Finalist in the “PMI Project of the Year 2005”. The specific applied management technique that was used was the creation of a work authorization system for sanctioning project work. Using this technique, work was authorized to start at the proper time, in the proper sequence, and synchronized with the master project schedule. As a result, the project met the client's needs, improved on the budget and schedule performance when compared with the original established budget and schedule goals.

The direct results of the project for the Metropolitan Bus Authority have been a success. In the year 2003, there were 137,241 passenger trips for the Paratransit bus operations compared with the year 2004 when there were 140,076 passenger trips. This constitutes an increase by 2% in annual ridership. Similarly, the passenger trips reported for the Fixed Route bus operations in the year 2003 was 30,736,846 compared with the passenger trips in the year 2004 of 31,255,469 also constituting an annual increase of 2%.

© 2005, Jill E. Ricken
Originally published as a part of 2005 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Toronto, Canada