Slice it up
Gloria Lara is vice president of project management at Jervis B. Webb Co., a global material-handling technology and systems provider in Farmington Hills, Mich., USA.
Project management is our economic engine and central to how we do business at Jervis B. Webb Co. That's why we invest in it. We started employing a formal project management framework 15 years ago when our automotive customers began sourcing systems, basing their awards more on cost and less on relationships. To develop the most cost-effective operational method that could adapt to these changes, we closely followed the auto industry project management practices being implemented at the time. The project manager was the person responsible for the project and for assigning engineering and manufacturing resources to assist with the project.
As the company continues to grow worldwide, we're encountering more projects in which not all of the team members are located in the same place. For example, engineering is done in India; project management is headed up in the United States; site installation takes place in the Middle East; and manufacturing is in Canada.
Communication—effective or not—has a ripple effect, not just through the internal team but through customers, subcontractors, manufacturers and equipment providers as well, which is why our project management methodology is essential to our business.
To address the disparate activities and locations of our projects, we do what we call “slicing” the processes. This best practice involves separating the project activities into different components—whether it's project management, engineering, scheduling, customer relationship management, documentation control or subcontractor management. For example, for projects of a short duration, we'll put one project manager in charge of all documentation and assign another to site management. For this methodology to work, project team members must be able to provide one another with the most up-to-date information. To ensure all team members have instantaneous access and updating capability to project information, we are implementing an Internet-based system.
In our experience, most project management problems occur at the communication level. Collaboration is difficult if everyone isn't working from the same database or information. Communication—effective or not—has a ripple effect, not just through the internal team but through customers, subcontractors, manufacturers and equipment providers as well, which is why our project management methodology is essential to our business.
Reviewing contracts at various times throughout the development and installation process is another strategy we use. We go back to a contract at the end of the project and analyze the criteria for finishing the project. Following this practice has helped enhance our reputation as a company that meets expectations, schedules and budgets. Because our projects involve complex, moving parts, including many integrated systems, reviewing the contract at various stages of the project helps us refocus and ensure we have satisfied all customer requirements.
Project management is one of our key competitive strengths. Many times, our employees do their jobs without understanding how it benefits the entire company. We make certain that everyone here contributes to a slice of project management and feels they are part of a project's success, which ultimately improves our bottom line.
JANUARY 2007 | PM NETWORK