By Betsy Harter
When faced with complex, global assignments, project managers often face greater rewards—and greater challenges. In addition to standard issues, large-scale world projects encompass additional concerns ranging from a need to remotely coordinate qualified talent to technical difficulties, such as ensuring lasting compatibility. Because differing worldwide specifications, standards and terms can be daunting, project managers should enter the world stage with an eye on resource management and technological advances.
In global telecommunications projects, for instance, the coordination that is important in overseeing any project becomes critical, says Daniel Barchi, director of technology and engineering for WorldCom, Washington, D.C., USA. During a satellite network build-out for the World Bank in Africa, Barchi was charged with installing four-meter satellite dishes in 15 to 20 major African cities.
“The coordination required to get everything there on time was incredible because we were dealing with equipment, engineering, people, logistics and licenses,” Barchi says. “When we sent the whole package in, we had to have all the equipment delivered because we were probably not going to find a missing cable at a local [hardware store]. It was a real eye-opener to the challenges of doing global project management.”
Coordination becomes even more challenging when managers do not travel to the site, but instead manage the project remotely. Barchi himself has very rarely traveled to project sites. Instead, he has managed many global telecom projects from his U.S. office. In less developed countries, where employees could not communicate via e-mail and weekly conference calls, a daily phone call was Barchi's only update. In other countries where there was no phone service at all, all he could do was sit and wait for results.
Ion Drumea, chair of PMI's Global Communications Technologies Specific Interest Group (SIG) and a solution engineer with Montréal, Québec-based Bell Canada, says that because project managers cannot be at every project location all the time, they must develop strong virtual project management processes. Companies such as Project Worldwide (www.project.com) and Gantthead (www.gantthead.com) use Web-based collaboration tools to help companies break down the geographic barriers among team members.
Global projects often require local talent. Some countries have a rich infrastructure of people who are willing and able, but other times, the labor pool is dry.
WorldCom's Barchi says that although it is possible to manage most projects with a phone, fax machine and e-mail, successful projects employ local talent to help communicate effectively with local entities.
“We tried to put a 2,000-kilogram satellite package on top of a building in Madagascar, and we had to work closely with the local building engineers and the local government to determine what we could put on the building, how strong the winds were and other factors,” he says.
Local talent also has been paramount for cellular provider Digicel, also known as Mossel Jamaica Ltd., a subsidiary of Irish telecom provider Mossel. Mossel is in the midst of building a pan-Caribbean network, starting with Jamaica. The company acquired its Jamaican license in the first quarter of 2000, and by the second quarter that year, Mossel had sent a core team of 12 Irish employees who were experts in different areas of telecommunications.
“Because we had to hit the ground running, the 12 people with the expertise started running with the ball and at the same time they set up a team of local people behind them,” says Donal O'Shaughnessy, infrastructure director of Digicel.
INSIDE THE LINES
Rapidly advancing telecommunications technology has been known to become obsolete before a project's completion. As a result, global telecommunications project managers often are hard-pressed to finalize scope requirements.
For instance, Digicel finished the first phase of its cellular network in Jamaica in the first quarter of 2001 based on a technology known as Code-Division Multiple Access. In the wireless world, this digital technology is considered a second-generation technology, a step up from first-generation analog networks. However, some wireless providers already are deploying third-generation (3G) networks, which will allow voice and data speeds of up to 4.8 Mbps and provide an always-on Internet connection.
To ensure its network will not become obsolete, Digicel requested that its infrastructure and equipment provider, Ericsson, include scalability so that Digicel can expand its existing system by simply adding extra equipment to make it 3G-compatible. “Adding equipment is cheaper than replacing equipment,” explains Donal O'Shaughnessy, infrastructure director of Digicel. “With the addition of equipment, we can expand and offer 3G telephony whenever it is fully developed.”
Ion Drumea, chair of PMI's Global Communications Technologies SIG and a solution engineer with Bell Canada, says the best way to ensure a project stays within scope is to eliminate unrealistic estimates. Here, development of a key performance indicator (KPI) matrix is crucial, he says. “The KPI matrix is important from the beginning so that you know your parameters,” Drumea says. “Keep it focused and don't let the KPI slide either up or down.”
Also, he says you should make sure that key stakeholders understand what you plan to deliver. When a new technology wave hits the industry, ask the stakeholders for their approval before you add it into the project, and make sure they are willing to pay for it. If you negotiate, your vendors may meet you halfway by sending you equipment upgrades, exchanging the new equipment for the old or offering mitigation strategies.
Most of the time, the scope is defined in the contract, so it is easy to design to those specifications, adds Daniel Barchi, director of technology and engineering for WorldCom. However, scope becomes more challenging with internal projects.
Before you jump in, determine how the scope will impact your budget and your schedule.
Today, Digicel employs almost 300 Jamaican staff. Together, local and Irish employees have constructed 175 cell sites, and they are working on expanding the network by another 100 sites. The firm expects to hand the project over completely to the local management by year's end.
In addition, O'Shaughnessy says the Jamaican employees helped the Irish project managers interact with the various local entities, including the utility companies, regulatory bodies and building authorities. “You often need to get permission from the local planning council for cell sites,” he explains. “You need to get building applications and permits.”
Local employees also helped Digicel communicate with aviation authorities so that it did not put towers in flight paths, as well as spectrum-management agencies so that the company was allocated the proper frequencies for operating its system.
Remote management and finding qualified local labor are only the tip of the iceberg for global telecom projects, however. During his cellular buildout, O'Shaughnessy faced challenges in areas from regulations to raw materials. The pace at which the Caribbean is deregulating telecommunications is much too slow, he says. “In the meantime, you sit and wait. There is no other alternative.”
Once a company obtains a cellular license, deregulation must take place in other areas, too. For instance, in Jamaica, all international traffic can only be routed off the island by Cable & Wireless, the incumbent operator. “Cable & Wireless basically has a monopoly on all outgoing international traffic in Jamaica,” O'Shaughnessy says, “so we have to use their services even though we would much prefer to use our own.”
Jamaica also lacks suitable materials for telecommunications projects, including communications towers, electrical items, fixtures and fittings for stores. Digicel was forced to source most materials from the United States or South America.
Logistics is another huge concern for many global telecom projects, O'Shaughnessy adds. In Jamaica, the infrastructure is underdeveloped. Due to the mountainous landscape, roads are primitive compared to other countries.
“We had to put together a detailed logistics plan as to how we would get equipment around the island,” he explains. “If a shipment originated in the United States, it might be on a flatbed and not able to travel the roads around here. We order equipment so that it comes packaged on trucks that are suitable for the roads in Jamaica.”
Technology projects may encounter issues with both fit and function. Whether a telecommunications project is slated for an emerging or a mature market, one issue that project managers are bound to face is standards interoperability. Although many global standards bodies work hard to ensure that standards are ubiquitous worldwide, each country also works on its own, making some technology incompatible among different countries.
Drumea suggests that project managers establish a close relationship with engineering organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the International Organization for Standardization.
“Project managers should go to an organization that represents their interests and try to get the organization to establish a relationship and force the [project management] standards,” he says. “If this does not happen and the results are not as good as you want them to be, the project manager must have a mitigation strategy.”
Project managers who are not telecommunication experts often have trouble working out standards issues. Therefore, they should employ technical people who understand the problem and can either incorporate the standards or come up with some software translation equipment to make the two networks compatible, Drumea says.
“Successful global telecom project managers are people who learn quickly and can think on their feet,” says WorldCom's Barchi. “If they understand the basics of international logistics and ask enough smart questions, then things will be done correctly.” PM
Betsy Harter has covered the telecommunications industry for four years. She has served as features editor at Wireless Review magazine, where she reported on revenue-management topics.
PM NETWORK | DECEMBER 2001 | www.pmi.org