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Anyone who looks at a single construction project life cycle from conceptual planning to completion will notice how difficult it can be to manage the vast amount of engineering information. Add multiple, large, simultaneous public sector projects to the mix, and you'll see the onus project managers with The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's Engineering Department face on a daily basis.

In its quest to improve productivity over the past three years, The Port Authority's Engineering Department has implemented several initiatives to improve efficiency in its construction project delivery process. The improvements address enhancements and organizational changes to engineering workflow, communication, information sharing and team collaboration, and project performance assessment— the project areas that presented the best opportunities to leverage information strategically and with impact.

Technology adds “a new dimension” to project management by providing electronic collaboration between all team members. This collaboration integrates the business workflow process between people and information and thereby enhances project delivery.

Because the overall effort was far-reaching in scope, the implementation was based on a phased pilot projects methodology. The pilot projects enable a “walk-before-you-run” approach and provide both validation and staff buy-in.

First, the Engineering Department sought to maximize technology use to evaluate project performance, so the team worked to consolidate all relevant performance information into a format that is reliable, readily attainable and easily distributed to all project team members. The staff developed an Integrated Project Control System (IPCS), which optimizes the combination of existing database programs with additional commercial software applications where needed. The commercial systems provide several enhanced functions “out-of-the-box.”

The IPCS centralizes the schedule, budget and cost information previously maintained in separate databases, enabling comprehensive summary reporting for project and department evaluations.

The new system enables performance reporting on a project level basis that can be rolled up to a department and agency level. Within each of the existing Engineering Program Groups, project control specialists (PCS) manage project schedules and cost reports for project managers. In addition to standard project status reports, various graphical reports allow a PCS to present easy-to-read project delivery metrics including:

  • Construction-In-Place. Follows the plan and forecasts the construction to be completed compared to the actual amount.
  • Contract Awards. Monitors the plan and forecasts the amount of new construction contracts to be awarded compared to the actual amount.
  • Schedules. Traces the design and construction schedules on a project-by-project basis. A summary report utilizes simple pie charts with color graphics to delineate overall project performance—green is on time, red is late. Monitors construction submittals, which are reported in a similar format.
  • Estimating Performance. Tracks the variance of contract bid amounts to the engineer's estimate.
  • Engineering Services. Monitors the cost of engineering services from design to construction completion by utilizing a ratio of engineering costs to construction costs for the respective project stages.

The performance measures provide a benchmark for how well the project delivery process is working. As part of the assessment, the department utilizes existing industry metrics wherever available. Staff investigate government publications and other agency contacts for this information. Not intended as a “report card,” the measures provide senior management with a tool to identify potential project delivery problems so that corrective action can be taken as necessary.

SMART Reports

To be useful, the performance measures must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound (SMART). The Engineering Department currently reports quantitative measures (dollar amounts, dates) that reflect the management intent of the projects. As it continues to improve, the staff also will evaluate the end result, a qualitative assessment of how well the construction results met the client's expectations in various categories. The integration of both assessments—quantitative and qualitative—is meant to bridge the gap between management intent and the final result.

While the measures “critique” project progress, they provide a uniform methodology for the entire team to monitor projects and seek senior management support where needed. The systems approach simplifies the reporting process for the project managers and enhances communication, information sharing and team collaboration.

To communicate the performance measures, the team developed a “project information center” within the Port Authority's intranet. This Web site provides staff at multiple locations in the metropolitan area—including construction field locations—instant access to the performance measures. In addition, this Web site has been expanded to provide electronic access to project documents and information including construction drawings, specifications, estimates, design guidelines, codes and standards, and technical reports.


PATH Train exiting Journal Square Transportation Center, Jersey City, N.J., USA. The Port Authority is restoring this transit service between New York and New Jersey following the 11 September terrorist attack.

Using this knowledge management system, the department maintains a centralized repository of facility construction information that benefits future project design and operational efforts.

Working Together

In addition, an external Web site was developed to electronically distribute information and documents to project team members outside of the agency, including consultants and contractors. The Web site adds a new dimension to the project management information workflow by providing an effective tool for the entire project team to collaborate on project documents and information. The site's highly secure extranet dramatically reduces the administrative functions related to reviewing deliverables, in particular drawings and specifications, and provides an efficient means to report project and department status. Access to the Web site is restricted to accounts established by the agency's project team and limited to groups directly working on the project.

These collaboration tools are being used for the Downtown PATH Restoration Program. A Web site created for this project enables more than a dozen consulting firms spread across the country, the contractor and Port Authority staff to collaborate in the planning, design and construction of infrastructure and facilities leading to the restoration of the transit service between New Jersey and lower Manhattan following the 11 September terrorist attacks.

In addition, the technology and process changes proved vital in the recovery of Engineering Department information lost in the Port Authority's main headquarters at the World Trade Center. The department quickly restored destroyed information thanks to centralized electronic engineering information and a disaster recovery plan that includes computer backup tapes stored offsite. Because staff did not have to “recreate” destroyed engineering information, the process improvements already have provided a significant return on the technology investment.

Internal PR

The initiatives couldn't succeed without educating staff of the business workflow process changes. The Port Authority employees have been familiarized with changes through newsletters, staff meetings and group training sessions. In addition, key individuals have helped lead the implementation on specific projects.

Most staff in the Engineering Department have become very comfortable with the “technology evolution” and now rely on it, particularly because agency staff are currently dispersed across various locations in New York and New Jersey following 11 September.

These new tools and methods will continue to be refined and used in the delivery of the agency's current and future construction programs. PM

Peter J. Zipf, P.E., is general manager of the Engineering Management Services Division with The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

This article is copyrighted material and has been reproduced with the permission of PMI. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited.




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