On the Move
2012 PMI PROJECT OF THE YEAR AWARD FINALIST
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington, USA.
BY KEITH JACKSON II
Securing buy-in from a lone stakeholder group can be difficult enough. But when the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) launched a project to move its facilities, yet retain its science and technology capabilities in Richland, Washington, USA, it had to engage three high-profile government stakeholders and its own staff of scientists.
PNNL conducts a wide scope of work, from sensitive national-security efforts for protecting the borders of the United States to research on complex scientific questions such as dark matter.
Such cutting-edge work requires a lot of space. PNNL had been occupying 16 facilities covering nearly 550,000 square feet (51,097 square meters). But a 2004 environmental remediation agreement put PNNL's ability to meet its mission obligations at risk. One-half of the research laboratory space—home to hundreds of employees and their equipment—was marked for demolition.
“This project was extremely important for the future of the laboratory,” says Angus Bampton, PMP, senior project manager in PNNL's Strategic Projects Division. “It was possible that without this move, the national laboratory would have ceased to exist.”
The PNNL team, from left: Jeff Pittman, PMP, Dale Knutson, PMP, and Angus Bampton, PMP
PHOTO BY TONI GREAVES
“This move was extremely important for the future of the laboratory. It was possible that without this move, the lab would have ceased to exist.”
—Angus Bampton, PMP, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Richland, Washington, USA
With PNNL's very existence hanging in the balance, the team embarked on a project to save the national laboratory—without disrupting the valuable research happening inside.
LOOSENING THE PURSE STRINGS
PNNL knew the project couldn't happen without support from three major U.S. government stakeholders: the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Energy's Office of Science.
The lab also knew it had to renew that support every year—and they had to do it amidst one of the worst economic recessions in U.S. history.
“Dealing with stakeholders that received the whole of their funding from the federal government meant that we were committed to the annual federal budget cycle,” says Dale Knutson, PMP, director of the Strategic Projects Division at PNNL. “We not only had to deal with the normal issues that accompany receiving funding, but we had to do whatever we could to stabilize our funding.”
To ensure its annual budget, PNNL had to come up with a way to continually demonstrate the value of the project. So the team decided to inventory the capability sets of the buildings that would be replaced—showcasing the specific significance to each stakeholder. For example, PNNL's visualization research helps the DHS predict and respond to terrorist incidents. For the Office of Science, PNNL showcased its high-level research in prokaryotic biology (the study of single-cell organisms), which could forge developments in clean energy and new sources of chemical and industrial feedstocks.
“Cataloging our capabilities was something we'd never done before, but it turned out to be vitally important to the process,” says Mr. Bampton. “It gave us the opportunity to show through our work how important this move was not only to us, but to those stakeholders and their individual interests.”
To mitigate the risks associated with the annual federal budget cycle, the team implemented a phased approach to construction. This protected PNNL from having to default on a contract if the funds couldn't be delivered.
“We put contractual clauses in our multiyear construction contracts so that the contractor was well aware of what the limits were,” says Jeff Pittman, PMP, senior project manager in PNNL's Strategic Project Division. “We ended up phasing our schedule accordingly. We made sure we always hit the yearly or annual budget milestones, and knew what our boundaries were on the funding limitations each year.”
To keep the budget on track, the project team put together baselines around areas of cost or schedule risk, potential contingent scope items, and opportunities to raise value by increasing functionality or decreasing costs. These were formalized in the project execution, risk management and project implementation plans.
PNNL staff on one of the last days at the old facility
PHOTOS COURTESY OF PNNL
By looking at similar projects, the PNNL team determined resource requirements for each scope item and estimated costs by using the price of required materials and labor. As designs matured, the estimate was updated and refined, and independent cost estimates were developed to sharpen the picture as sub-projects progressed to final design.
Revisiting the estimates quarterly helped the team avoid scope creep in not only the construction phase, but also in the purchasing of any new equipment.
“You have the opportunity to positively affect the future of your lab with a project such as this,” says Mr. Knutson. “We have an extremely talented staff of scientists that we wanted to give the best equipment and the newest bells and whistles, but we couldn't stray from our budget once it had been set.”
HANDLE WITH CARE
The team wasn't just concerned with its high-profile external stakeholders. PNNL also faced questions from its internal stakeholders, the scientific staff: Would the project disrupt their work? Would the buildings be ready in time? Would the equipment perform after the move?
“The hardest part about a project like this is that you're surrounded by very smart people,” Mr. Knutson says. “Trying to assure very smart people that ‘Everything is just fine, don't worry about it, it's all going to be good’ generally comes with a certain risk. They know it's going to be quite hard.”
Even though the new facilities were less than a mile (1.6 kilometers) away from the current location, moving the lab's existing one-of-a-kind research equipment posed a significant risk. Mass spectrometers used to measure the masses of particles, for example, are extremely sensitive.
To mitigate the risk of damage, the team brought in the equipment's vendors to advise on the disconnect, transport, re-connect and restart processes. PNNL also made a concerted effort to collaborate with scientists on the move schedule and the calibration of the scientific equipment.
Striking Sustainability Gold
The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) isn't just forward-thinking for its clients. Project planners also integrated cutting-edge sustainability into the site itself.
For instance, PNNL's Olympus supercomputer cools itself using a closed loop of water that absorbs the computer's heat—cutting energy use by 70 percent.
The biological sciences and computational sciences facilities achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold status, while the physical sciences facility was awarded silver.
“We were following the Department of Energy's lead in terms of implementing sustainability efforts into our project,” says Angus Bampton, PNNL. “But it also worked in conjunction with how we wanted our campus to look and feel.”
An infrared temperature sensor, shown above, was used to measure the temperature profile of interior spaces in the Biological Sciences Facility and the Computational Sciences Facility. This process was part of building performance tests for all new construction projects.
From left: Dale Knutson, PMP, Jeff Pittman, PMP, and Angus Bampton, PMP
PHOTO BY TONI GREAVES
“We have an extremely talented staff of scientists that we wanted to give the best equipment and the newest bells and whistles, but we couldn't stray from our budget once it had been set.”
—Dale Knutson, PMP, PNNL, Richland, Washington, USA
“Reassuring technical staff means you make them part of the solution,” Mr. Knutson explains. “Technical teams become part of the discussions, their leadership teams are involved and you establish baselines before you disassemble equipment that needs to be measured and recalibrated.”
Whether it was potential damage to the equipment or the inherent complications in dealing with six prime contractors and 40 subcontractors, the team worked diligently to identify, mitigate and manage risks throughout the project life cycle.
“This was the largest construction project in PNNL's history, so we knew there were a lot of risks,” says Mr. Bampton. “Everything we did was with risk in mind. We developed a risk-informed, detailed execution schedule, and required that project leads have a clear understanding of the risks and act accordingly. Without the mitigation techniques we employed, this project would've been in danger from the start.”
The team created a formal plan outlining risk identification, characterization, analysis and handling. It also documented the frequency of risk-mitigation activities, analyses, and assigned roles and responsibilities.
Early in the project, the assigned risk analyst met monthly with senior management to discuss the risk analyses, changes in risk exposure and upcoming handling actions. As the project progressed, the analyst provided status updates and managed formal risk-elicitation meetings every six weeks.
Project leaders had another handy tool for keeping on task: They distributed medallions that highlighted the relationship between project goals and the nine Knowledge Areas of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge—Fourth Edition (PMBOK® Guide).
That commitment to stellar project management may have been the difference between success and failure.
“If we hadn't had a strong project management team on this project,” says Mr. Bampton, “it's entirely possible that the fixed end-date couldn't have been achieved, or we couldn't have been able to deliver the scope we'd set out to achieve, or we would've been over budget.”
Instead, the team delivered more than 400,000 square feet (37,161 square meters) of replacement facilities on time and under the US$377 million budget. And stakeholders both inside and outside the new lab continue to reap the rewards. PM
PM NETWORK DECEMBER 2012 WWW.PMI.ORG
DECEMBER 2012 PM NETWORK