Project Management Institute

Strong project skills prove key to Thai mobile success




It was a hot and hazy October evening when Paul Dewhirst got the news that he had an impossible eight weeks to install a $5.6 million Internet protocol (IP) Packet-Over-Sonet network for TA Orange, ahead of the new Thai mobile entrant's commercial service launch at the end of March. While most would have blanched at the prospect of having to design, order, install and commission a 120-site voice and data network integrating the mobile operator's corporate information, cellular network provisioning and billing, existing private branch exchange (PBX) equipment and a new PictureTel videoconferencing system in under 60 days, Dewhirst just sat back and smiled.

As head of Datacraft's Primer project implementation arm, Dewhirst, a Bangkok-based project manager, has made his career out of routinely delivering the impossible—on time and on budget. Known for his willingness to “get his hands dirty,” he spends much of his time these days visiting project sites across Asia, ensuring schedules are met and problems sorted out—fast.


In Asia, nothing goes slowly. Companies want to move from decision to deployment at lightning speed. If you can't meet that need, you're not going to be a player.


“In Asia, nothing goes slowly,” he says. “Companies want to move from decision to deployment at lightning speed. If you can't meet that need, you're not going to be a player.”

Primer's eSsense project management methodology is ISO 9001 compliant and based firmly on A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) principles. In the face of steadily eroding IT equipment margins, the ability to offer a total project management service has become a key differentiator for Datacraft and an increasingly important element of the company's portfolio.

With the Thai network countdown on, Dewhirst says his first task was to get a regional project director on site, pronto. A Singapore-based specialist was flown in, other members of the team identified and assembled, and an initial scoping was carried out under the five-step eSsence methodology: inception, definition, construction, deployment and transition.

A date was fixed for the project kick-off meeting, and Dewhirst's team began to prepare a project management plan, the “bible” covering every aspect of the implementation, from delivery and performance parameters to staff responsibilities, reporting lines and schedules, right down to bulleted lists detailing the smallest items. Within a week, armed with a full range of documents, including a risk management rundown, a full contacts list and a cluster of technical plans, the team was ready to begin.

At kick-off, the team broke up into small, focused working groups, each of which generated its own comprehensive project binder documenting everything from macro design details to server locations, IP addressing and cable labeling. Equipment needs were logged and rush orders placed for the Cisco routers and Ethernet switches that would comprise the new network's core.

The need to tightly integrate existing, non-IP systems such as PBX, global systems for mobile (GSM) communication infrastructure and a host of proprietary software meant the project was fraught with technical complexity. But that wasn't Dewhirst's only headache. “With a service launch date announced and mobile network build-out proceeding at a furious pace, we needed to coordinate closely with the vendors from around the world who were busy installing the GSM network components. That contributed language barriers, cultural and political issues and the potential of delay caused by other teams' tardiness,” he says.

To move ahead as quickly as possible, parallel implementation of appropriate project phases was favored—a process Dewhirst says can be highly effective, if it's done right. “If you want to go parallel, it's vital to start that way. You may end up finishing serial—that doesn't necessarily matter. But there's no effective way to move to parallel if you've started serial.”

A creative approach to problem solving also is crucial, says Dewhirst, as is the willingness to escalate fast if things get bogged down. The Primer team's collective intellectual capital, gained through a wide experience of similar projects, generally means technical glitches can be ironed out rapidly by drawing on past solutions. Other hiccups, such as equipment dispatch delays or the failure of partners to meet their timelines, require direct intervention. “Basically, I get on the phone,” says Dewhirst. “I escalate very quickly with suppliers, and I expect my project directors to do the same. They have to own the problem—at the end of the day it's their job to deliver, not to point the finger.”

Once things were underway, Dewhirst's team reviewed progress at regular weekly project meetings, looking at tasks completed, upcoming and overdue, follow-up actions required, and any problems. “We always go to church every week, and we always read from the litany of the PMBOK® Guide,” jokes Dewhirst, who stresses the importance of an open culture that encourages team members be up-front about difficulties. “When a problem occurs, we don't get bogged down in failure, we try to get it off the critical path—unless it's a showstopper, in which case we go all out to pull resources from wherever we can.” To keep tabs on the implementation, regular inspections were undertaken throughout the project, in line with the team motto, “People Respect What You Inspect.”

Surprisingly, Dewhirst says he happily encourages widespread despair early in the life of a project. “Every project has its ‘disaster phase’ when there are enough problems to sink a battleship, when slippages start to occur and when people begin to feel the project's not achievable,” he says. “I like to get that despair happening as soon as possible. Then, when persistence begins to pay off and problems start getting resolved, the team gets to ride a powerful wave of optimism and morale goes through the roof.”


When a problem occurs, we don't get bogged down in failure, we try to get it off the critical path—unless it's a showstopper, in which case we go all out to pull resources from wherever we can.

As it was, the Primer team had their network running like clockwork before TA Orange's GSM installation even was finished. Dewhirst's satisfied. Now if he can just make that 4:30 p.m. flight to Manila … PM

Sarah Parkes is a freelance journalist with more than 12 years experience in the telecom and IT sectors. Based in France, she is a regular contributor to a number of U.S. and European publications, including London's Financial Times.

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