Project Management Institute

A smooth ride


A multimillion-dollar revamp of its communications command center helps San Juan's Metropolitan Bus Authority attract more riders.


From left: Luis Morales, Robert Diaz, Jill E. Ricken, PMP, Adaline Torres Santiago and Wilfredo Ramos, PMP

From left: Luis Morales, Robert Diaz, Jill E. Ricken, PMP, Adaline Torres Santiago and Wilfredo Ramos, PMP


Catching the bus in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was an iffy prospect before 2004. Bus arrival times were inconsistent because of a deteriorating communications command center at the Metropolitan Bus Authority (MBA), according to Adaline Torres Santiago, president and general manager. The equipment hadn't been updated since 1982, rendering it virtually obsolete.

MBA project manager Wilfredo Ramos, PMP, says the organization's outdated communications capabilities meant:

  • Limited awareness of vehicle locations
  • Inefficient incident response services
  • Restricted online management of the network
  • Inadequate radio communications and computer-aided dispatching.


img Manage large numbers of subcontractors with work-authorization procedures.
img Clearly define channels of communication to keep project stakeholders accurately and consistently informed.
img Implement a change-control process to document scope changes and manage project costs.

That all changed with a $4 million revamp project completed nearly a year ahead of schedule and 10 percent under budget. The team attributes that success to its work authorization system and a concise communications plan able to handle the high level of subcontractor involvement.

Scope Defined

In February 2002, the MBA kicked off the project, which included:

  • Refurbishment of the communications command center to provide a single location for bus control
  • Implementation of a radio infrastructure to provide constant voice and data communications with the fleet
  • Execution of a scheduling system for fixed-route and paratransit on-demand operations
  • Installation of a global positioning system (GPS) and automatic vehicle location (AVL) system
  • Installation of automatic passenger counting (APC) systems that would allow MBA to perform statistical analysis of ridership and improve bus schedules in the future
  • Set-up of on-board emergency-alert systems to ensure the safety of riders
  • Integration of an operator's bidding and dispatching system to manage daily operations, maintenance and absenteeism
  • Development of an automated login and log-off at garage terminals to track the actual bus exit times compared with schedules.

“Some of the most important renovations were of the infrastructure to support the different applications in the project scope,” says Jill E. Ricken, PMP, project manager for EVERTEC Inc., San Juan, the project's main contractor. That list of renovations included communications towers, bus radios, furniture consoles and computer hardware.

Installing radio communications and AVL systems in the buses would be a big help in the quest to improve service. The technology would allow drivers to inform one another of any situation, accident or deviation that could affect itinerary compliance or compromise the security of passengers, says Ms. Torres Santiago.

Team Management

Renovations to the command center incorporated a variety of technologically innovative elements, all of which required a broad range of expertise. This factor, combined with the large quantity of products and system platforms being used, meant enlisting numerous subcontractors. Five ended up playing large roles, such as installing the radio communications, AVL and APC systems, and GPS. All reported to Ms. Ricken, who strictly upheld the concept of privity—meaning all communications were held directly between the client and the primary contractor. “The subcontractor communicated with the client by way of the primary contractor only,” she says.

in the driver's seat

Project management methodologies for the MBA renovations were built around establishing technical excellence, stellar customer service, uncompromising principles and solid management practices. The approach required the active participation of all management personnel. As project manager for the primary contractor, EVERTEC Inc., Jill Ricken, PMP, served as the point of contact to coordinate the effort. Her responsibilities included:

Planning, directing and controlling project resource allocation
Defining, scheduling and controlling all project tasks
Requirements management, including establishing, documenting and managing changes
Facilitating team development
Coordinating meetings
Creating and controlling project plans, risks, deliverables and documentation
Communicating project status to stakeholders, customers and management
Ensuring project completion.

To help the large project team maintain focus, manage conflict and concentrate efforts on deliverables, EVERTEC developed a “critical sanction path” for authorizing work. This method ensured tasks were finished on time, in the proper order, and synchronized with contractors' scheduling, current client scenarios and the master project schedules. “The critical sanction path was based on the rationale that there are many parallel tasks that have to occur at the same time in a complex project, including many subcontractors, aggressive deadlines and potential labor union demands,” Ms. Ricken says. “Therefore, working with the specific deliverables, concurrence and communication efforts was necessary to keep constant track of progress among these many variables.”

Weekly meetings held with the primary contractor and all subcontractors were also important management tools. They helped to establish, review, synchronize and sanction the deliverables process. Any scope changes and change-request requirements also were discussed.

Communicating the Effort

“Because of the high level of subcontractor involvement and the number of communication channels, it was imperative to communicate consistently, concisely and correctly to all the parties,” says Epi Badillo, PMP, program manager at EVERTEC Inc. “Using constant communications management, work was authorized to start at the proper time, in the proper sequence and synchronized with the master schedule.” An in-depth communications management plan was developed to keep the project stakeholders informed. The plan included instructions for the appropriate generation, collection, distribution and storage of project information. Standardized documents—including monthly status reports, decision and information request forms, and minutes from previous meetings—helped increase the team's understanding of issues that arose during the project's life cycle.

subcontracting it out

Subcontractors for San Juan's Metropolitan Bus Authority rehabilitation of the communications command center project were selected based on strategic business alliances, technical considerations and transportation expertise. Each subcontractor had to submit its own work plans to be approved by the project manager of EVERTEC Inc. and the stakeholders.

As the primary contractor, EVERTEC used metrics to determine the status of activities and manage future efforts to comply with subcontractors' deliverables. These metrics included:

Costs of the tasks for managing the subcontract compared to the plan
Actual delivery dates of the subcontracted products compared to the plan
Actual delivery dates of the prime contractor deliverables to the client compared to the plan.

These issues, such as out-of-scope and change-of-scope items, were dealt with in the change-control process included in the project's communication plan. The process documented any scope changes encountered throughout the project. All team members were allowed to request a change—but only Ms. Torres Santiago could approve it. “Internal procurement procedures established the manner in which a change in the scope of work was done,” she says. “This helped to control the costs of the project.”


project fare

EQUIPMENT $2,892,905 $2,936,698
CONSULTING SERVICES $420,000 $419,388
OTHER FEES (I.E., BID BONDS) $273,237 $31,033
CONTINGENCY $415,997 $149,489
TOTAL $4,625,954 $4,160,423

Route to Success

The MBA project was completed on 21 October 2004 for $4,160,423, nearly a year ahead of the scheduled date and 10 percent under budget. Ms. Badillo credits the project's success to the work-authorization system. “Creating a work authorization system for sanctioning project work required that the work was authorized to start at the proper time, in the proper sequence and synchronized with the master project schedule,” she says. “As a result, the project met the client's needs and improved on the budget and schedule performance when compared with the original established budget and schedule goals.”

The results were enough to get the project named one of PMI's 2005 Project of the Year finalists.

Since the project's completion, the citizens of San Juan enjoy a more consistent, punctual bus service. “The [MBA] has seen an increase in annual paratransit trips as well as an increase in annual fixed-route service ridership,” Ms. Badillo says. “This shows that citizens have more faith in the buses' punctuality, and hence can use the bus system more actively in their daily lives.” PM

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