Author: admin | Date: April 7, 2017 | Please Comment!

“He who fails to plan is planning to fail!” Winston Churchill

One of the greatest faults that exist in any project is the failure to plan!  Studies (and real-life) show consistently if a project is not well planned, it will result in unexpected events, that normally cost money and time.  In my past 38 years in the industry, I have taken over numerous projects that had the original philosophy:

1)      Management identified the need (budget, schedule, product)

2)      Project Manager begins executing

3)      Management expectation is not being achieved

4)      Project either fails or comes in over budget and behind schedule thus fails

Or in other words: Shoot – Aim – Wonder why you didn’t hit the target

However, nowhere in this mix was the process of PLANNING the project.  Of course, there are the other type of projects where the Project Manager uses a series of ‘templates’ to plan out the project based on personal experience or what was estimated at time of project conception.  What this activity accomplishes is a Gantt chart with a series of major milestones with a duration and sometimes a budget or resources, linked to that milestone.  Sounds good, right?

Wrong!  This is even worse than executing without a plan.  Why?  Because your measurement metric is at such a high level you will never know when and why a problem affected your project cost or timeline.

One of the flaws with most project management training and books is the view that plans at a macro level not a micro level.  While this might be valid in major building or highway programs, this is seriously flawed for telecommunications projects!

Why do I say this?  Activities that constitute a telecommunications project that have a roll-down affect to the project are normally of very short duration; sometimes less than a day.  As such, if you are not tracking and monitoring these tasks and sub-task; then when one of these items is not accomplished properly (on-time and on-budget) the overall impact to the project is not able to be measured.

What does not being able to measure the impact mean?  Let’s take an example:

The project is an FTTH outside plant underground placement of conduit and fiber optic.  In a standard milestone project schedule, you would plan to have a 3.75-mile segment accomplished within 42 calendar days.  Sounds reasonable, right?  However, what happens if the contractor only places 500-feet per day of conduit? 

Can you tell me the impact to the project? When will the fiber optic cable be placed?  When can you test the fiber segment(s)?  When can it be Inspected?  When is the sub-segment ready for service?  When can Sales & Marketing, commit for connectivity?  When can you start having drop cables installed to the homes?  When can Operations accept the sub-segment/segment?

A 500-foot per day conduit production rate would require 40 work days not calendar days. However, 40 work days would require working 7 days a week for 6 weeks.  This is unlikely to be approved by the community (assuming working in town) as well as the construction crews’ willingness to work, possibly at a fee.  Does your budget allow for this?  The reality is that you have 30-working days in a 42-calendar window thus the production rate would need to be 660-feet per day.  Again, does not seem unreasonable, right?

Unfortunately, a lot of dependencies exist to achieve this type of production rate – construction techniques, soil conditions, make ready requirements, traffic management, locates, work hours, materials, inspections, etc.  As these are items that have a serious effect on the production rate, they need to be identified and tracked!  As such this single milestone line item in the Gantt chart is now needs to be broken down into at least five contributing tasks to achieve this daily production rate.  However, if you still do not break the production rate down to the lowest level (i.e. daily), you will just be placing a duration against these contributing task elements and should you tie dependencies to these then you will see that 42-calendar day window be blown out considerably. 

Note: Of course, more crews could achieve this, but then what are the restrictions for the number of crews working imposed by the community?  Could this cost more and could your budget support additional crews?  Do you have adequate materials to support multiple crews?  Can locates be accomplished to address more crews; etc.  There are lots of different additional aspects when throwing resources to ‘solve’ a problem.  So no, the old AT&T adage of:  If you have a thousand man-hour job, put 1,000 people on it and it will be accomplished in one-hour; cannot and does not apply to any project!

As such, planning is not just creating a milestone chart of quantified product, rather it is the developing of a detailed series of daily task/sub-task[1] that has time (duration), cost, resources (materials, manpower, equipment, tools), and dependencies linked to them.  Without a daily view of activities then no measurement will be accurate, thus result in a FAILED project due to over-budget, behind-schedule, and quality compromised.

As a Project Manager, whether you are working for a telephone company, construction contractor, or supplier, you are always behind the eight-ball.  You are assigned to a project and the budget and schedule is already set, as well, a set of expectations.

However, these budgets and schedules are normally established at a gross order of magnitude by people who do not always have the full picture of what it will take to work in the build environment.  As such, the quandary of a Project Manager is to validate the assumptions to properly deliver the project.  However, if the Project Manager does not PLAN then they have no way of validation of the assumptions.  And if the Project Manager does not plan to a granular level, they will never know what the true budget, schedule, and resources are to achieve the targeted product and associated quality.

The challenge is that when the Project Manager assumes the project, the ‘clock’ normally has started.  As such, the time schedule for planning is not present.  With this situation, most Project Managers feel that they must: EXECUTE – PLAN ON THE FLY – DELIVER which ultimately means FAILURE rather than success.

And unfortunately, this is the manner most telecom projects are handled!  Just so that everyone is on the same page, this approach is NOT Project Management, this is execution failure.

When I say ‘failure’ it does not mean that the project is not delivered.   What it does mean though is that the original business plan costing model cannot be achieved, either due to delay in revenue generation, cost overruns, or quality does not meet customer expectations.  But also, one other aspect of project failure is the impact to potential customer/community perception of the project.  As an example:

Google Fiber was highly expected and desired by the communities.  However during construction in Austin, San Antonio, etc., due to the construction process, the customer/community perception of the value that Google was bringing was seriously degraded, to the point where the potential customers were no longer interested in having them around!

What needs to be fully understood is that the “failure to plan is planning to fail!”  And with telecommunications projects the failure has a wide variety of impacts, from cost all the way to being able to sell the service the infrastructure was designed to offer!  Unlike the more commonly known wireless projects where the work is isolated to just the tower locations, a FTTx project shall effectively touch every street in the targeted community.

Project Planning cannot be excluded from the process rather it must be the process.  The ‘devil is in the details’ approach must be undertaken when developing the project plan for a FTTX network, otherwise the project will fail and that failure will result is seriously detrimental consequences to the company.

[1] Some may view these as daily checklist, thus not something that should be tracked in a project plan, however, using ‘Excel tracker’ or even a non-linked checklist form will result in loss of insight of the true impact these items have to the project timetable and cost.