Tough Times? Focus On Project Control

Posted by Steven Gentles on Mar 17, 2017 6:31:18 PM

Plant Shutdown - Small.jpg

The downturn in the energy sector is continuing to bite hard. I was at a Project Management Institute meeting two nights ago and spoke with a couple of Project Managers who are out of work after putting in many years with some local engineering, EPC and energy companies.

If the project is cancelled or postponed, layoffs are pretty much inevitable. But one of the PMs I was chatting with explained how the first round of layoffs gutted the company’s document control group and other project support departments. Although his project was still very much active (and I assume on track to deliver a significant chunk of revenue to his company), he was the only one left to bridge the void the cuts left. Worse, he had to rely on a primitive tool set (network drives, email and spreadsheets) and largely undocumented project control processes.

Hasty cost cutting decisions by the C-Suite had excised a company capability like a cancer and pushed this burden onto him and his fellow PMs. He was left with poor tools, weak processes and no resources. I can imagine that the risk of a late and over budget project went from MEDIUM to HIGH.

Leading companies do things differently when times get tough.

Leading Companies Recognize and Retain Expertise

Experienced, knowledgeable and qualified Document Controllers are needed in good times as well as bad. Leading companies recognize that Document Controllers are specialists and not clerks. If you cut this expertise loose, you’ll need to hire these specialists from scratch when the next upturn hits. That’s crazy.

Leading Companies Improve Procedures

Leading companies are process focused always (in good times and in bad). Leading companies define and continuously review and evolve the way they track, manage and control submittal reviews, squad checks, project contracts, as-built information and more. They’re always improving their project and document control procedures by identifying choke points and determining ways to eliminate them.

Leading Companies Retool

Here are some strong indicators it's time to retool:

  • You're using network drives and Windows file folders (modelled after the vertical filing cabinet invented 120 years ago). Check out this blog on Why Network Drives Kill Engineering Project Management.
  • You're using email and FTP to move your documents and files around (first email sent over the internet 46 years ago)
  • You rely on Excel way too much (first commercial spreadsheet VISICALC hit the stores 38 years ago).

These are the pillars of the information STONE AGE. Email Leading companies have moved on to way better tools to manage and control their engineering project information. Today, there are few excuses for not retooling engineering project management. The smallest engineering company can now quickly tap into highly affordable software in the cloud with features that rival expensive enterprise products used by global engineering mega-companies.

Leading Companies Get Productive

Regardless of the economic temperature, leading engineering comapnies are always looking for ways to be more productive. They're in it for the long haul. They retain project control capabilities, improve related processes and are constantly reviewing and assessing new tools. Check out my bog How to Improve Engineering Project Control for more.

Downturns don't last forever and the question no one can answer is when the upturn will come. If you're caught up in the middle of Alberta's energy sector downturn, the bigger question is: will your company be ready for it when it does come?


Topics: Productivity, Project Control

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