Over my career I have worked as an engineering team member on numerous projects and studies. Some studies went better than others. Unfortunately some dragged on, ran over budget, and ended up delivering a less than optimal product once all was said and done. There are numerous factors that will have influence on the successful completion of a study. Some of them are related to the quality of the technical team, the allowable budget and time window, and the type of direction provide by the Owner, however the key factor that I observed is the competency of the Study Manager (or Project Manager).
The Study Manager must wear many hats. He will be responsible for being the main liaison with the Owner. He must herd a bunch of geologist and engineers in the same direction. He must ensure that technical quality and consistency is maintained by the entire study team. He is responsible for ensuring that budgets and timelines are being met. Depending on the quality of the Owner’s team and the consulting team, the combination of all of these responsibilities can be an onerous mission.
Every technical team has those team members that will deliver quality within timelines consistently. There will also be team members that have difficulty in meeting quality and deadline targets for various reasons. The Study Manager early on needs to figure out who fits into which category and must be able to work with them. An entire study can quickly grind to a halt simply because one key component has become bogged down. A good Study Manager, who may occasionally ruffle some feathers, is generally appreciated by the team since they know that the entire team will be held to account.
The Study Manager also needs to understand the objectives of the Owner and ensure the study team is working towards those objectives. The Study Manager however must also be honest with the Owner, keeping him informed of the true progress and warn if their objectives are achievable or not.
The Study Manager is responsible for coordinating the communications amongst the team and with the Owner. Some managers are excellent at this while others fall into the trap of communicating on a “need-to-know” basis or “too late” basis. Timely and thorough communication is important; avoid thinking that one is hampering the progress of others by involving them in frequent communications.
If an Environmental Impact Assessment is being conducted concurrently with an engineering study, the level of internal and external communication becomes even more critical due to the large number of technical disciplines and people involved. Deadlines also become critical in such situations due to the size of the team.
When selecting a Study Manager, keep in mind that in some instances you may find that different managers in the same organization can have different amounts of internal authority. For example, if technical people are needed on another other project, some managers can keep their team together while other managers will lose team members to the other project. Losing manpower doesn’t help a study so, if possible, try to get a sense of the role that Study Manager has in their organization.
My bottom line is that when an Owner has received proposals for a study and is in the process of awarding that job, the most important consideration is who will be the Study Manager. Meet and chat about how they will manage the study and what their experience is. Check references if possible. The voluminous proposals provided by consulting firms can contain a lot of information like Gantt charts, organizational charts, cost estimates, team resumes, safety plan, and corporate project experience. Focus some time on the Study Manager; don’t assume he’s simply an administrative person that will be scheduling meetings and issuing monthly reports.