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 influence the successful completion of a study. They can be related to the quality of the technical team, the budget, the time window, and direction from the Owner. However the key factor that I observed is the competency of the Study Manager (or Project Manager).
Study Managers must wear many hats
Study managers are responsible for being the main liaison with the Owner. They must herd a team of geologists and engineers in the same direction. They must ensure that technical quality and consistency is maintained by the entire group. They are responsible for ensuring that budgets and timelines are being met. The combination of all of these responsibilities can be an onerous mission, more so depending on the experience of the Owner’s team.
Every technical team has those members that will deliver quality within timelines consistently. There are also team members that have difficulty meeting targets. The Study Manager, early on, needs to figure out who fits into which category and then must be able to work with each.
Studies can quickly grind to a halt
An entire study can quickly grind to a halt simply because one key component becomes bogged down. A good Study Manager may occasionally ruffle some feathers but is always appreciated by the team knowing that everyone will be held to account.
The Study Manager also needs to understand the objectives of the Owner and ensure the team is working towards those objectives.
The Study Manager however must also be honest with the Owner, keeping him informed of the actual progress and warn if some target will not be met.
The Study Manager coordinates communication within 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. Don’t assume that one is hampering progress by involving the team in frequent communications. They serve a purpose.
Environmental Assessments need engineering input
Often the Environmental Impact Assessment is being conducted concurrently with an engineering study. The level of internal and external communication now becomes even more critical due to the large number of new technical disciplines involved.
It is not uncommon for EIA’s to make regulatory commitments that have not been signed off by the engineering side.
You should approve the Study Manager
When approving the consultant’s Study Manager, keep in mind that in some instances you may find that different managers within the same organization may have different internal authority. For example, if technical people are needed on another project, some managers are able to keep their team together. Other managers may lose team members to the other project if that manager has more authority. Losing manpower doesn’t help a study progress, so if possible try to get a sense for the authority that the Study Manager has within the organization.
The bottom line is that when a project 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. If possible meet or chat about how they will manage the study and what their experience is. Check references if possible.
The voluminous proposals provided by consulting firms contain a lot of information like Gantt charts, organizational charts, cost estimates, team resumes, safety plan, and corporate project experience. Focus on the Study Manager. Don’t assume they are simply an administrator scheduling meetings and issuing monthly reports. They are the key to success.
A good Study Manager can make a poor engineering team perform, while a poor Study Manager can bog down a great technical team.