The Concord team recently sat down with Todd Mintzer, the Senior Manager of Electric Transmission Work & Resource Management at Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), one of the largest combined natural gas and electric companies in the United States.
After nearly a decade in the environmental and American integrated steel industries, Todd transitioned into the energy industry, where he is now part of a team that oversees and governs the management of a portfolio of thousands of capital projects at PG&E. In our illuminating interview, Todd touched on eight important ideas for the successful execution of work throughout the capital project lifecycle.
1 | Improve effectiveness by breaking down silos and building aligned, collaborative, cross-functional teams
It’s human nature to form silos, because interacting with people on the other side of the fence takes extra work and sometimes, productive confrontation to achieve a common goal. Nevertheless, he encourages project teams to break down those silos, because it’s the only way to be effective when there are a large number of stakeholders involved. If roles aren’t coordinated, this can end up creating an inefficient churn and a final work product that is not properly vetted and not fully effective.
“The most effective project managers are the ones that have a well-aligned cross-functional team. To get a project executed here, we utilize integrated teams with cross-functional members including construction, grid operations, engineering, environmental, and of course a project sponsor.
If we’re going to get projects done the way they were intended, it requires constant real-time collaboration within the integrated team. The projects that often do the best are the ones that are the most successful at routinely working across the boundaries.”
2 | Leverage individuals with technical and/or operational experience, and interests in leadership roles, to help routinely bridge the gap between organizational layers
Todd originally trained as an environmental engineer, and later obtained his MBA. Leveraging individuals with a technical background for business operations leadership type roles is a wise strategy for helping to bridge the gap between operational leadership and executing organizations.
“Some of the most successful people in business management leadership roles are those that have a fundamental understanding and interest in the underlying work. If there’s a desire on the part of the individual with a technical background to become more focused on business management, their existing skillset can be combined with new business management skills, acquired when returning back to school. This combination enables successful leadership with the technical foundation as a base for great decision making.”
3 | Invest in early collaboration and planning to ensure a better final work product
Some organizations resist multi-stakeholder collaboration early in the project lifecycle because it can be time-consuming and costly to get everyone to the table, taking precious time away from the work they are actively engaged in. Early collaboration is imperative because it ensures that the scope, cost, and schedule are realistic given real-world constraints. In the end, it significantly increases the chances of having final deliverable that meets everyone’s expectations.
“When you invest more time in up-front project planning with all of the different people that will be impacted by or required to execute the project, it results in a better, more executable work plan downstream. When this step is bypassed, or minimized, you end up with high levels of volatility in costs and schedules, and outcomes that don’t look like what was originally anticipated. This is because real-world constraints have not been fully considered. Along the way, you end up having to deal with a lot of downstream re-work and execution issues. The costs to accommodate the downstream churn end up being much more than what would have been the incremental cost invested in the up-front collaboration.”
4 | Implement an integrated change control system to ensure cross-functional collaboration across stakeholder groups
PG&E’s adoption of an integrated change control program helps project teams when faced with a potential change, to collectively understand the implications of a given decision by involving all of the correct stakeholders. This ultimately results in the right move for both the project and the company.
“Prior to integrated change control, the change processes that existed were not integrated and had varying levels of enforcement. We often found that schedule changes, scope changes, and cost changes were considered separately. As a project leader approving a change in cost, it’s also critical to understand the impacts on scope and schedule to make the correct decision. If your processes do not drive that sort of decision making then each change decision has significant potential to be suboptimal. One of the other benefits of moving to an integrated change control program is that it enables, collectively, the project teams and the leaders to understand the changes that occur, and weigh in on whether or not all three pieces of the puzzle — scope, cost, and schedule — are still aligned with the intentions of the company by forcing involvement and input from all of the relevant stakeholders in the approval process.”
5 | Ensure that the project sponsor is engaged through the capital project’s entire life cycle
The project manager’s job is to efficiently execute the scope, on time and on budget. However, they often don’t have great visibility around why the scope and timing are important. Because the person with that visibility is the project sponsor, it’s imperative that all changes are routed through them, so they can ensure the change is aligned with business priorities.
“Oftentimes we found that changes were occurring on projects that weren’t necessarily something the sponsor would have envisioned because the project had been “handed off” from the sponsor to the executing organization, and the sponsor had moved on to establish newer projects. Down the road, we would find out that the sponsor’s expectations were not met as a result of a change or series of changes that occurred throughout the project’s lifecycle. That’s why it’s important to keep the sponsor involved in each and every change. This is one of the things that we accomplish with the integrated change control program.”
6 | Utilize a two-layer process for resource group management
When the demand for labor increases or decreases on a given project, changes to the corresponding plans are made as required, at the “micro”, or project-by-project level, leveraging an enterprise project management scheduling toolset. This information then funnels up to the “macro”, or portfolio level, where resource managers assess the collective impact of all resource changes on the portfolio, by resource group. The ongoing labor supply for each resource group must be continuously balanced with the ongoing collective demand from the projects to both maintain efficient levels of overtime and ensure contracts are in place to pick up the rest.
“The goal is to continuously understand the monthly and yearly demand for a given resource group, resulting from an individual project by project demands and changes in those demands. That labor balancing role is one of the key roles that we play. However, when it comes down to the day-to-day execution of the actual project itself, if there’s a change on a project, and to a resource crew or group that’s engaged on that specific project, then there is no replacement for direct, real-time communication with the resource owner to ensure that resources are not stranded or over-utilized.”
7 | Leverage the power of an alliance framework for contracting relationships
PG&E finds that, for certain resource groups, it can be more difficult to find the right workforce. Todd said that the company looks at multi-year demand to get a handle on the right amount of work to contract and to signal that demand to contractors. Moving to alliance frameworks with contractors has been a preferred strategy.
“We’ve been moving in the direction to have an alliance with a set of contractors, so we can give those contractors steady work, and then work directly with them throughout the projects. When you do that, you’re able to realize efficiencies, as opposed to last-minute project-by-project procurements. This strategy helps contractors to get insight as to the timing of demand for their own resources. It also enables contractors to bundle work together. If a contractor sees all of the work that’s in front of them for the next three years, they can, given their own constraints, figure out the most efficient way to execute that work.”
8 | Evaluate contracting opportunities by breaking the portfolio of work need into categories, each with its own contracting strategy
PG&E assessed its work portfolio, broke it down into about 50 categories, and then designed an appropriate contracting strategy for each category. In designing the contracting strategies, they considered what would be the most efficient approach for each work category, along with what was in the best interests of the company.
“That combination looks different for each category of work, depending upon a number of factors. How much compliance risk is associated with the work? Are the resources needed to execute the work specialized? Does PG&E have that capability? Do contractors? Who can do the work most efficiently? Those are all the types of factors that go into the decision around the contract strategy that we apply to a given category of work. Once the strategy is determined for each category, we then apply it to each project, within that category. Once that has been completed, we then utilize macro-level resource balancing to modify the internal/external disposition of that strategy, based upon available resources. Where there are imbalances or other real-world conditions that need to be factored in, much like with integrated change control, we also have a governance process to modify the application of the contract strategy.”