Recent headlines regarding California’s “Bullet Train” have a familiar story line — a promised public works project will end up costing more, taking longer, and delivering less than originally promised. As the size and duration of a building program increase, the challenge of delivering on promises grows exponentially.
In light of this, it’s easy to understand why the state of California requires Citizen Oversight Committees (COCs) for school bond programs (which are approved by a 55% supermajority vote). Public expectation as well as the COCs expectation is that every project has been clearly defined and that the full cost is known prior to the actual start of the program.
COCs look for consistency. Reality is anything but consistent. School building programs lasting five to ten years will see many changes: the coming and going of board members, two to three different superintendents, two to three building program directors, and two to three rotations of consultants hired to augment district staff and coordinate construction work. Each individual project within the building program has an undetermined number of unknowns that will be discovered as the project progresses. Managing all the moving parts successfully is critical to maintaining public support for future work that will be necessary once the current program is complete.
If you are managing this type of program, your professional survival depends on a well-defined strategy for adapting and keeping your eye on the finish line. You must implement this strategy as the management team changes and as problems reveal themselves. Here are a few techniques that will be of help to you:
1. Begin with the end in mind
2. Be prepared for change — it is inevitable
3. Demonstrate controlled accommodation to that change, and remember:
4. Maintain a complete list of planned projects
5. Manage shared costs in a program management project
6. Report program status regularly. It should be both comprehensive and highly summarized, including the following:
(Make sure to use consistent report formats, fully explain the meaning of each part of each report, and ensure that all the grand totals agree. Pictures can be helpful as well.)
7. Maintain and demonstrate the ability to drill down to more detailed status information
These are fairly simple guidelines, but they will go a long way (when used consistently) in helping you develop your strategy for successfully working through your building program. Watch for my posts each Tuesday as I go more in depth on this topic and address the nuances of making each of these techniques work.
And remember — the most important thing is to have enough money to finish your program!