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Port of Seattle – Seaport Program Management

Project Management Office “PMO” and Project Delivery System “SPOTS”

The Problem

The Port of Seattle Seaport Project Management Group (SPMG) was responsible for the delivery of over $100 million worth of capital facilities development projects annually. The forecast was for that volume of work to steadily increase. A stable of perhaps 10 project managers with varied backgrounds and experience levels were responsible for cradle to grave project delivery. Scores of projects were underway at any given time, usually loosely grouped by the sponsoring business unit. Most of the projects were unrelated to one another, each having unique requirements, but all drawing upon the same resources. Business group managers wanted the projects related to their interests to be managed and reported on as a portfolio. Upper level and financial managers wanted all projects to be combined and managed like a program. Individual projects and overall programs often spanned multiple years and occasionally decades. Individual program elements ranged from projects that were designed and in construction to highly speculative projects existing as capital budget placeholders only.

Complicating the provision of project management and delivery services was a lack of well developed project controls tools and methodologies. The main Port financial and accounting systems provided some project costing capability but absolutely no forecasting functionality. Projects schedules, if they existed, did not reflect consistent work breakdown structures. It was virtually impossible to anticipate the draw on agency resources from the environmental permitting and construction management groups. The scope of projects was broadly defined within authorization memorandums but was seldom tracked as the project was deployed. As a result, scopes tended to creep and so too the associated budgets and schedules. There was little systematic progress reporting on a project level and program level reporting was equally limited. In this dynamic environment, project risks were not well defined, documented, analyzed, or managed.

Although the majority of projects may actually have been managed fairly well and delivered on time and on budget, the SPMG had little or no reporting or tracking mechanisms in place. They had little capacity to identify problems in advance and take mitigating action or warn appropriately. An occasional lapse in performance on one project was often perceived as the norm rather than the exception. In short, SPMG, though generally quite competent, suffered from a credibility gap. This lack of tracking also made it very difficult to assess the quality of project delivery. Performance metrics were difficult to establish and even more difficult to measure. There was a general sense that projects could be delivered more efficiently and effectively but it was not necessarily clear how.

The Solution

The solution in this case involved the development of specific tools and methodologies to address each identified issue. SPMG hired the team of CMG, Inc, Kennedy/Jenks, and P&M to develop and deploy a comprehensive Project Controls/Project Delivery System. The overall solution leveraged simple, scalable, flexible desktop solutions that could be easily and inexpensively developed. The solutions were also non-proprietary and could be maintained or further developed as needed by the Port, the consultant team, or other providers. The SPMG system “SPOTS” was developed to coordinate with the Port’s main systems without requiring special or expensive interfaces and without requiring the involvement of corporate information technology resources.

Deliverables for the consultancy included:

  • Comprehensive Evaluation Report and Analysis of Problem Space
  • Strategic Plan for Building Project Delivery capability based on Project Management Office
  • Custom developed Project Controls Guidelines (manual of project controls practice)
  • Standard Schedule Template with integrated Work Breakdown Structure
  • Programmatic schedule tool (using MS Project) consolidating multi-project schedules
  • Standard Cost Estimate template integrated with WBS
  • Standard Cost Breakdown Structure integrated with Port financial system and SPMG WBS
  • Custom developed Access database “SPOTS” to provide comprehensive project tracking & reporting
  • Comprehensive Trend/Variance tracking and Cost Forecast development
  • Written documentation and reinforcement for tool and process use
  • Supplemental Project Controls; Risk Management; Construction Schedule and Forensic Claims Analysis on specific high demand projects

The Result

The overall project delivery performance of the Seaport Project Management Group was greatly improved but as importantly, so was the perception others had of that performance. Projects were structured to have standard schedule work breakdown structures, integrated and standard cost breakdown structures, and documented and tracked scopes. Risk analysis was facilitated by trend and variance tracking. Cost forecasts were more easily generated, were more accurate, and were analyzed and reported on. A scalable, flexible, and inexpensive desktop database was developed that allowed both project and program tracking and reporting. It added a very critical ability to capture trends and generate cost forecasts. A series of reports were created within the database that allowed robust analysis of project performance, issues, costs, and schedule. An online “dashboard” showed managers a visible snapshot of project status and facilitated “management by exception”. The “SPOTS” database supplemented information available through the Port’s main financial systems, and allowed PM’s easier access to needed data. Critical information was available to facilitate better decision making.

The credibility of SPMG was greatly improved as was their overall efficiency and effectiveness.