Project Management Environments I’ve Worked In – Part 1

Most of the work I’ve done in my career has been accounted for on a project basis. I was never an operations guy, my job was always to build or fix something under a particular job code and then go on to the next one. There were some times when different jobs involved making mods to or performing analyses using a particular piece of software over time, and there were other times when my job was to re-implement a variation of something I had done before. Working in so many different environments has given me a wide range of experience and allowed me to become (or is that forced me to become?) highly adaptable.

I will describe the project management modes of each of the companies I’ve worked for in terms of the five project phases: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing. Younger employees often just go for whatever ride their supervisors send them on; they may not always be conscious of what’s going on behind the scenes. That was somewhat true in my case but looking back it’s pretty easy to figure out what was going on.

Sprout Bauer (then part of Combustion Engineering, now owned by Andritz), Process Engineer, Pulp and Paper Industry, 1988-1989

I worked for what Sprout called the Technical Department, which analyzed the behavior and performance of integrated systems in terms of the quantity and quality of pulp produced. We did not worry about the design, manufacture, installation, or service of any individual pieces of equipment. Our efforts involved analyzing and designing new systems for sales or research and analyzing existing systems to identify potential improvements or to verify they were meeting contract terms. Our direct customers were external in the cases of recommending improvements to existing systems. Our direct customers were internal in all other cases, and tracked as components of larger Research, Sales, or Design & Build contracts.

Initiating: External customers sought our recommendations and established budgets or rates, scope of work, and so on. Internal customers received support based on established practice and the needs of each effort.
Planning: I know there were formal project managers so I assume they ran and tracked activities and costs using standard tools. My supervisor and his supervisor handled the details of our department’s activities. The terms of our contracts spelled out a lot of the details of how the different operational areas would be handled (Integration, Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, Human Resources, Communication, Risk, and Procurement) and our proposal budgets (which I saw on occasion since I used to print them for one of the salesmen on occasion) showed the cost breakdown. On larger projects and sales efforts there were numerous iterations internally and with the customers to work out the design and management details.
Executing: From my point of view this was handled in a straightforward way by my managers. Larger projects, particularly multi-million dollar turnkey installations, must have involved the full range of project management and budgeting tools.
Monitoring and Controlling: Same as executing.
Closing: We closed projects by issuing a final report which described our findings, or by completing the final deliverables in other cases (e.g., design Process and Instrumentation Drawings, Heat and Material Balances, or on-site commissioning assistance). Members of the department filed their work and discussed ways to improve our methods on an ad hoc basis and occasionally through formal meetings.

Westinghouse, Thermo-hydraulic Simulation Engineer, Nuclear Power Industry, 1989-1992

Westinghouse’s Nuclear Simulator Division did only one thing, which is build full-scope nuclear power plant training simulators. The division reached a maximum size of 256 people and three or four projects in-house at one time, so the company had a very formal project management methodology in place. An independent audit of the the division’s Project Management methodology was conducted by Hewlett Packard while I was there and the company received good marks, scoring four out of a possible five, if I remember correctly. I was aware of and involved in ongoing formal processes in a way I wasn’t in my first job.

Initiating: I am guessing that projects were initiated by competitive bid according to terms laid out by the Requests for Proposal and the contract terms specified by and negotiated with the winning bidders. The majority of this activity was mandated by the federal government in the wake of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, so many of the requirements were doubtless specified in the applicable statutes and regulations.
Planning: Each project had to be completed in multiple steps which had to be formally planned and executed using the Waterfall methodology. Beyond the basic steps of Identify Requirements, Design, Implement, Verify, and Maintain the company had to work with each plant to build replicas of every panel in its main control room; determine the equipment and activities that need to be modeled in each plant system; order, install, and configure the computing hardware; define the models, implement the models, test and verify all models in conjunction with the computing and control panel systems, transport the physical systems to each plant site, and perform final acceptance testing. Different specialists and managers were needed for many of the activities.
Executing: The execution of the above-listed steps proceeded in a straightforward manner, with managers overseeing various technical and managerial aspects of the process using standard project management and budgeting tools.
Monitoring and Controlling: The site maintained a library of copies of every relevant technical document describing the configuration and operation of each plant, so that had to be maintained, along with a shared database that allowed modelers to identify documents of interest. The numerous utility, handler, modeling, and instructor station programs and subroutines were managed using a formal source code control system that had to manage software written in multiple languages (FORTRAN, C, and Assembler at the minimum) for multiple types of computers (Gould/Encore, Sun, PC). Design reviews were held for every system and subsystem and a dedicated group of technical editors helped create the voluminous pieces of formal documentation. Systems and models were tested in isolation and later systemically as they matured, by dedicated teams of testers according to written procedures and monitored through formal defect tracking systems. This environment was the largest and most comprehensive I encountered in my career.
Closing: Closing involved turning over all deliverables and passing final acceptance testing. I know that there must have been some review and documentation of lessons learned, but the management situation was always somewhat fluid and the division contracted greatly during the run of my contract. Most of the contractors were released as their projects wound down and they would not have participated in many closeout activities.

Micro Control Systems, Control Systems Engineer, Steel Industry, 1993

This small modification of an existing control system involved comparatively little in the way of formal project management. A representative of the company showed me how the operating system (Concurrent DOS) and parts of the program worked, told me what changes needed to be made, introduced me to the people at the plant, and more or less turned me loose. When the work was completed and the updates were installed and tested in the plant I completed a minimum of documentation, turned copies of the work over to the company representative, and went on to my next position.

CIScorp, Project Coordinator/FileNet Imaging Programmer, Business Process Reengineering/Enterprise Software Industry, 1993-1994

The FileNet Group wrote software systems for various clients who were installing document imaging systems. The goal of these systems was to replace older, paper-based business processes with newer, more automated processes using a client-server model. As I understand it the hardware systems, at least the central image management and database portions, were installed and managed by other parties, either by the customer IT departments themselves, FileNet itself on a direct basis, or by third-party consultants. CIScorp’s analysts, engineers, and programmers only performed the functions of process discovery (and thus requirements for software and work flow); design of the user interfaces, databases, and code; implementation of software systems; testing and acceptance of software systems, and maintenance of installed systems.

Initiating: Contracts for various customers were secured by reference and referral and through competitive bids. The size and scope of each project determined the formality and intensity of each project initiation cycle.
Planning: Planning on the projects I worked on took a lot of forms. In one case two of us spent nine weeks in Manhattan doing informal development to no particular specification while a separate team did the same using a different enterprise management product. I and my partner provided much of the FileNet expertise to the team of three customer employees and one manager. Our planning was ad hoc on that project; we just made sure we demonstrated at least one of every feature the customer thought they might need. (Our efforts must have been at least somewhat successful since the customer chose to do their implementation in FileNet.) The formality and intensity of planning also appeared to be dependent on the scope of the implementation. I worked on smaller projects and larger ones and know that the larger ones must have required a lot more support. I got my first chances to act as site rep and project coordinator while I worked with CIScorp, though I mostly worked on the discovery, requirements, development, and documentation aspects of the projects. I was not involved with scheduling, personnel, or budgeting.
Executing: One of the projects I worked on began with a full discovery and analysis process. After that was complete and the findings were agreed to and the economic case to proceed sufficiently demonstrated, the results of the analysis were used to provide size and scale information that drove the acquisition and installation of server, imaging, and client hardware. I paid particular attention to what the customer’s managers said about introducing most of its staff to computers for the first time. Some of their viewpoints seemed counterintuitive to me but I knew they had done their homework and were probably making solid and well-informed decisions.
Monitoring and Controlling: All of our analysis and development efforts proceeded with frequent reviews, submission of reports, demonstrations of code, and go/no go decisions. I know of no case where we implemented formal systems of source code control, beyond individuals’ efforts to save versions of their work at intervals. Department and project managers handled the day-to-day and phase-to-phase management details.
Closing: Closing activities consisted of making it through final testing and acceptance, and delivery of the system and accompanying documentation, if any was specified. It often wasn’t in any detail for smaller projects.

Bricmont (bought first by Inductotherm and later sold to Andritz), Manager of Level 2 Projects/Control System Engineer, Steel and Metals Industry, 1994-2000

Bricmont primarily sold reheat furnaces, control systems, and thermodynamic analysis to customers in the steel and metals industry. The Level 1 engineers did the I/O and low-level controls and main HMIs (Human-Machine Interfaces) for each installed system. While I was there the Level 1 systems incorporated a wide range of control circuitry, cabinets, power supplies, sensors and actuators, PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers), and PCs hosting the HMI software. the Level 2 engineers (including me) did much of the inter-system and inter-process communications and the supervisory, model-predictive control on DEC Vax and Alpha or PC hardware. The company sometimes provided troubleshooting, analysis, and training services as well. The company serviced existing furnace installations and built turnkey furnace systems running into many millions of dollars for larger furnaces (our largest installations might have been our $8M two-line tunnel furnaces that sat between the $150M twin casters and the $200M six-stand rolling mill). I was the sole designer of Level 2 models during my six years with the company, and I served as product manager, site representative, and project coordinator (and also designer, developer, commissioner, and servicer). I sometimes trained and mentored a second Level 2 modeler who just adapted my designs to other furnaces. A second Level 2 controls engineer handled the procurement and installation of DEC computers and their VMS operating and development environment, and wrote much of the inter-process communication code for DEC systems. I also mentored the team that did the redesign of Inductotherm’s MeltMinder system, which controlled their induction melting furnaces and power supplies. I did all of the modifications to the original MeltMinder software in response to requests from the parent company to address the needs of new customers.

Initiating: The projects were initiated by referral, direct sales, and competitive bid. The terms of each job were spelled out in the relevant contracts, the complexity of which were determined by the scope and scale of the deliverables.
Planning: Planning was ad hoc for smaller efforts. We worked out what we were going to do, scheduled a time and a place to do it, and went and got it done. Full scale control system retrofits or furnace design-and-build jobs obviously involved the procurement and fabrication of materials, on-site installation and construction, definition of milestones, project requirements, and so on. This required an on-site construction manager (they lived in places like Thailand, Korea, India, and Mexico for months at a time), a procurement officer, project managers, accountants, and people to handle international trade and labor and travel issues. Management was usually carried out using Waterfall methodologies. After the first few implementations most of my Level 2 systems were merely adapted and improved from previous designs. They were almost always different enough to require substantial rewrites but I reused and improved what I could.
Executing: All steps were completed in the obvious order. The budgets for Level 2 systems were usually so generous that there was no way we wouldn’t make money, so we rarely had to worry about time or resources. We worked pretty efficiently anyway so there was never a problem.
Monitoring and Controlling: Again, the intensity of monitoring and control was a function of the scope and scale of work. The full complement of tools was employed behind the scenes. I only worried about the technical aspects of each job though later in my tenure I started going on sales, design, and planning calls, especially those that involved identification of requirements. No one in the company ever used source code control systems but by this time I had gotten in the habit of storing each project’s work in a consistent directory structure and saving backups of each day’s work so I could always go back to a working system. I developed each system in the same order so I was able to quickly generate a minimum viable product that could be expanded to completion.
Closing: Closing activities for each project included creating system documentation (I wrote full user manuals for many of my systems and the company had a clever machine that could clamp the spine of a hardbacked cover onto documents printed on standard paper to created nice-looking books), passing final acceptance tests, providing the requisite training for the operators and maintenance engineers, and turning over all deliverables. Full-scale design-and-build projects were often problematic. The systems weren’t accepted until the entire production line produced acceptable outputs over the range of specifications. This often meant that we had to wait until the entire plant was in good working order and a fresh set of rolls were installed in the rolling mill. On a couple of occasions the wait for those conditions stretched out to six weeks, during which time we usually had very little to do. Sharing of lessons learned was done informally between colleagues and all software, documentation, and project files were archived.

To be continued…

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