The event had approximately 35 attendees, including private consultants, and public sector members.
The four panel members are thought leaders, mentors, long-term ITE contributors, award winners, engineers, and planners who have served various communities in the Washington DC metro area. Additionally, the panel represents the diversity of the communities we serve as transportation professionals, in terms of gender and race.
The panel first touched on their transition from a technical to a managerial role. They all agreed that it was a gradual process of learning. They struggled in the beginning. However, by seeking help from mentors, soliciting input and feedback from their team, developing trust in small increments, and most importantly, asking their team insightful questions they became effective managers. They are still learning and will continue to do so.
Then, they delved into how management differs between public and private sectors. Both sectors want to get things done. However, budding professionals should understand some not-so-pleasant facts about the business including:
- Private sector “is a business that needs to stay in business and make profit.” It is important to understand that decisions are driven by this factor among other things.
- Public sector decisions are sometimes driven by politics. Additionally, it may be hard to change grandfathered processes that may no longer be applicable.
Project changes are equally undesirable to both public and private sector – but that’s the reality. For the public sector, a project modification requiring additional budget means multiple approvals, intense scrutiny, and delay to the project.
Panels strongly recommended that the following elements are key to ‘making change easier’ on both parties –
Before the contract is signed…
- Consultants should do the homework necessary to develop a robust scope.
- Be confidant about what it costs and “don’t be afraid to say no.” It will save everyone time and stress at a later stage.
- Build flexibility into the scope by scoping in phases. This will help address the unknowns at a later stage without eroding the budget.
After signing the contract….
- “Communication is the most important thing.” Constant, open and honest communication between the project managers on the public and private side will help prevent strains later.
- If a change order is anticipated, have the conversation throughout the project. This will “provide time to the public sector PM to look for opportunities rather than get shocked at the end.”
- “Continue the dialogue. Don’t stop… even if it is hard.”
- Follow the scope vigilantly and “call out the out-of-scope work immediately.”
- Public sector PMs should be willing to move funds to elevated priorities. Flexibility is key.
- Consultants should develop a risk register to prepare for change pro-actively.
- Maintain a contingency of 10-25% based on the amount of risk identified.
The panel and the audience agreed that as an industry, we need to do more to prepare budding professionals about project management. “Once you enter the industry, seek opportunities to manage small tasks, develop scope/fee/schedule, and evaluate post project performance” to understand how projects change.
Our panelists suggested three books that are great reads on this topic….
- Four Agreements
- Leading Change
- From Great to Good