Did you get a big project? Want it to be a complete success and an exemplary one? Of course, yes! I mean, who doesn’t?

If I were in charge of such a project I would build a good and energetic team out of the best available resources and strive to keep all things systematic and under control during the lifecycle of my project. Some of you may argue that it’s easier said than done.

As a project management professional, I know that the job of a Project Manager is most challenging and of a demanding nature. You need to manage and control each activity and each resource of your project at every single phase. In this article, I’ll walk you through a case study of sorts of a project I recently overlooked from a managerial perspective to get a first-hand look at how system development is managed and the problems faced by the management team.

Let’s get right to it!

A Brief Overview of the Project Manager’s Role

Planning, Scheduling, Execution, Monitoring and Control, and Project Closure — all phases essentially require keen attention and vigilance on the project manager’s part. Though the manager should possess the essential, technical knowledge that enables him to be fully aware of the actual work activities, his management skills are more imperative in order to effectively control and monitor the project and to deliver a successful project to the client within its scheduled time and budgeted cost.

Project Background

In this section, I shall provide a briefing of the M&E system implemented on one of my projects. This gigantic project involved the construction of 5000+ project sites spread over an area larger than 26,000 square kilometers. (That’s almost the size of Switzerland!). For the sake of simplicity, I’ll talk about 5000+buildings (not roads) for the remainder of this post.

The project team consisted of about 1000 full-time, deployed professionals, para-professional and non-professional staff members. The job posed quite a challenge for us as a management team because there was an enormous amount of data involved and the stakes were high. Design issues were minimized by designing 20-25 units to be utilized according to the requirement and site constraints. Now I shall come to the core of the M&E system which we developed and implemented to store project archives and track and report project progress to the top management and client.

The “M&E” System

We developed a database to store documents related to each project site including its preliminary details, design module adopted, and the contractor executing the construction activities. The system integrated site progress database for each site which in itself was as a complete online portal of progress monitoring and reporting. All 10 Regional Project Offices (RPO) were linked online with the main Project Management Office (PMO).

Concerned staff at each regional project office was trained to feed in physical progress status of the construction sites he supervised on to the server for real-time reporting and status updates of the whole project. The servers at PMO ran 24/7 for prompt access and retrieval of information. Progress status of each site was archived right from its beginning date till the completion date. Anyone from the project team, using his secure login ID and password could access the data and generate a customized report that was suitable to his required criteria and role in the team.

A team member’s right of access on the data and system was kept according to his key role and responsibilities as designated by the Project Manager. All this was hosted on the central servers maintained at our main Project Management Office. The system was web based and integrated with GIS-based location maps as well; all information was accessible anytime, anywhere in the world.

Business Intelligence Reports on monthly and fortnightly basis were made for:

  1. Internal project progress status updates.
  2. Monitoring and control.
  3. Informed decision making.
  4. To keep the Client updated and informed about the project.

Real time progress status “Tickers” in tabular form were displayed on the screens of higher management all day. Additionally, a unique feature of our system was that real-time GIS Maps for each RPO showed the status of each project site controlled by that specific office. These maps displayed blinking lights for each site according to its status — Red, Yellow, and Green. The system ran successfully and was found to be the best possible solution for our PMO. Things went fine for some time but after reaching its peak, this system, originally developed as an optimal solution, started failing and it took us some time to figure out what actually happened.

The Failure — How and Why it Happened

Despite the fact that we always kept a list of common mistakes and watched carefully over it, some were overlooked or taken for granted. That was the point where it cost us in terms of time and money, and if I dare to add, somewhat of a career risk too.

Recalling the fact that such a project, while giving us a lot of revenue, could have been jeopardized by our poor M&E system. Although these mistakes put a dent in our M&E, we managed to get out of it at some cost. I think the word mistake has been used too often and before it is interpreted as a blunder, let me change it to our lapses instead of our mistakes.

  • First Lapse was selecting a commercial software which nobody in the organization had an idea about. We all believed what the Vendor said. For one thing, it was never made clear (deliberately?) that we would need annual renewal fee at a hefty price! We did not look beyond the words of the Vendor and were just impressed by their websites, demos, and detailed references. An all-in-one solution didn’t exist and that is what was paid by us in full faith.
  • Second Lapse was believing that this is an IT-based handling only — boy were we wrong. Such large projects are basically managerial projects. Relying too much on the IT staff paid back to us in heavy terms and turned out to be a fiasco at management level when it came to taking strategic decisions. Building up the system at initial levels requires less IT and more management involvement. Proceeding in the reverse direction raised the cost of development.
  • Third Lapse was the lack of interest by the line managers when the system was developed. They systems require to be used ultimately by all the managers and only they can see if the data makes sense or not and determine if it can be used for taking informed decisions. Keeping the system right on track was the responsibility of managers from top to bottom but it did not happen as envisaged.
  • Fourth Lapse was ignoring everything outside the design office. The value of M&E system is also best judged by the staff who has ultimately the responsibility of feeding in the progress and to manage the progress at the site. Design staff was more involved whereas it had less than 50% share of the total Project Life.

The above are few lapses which affected us the most. However, there were definitely solutions which we sought and applied successfully.

Wrapping It Up

We covered some of the potential problems an M&E system can face and what you can do as the manager to overcome these issues. Perhaps in our next article, we can discuss the solutions too and how we managed to save the M&E of a gigantic project at the end. Rest assured, all was well at the end!

Have you ever overlooked the development of an M&E system? Did your project’s M&E system succeed the first time around? We’d love to hear about your experience so let us know in the comment section below!