In our fifth episode of Project Insights, hosts Zoe Mervine and Hatim Elnueri join Wee Orwatthana, to discuss planning and decision making for multi-year projects. Wee is one of PMA Boston’s directors and brings a high level of project controls expertise to her assignments, which cover pharmaceutical, transportation, and public infrastructure industries in public and private sectors. With this depth and breadth of experience, she is able to give listeners a look into the world of long-term projects throughout her discussion with the hosts, shedding light on their unique considerations and processes, as well as the tools that she uses to help these complex projects succeed.   

To give listeners a frame of reference, Wee clarifies that she considers a long-term project anything that lasts beyond 5-10 years from start to completion. Due to the span of time required for project completion and the number of uncertain elements that can occur during this time, planning for them becomes unique. Having just experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s on the forefront of many schedulers’ minds that everything can change in a moment, especially the longer a project goes on. 

Even though not every project will run into pandemic-scale issues, Wee suggests that the two most important elements to consider while starting a long-term project are people and documentation. Each team member should have a clear expectation of their role and of project management documents such as the standard operation procedures. Because everyone is coming into the project with different backgrounds, it helps everyone to know what can be expected of them and what they can expect from others.  

Clearly spelling out these roles leads to the importance of documentation. This not only helps the original members of a project team know what to expect from each other, but it prepares for a smooth transition during the inevitable turnover that happens during a long-term project. Documentation should also encompass employees, but every area of the project so that it’s easy to look back on what has happened and better adjust for the future. Starting this process early on can make all the difference if you are looking back on over a decade of work! 

After sharing these insights along with the various levels of a schedule and key scheduling approaches, Wee conveys the key lessons she’s learned while working on long-term projects. Primarily, she emphasized the importance of discussing the right level of information with the right people and setting ground rules for expectations. This goes back to her point about knowing each person’s role and the background of each team member. By sharing the appropriate information with the correct people, you ensure relevancy and on-time decision making while reducing the possibility of overwhelming or confusing anyone with information that isn’t their specialty.   

Wee also added that in terms of tools and technology, it’s important to choose what’s right for your specific audience and situation, even if that means trying something that isn’t the norm. For example, before COVID, Power BI was rarely used in her industry, but the changes that came with the pandemic called for her and her counterparts to adapt. Additionally, she highlighted that even in more stable times, she must be thoughtful about the technology she uses according to its audience. While Primavera P6 is useful for monthly reports, it’s not the most user-friendly option for stakeholders that are inexperienced in scheduling. Wee has found that NetPoint is usually more suited to working with a group of stakeholders, since its visual, interactive nature allows people to see real-time effects to the schedule in an easy-to-follow way. While she has not had as much experience using Project Summit, she’s found it helpful for extremely long-term projects (around 15-20 years) since it allows people to clearly view the entire schedule in one page.  

To hear more about what Wee, Zoe, and Hatim have to say about the methods and factors that go into planning and decision making for multi-year projects, listen to “Strategic Perspectives on Long-Term Projects and Planning!”