Project Tips


Today my reflexion will be so easy. And as the idiom says  «A picture is worth a thousand words», here you have a very simple one about three essential concepts for successful projects: Knowledge, Hardwork and… ATTITUDE.



Public services and infraestructures. Criteria and principles for developing them (19/February/2014)

Public services and facilities have to be conceived, designed, built, maintained  and operated for a single purpose: to serve the citizen. This process shouldn’t be at any cost. The administration (or any of them, which unfortunately are a lot considering that there is only one citizen) has limited resources. These resources are mainly drawn from (directly and indirectly) taxes paid by the citizen who has the right to expect them to be used appropriately and efficiently.

In the last few years, we have ignored the basic principles for developing public services and facilities. It is essential to recover them and that is the purpose of this entry: to highlight the importance of each one of them.

Only in this way can we avoid last year’s excesses. These basic principles are:

  • Functionality. Facilities have to serve what they were conceived for, without limitations. It is so important that professionals who develop public projects know the way they work, the conditions of use, the cycles, the demands and any other aspect that conditions the full functionality of the infrastructure or service.
  • Legality. Parallel to the functional design, we need absolute certainty that projects and infrastructures comply with all the regulations, instructions, laws and other mandates. The legislative framework is takes precedence over any designer’s eccentricity.  A designer has to keep the legislative framework in mind in order to avoid later problems for the administrations and citizens. There is limited and vague academic training in this area in the majority of engineering and architecture schools.
  • Efficiency. You cannot squander public funds. Therefore, planning facilities has to be a technical and economic exercise (anyone can design oversized foundations for a bridge, but only a good technician can make it efficiently).
  • Sustainability. While this term has become prominent in recent years, its main meaning concerns the evaluation of a project throughout its life cycle. Unfortunately, this one is another of the great forgotten variables in some technical schools (and in almost all architectural ones), with students not learning to analyze the costs of maintenance and utilization as part of the cost of the projects. The consequences of this can be seen in totally unsustainable projects which are condemned to be taken out of service just a few days after their inauguration due to the aforementioned maintenance and operating costs.
  • Viability. Expressed independently, it is a feature that integrates all of the previously mentioned principles. Recently and all too often, large architectural and engineering studies have been committed to sell large unviable projects. This viability, which includes a major economic-financial component, must be the engine of decision-making, so that the best of the possible options from among those that fulfill all the previous requirements can be chosen.
  • Aesthetics .A beautiful public works certainly has an added value and should always be sought, but not at any cost. Among other things, because as it is a completely subjective concept, beauty does not necessarily have to involve a greater cost. You can find beauty in simplicity and even in the simplicity of things well done. It is a feature that I have intentionally cited after viability because viability should not be constrained by the lack of aesthetics or beauty (it is an assertion that you can resoundingly defend).

Before the end of this new entry I would like to make a brief reflection on how decision-making affects social and economic profitability of any public infraestructure. The following cases can be introduced.

  • High social profitability. In this case, infrastructures have to be further developed and it is when sense the management of public administrations really makes sense. It is necessary to distinguish between:
    • High economic profitability. This kind of infrastructure is also attractive for the private sector.  The administration has the possibility to develop it directly (These infrastructures / societies have been traditionally referred to as «the crown jewels» because they respond to social demands and generate additional revenue for the government coffers. There is also the possibility of development through models of private participation.
    • Low economic profitability. These infrastructures have to be directly developed by the administration. They will not be of interest to the private sector and their cost will be borne by the state treasury. The social profitability needs to be clear because developing these infrastructures will carry opportunity costs.
  • Low social profitability. Initially the public administration should not develop them unless there are other interests that involve an additional benefit for society as a whole. Two cases can also be presented:
    • High economic profitability. These infrastructures are attractive for the private sector. Currently, some public companies are participating in international projects like these. They do not have direct profitability for society but economic profitability supposes the generation of resources that could be reinvested in projects with high social returns.
    • Low economic profitability. Please, this kind of infrastructure must never be developed. Either as a public model or through a public-private collaboration.  The lack of economic profitability will be, sooner or later, funded by the Administration, with the resulting damage that this implies.

The following chart summarizes all the possibilities which have been explained (click on it to enlarge).


I have included this last reflection because there have been many public infrastructures that have been developed with a minimum or non-existent social profitability and no economic profitability. The result is:

  • Underutilized public services.
  • Out of service facilities.
  • Third party compensation for lack of economic-financial contractual stability.
  • And a deteriorated image of public administrations because of continued bad use of resources.

Some examples of these are the new airports of Castellón, Lleida and Murcia; the radial motorways of Madrid; the Sports-Arena of Carboneras and the Reino de Navarra; the auditorium of Torrevieja; the tram of Jaen, Velez-Malaga and Parla; and a long etcetera.


Construction is a temporary undertaking for which a new and complex organization is established. The construction site is a working place for people and where we can find different relationships. There are individuals but also teams with different needs and goals. Project will finish successful even if all of then work as an unique team. This is the reason why social system / dimension is the first cause of fail.

Depending on complexity project, we would work in different ways. In this point is so interesting to introduce the Cynefin framework (wikipedia):

The framework provides a typology of contexts that guides what sort of explanations or solutions might apply. It draws on research into complex adaptive systems theory, cognitive science, anthropology, and narrative patterns, as well as evolutionary psychology, to describe problems, situations, and systems. It «explores the relationship between man, experience, and context» and proposes new approaches to communication, decision-making, policy-making, and knowledge management in complex social environments.

The Cynefin framework has five domains. The first four domains are:

  • Simple, in which the relationship between cause and effect is obvious to all, the approach is to Sense – Categorise – Respond and we can apply best practice.
  • Complicated, in which the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or some other form of investigation and/or the application of expert knowledge, the approach is to Sense – Analyze – Respond and we can apply good practice.
  • Complex, in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance, the approach is to Probe – Sense – Respond and we can sense emergent practice.
  • Chaotic, in which there is no relationship between cause and effect at systems level, the approach is to Act – Sense – Respond and we can discover novel practice.

The fifth domain is Disorder, which is the state of not knowing what type of causality exists, in which state people will revert to their own comfort zone in making a decision. In full use, the Cynefin framework has sub-domains, and the boundary between simple and chaotic is seen as a catastrophic one: complacency leads to failure.

Depending on where we are working it will be necessary co-ordination, co-operation or collaboration. Also it will be necessary: Best practices, Good practices, Emergent practices and Novel practices.



DEFINITIONS (12/January/2014)

I really think that definitions are always a very good start – point and if you want to become someone who works managing projects you have to know what a Project Manager is (definition from Wikipedia):

A project manager is the person responsible for accomplishing the stated project objectives. Key project management responsibilities include creating clear and attainable project objectives, building the project requirements, and managing the constraints of the project management triangle, which are cost, time, scope, and quality.

A project manager is often a client representative and has to determine and implement the exact needs of the client, based on knowledge of the firm they are representing. A project manager is the bridging gap between the production team and client. So s/he must have a fair knowledge of the industry they are in so that they are capable of understanding and discussing the problems with either party.

The ability to adapt to the various internal procedures of the contracting party, and to form close links with the nominated representatives, is essential in ensuring that the key issues of cost, time, quality and above all, client satisfaction, can be realized.

  • The term and title ‘project manager’ has come to be used generically to describe anyone given responsibility to complete a project. However, it is more properly used to describe a person with full responsibility and the same level of authority required completing a project. If a person does not have high levels of both responsibility and authority then they are better described as a project administrator, coordinator, facilitator or expeditor.

Are you a project manager? Here are a project manager’s top ten tips for keeping a project on time and on budget  (presented by Shawna Moore, August 20, 2012 ):

  1. Know the strengths and weaknesses of your team
  2. Document the scope of project before you start
  3.  Set goals within realistic timelines
  4.  Make sure team members understand schedules and deadlines before launch
  5.  Use collaboration tools
  6. Communicate, communicate, communicate…
  7.  Know your red flags and watch for them
  8. Celebrate milestones and address missed opportunities openly
  9. Remember there’s no way every detail of every project can be under your control
  10. Have contingency plans