Project START Summit and Schedule Design

Cognitive Project Management calls for a Project START Summit  to be held during the first week following Contract Award. The Project START Summit shall be hosted and chaired by the General Contractor, and should be attended by members of all of the primary organizations participating in the project, including Owner, Architect, Engineers, Construction Manager, Owner’s Representative, General Contractor, as well as key subcontractors, suppliers, and consultants.

Introducing the Project START Summit

It is called the Project START Summit because START is an acronym that stands for Strategic Alignment, Requirements, and Team-Building, which are the three primary objectives for the conference:

  • Strategic Alignment: Of goals, priorities, approach, pace, direction, management philosophy
  • Requirements: Including roles, responsibilities, protocols, management processes, performance objectives, success criteria
  • Team-Building: Exercises to foster trust, respect, and partnerships in light of just-established relationships.

On the average-sized project, the Project START Summit lasts two days. Of course, one smaller projects a single day may prove sufficient, whereas on much larger projects the Project START Summit could extend to a third day. Rarely does it require four days, even though there is a fair amount of material to cover.

Suggested Agenda for Two-Day Format

Here is the agenda for a typical two-day Project START Summit:

Day One: Strategic Alignment  The morning begins with an Opening Session in which introductions are given, and the conference agenda, objectives, and rules are briefly discussed. Then the Project START Summit facilitator explains some foundational concepts, including the Cognitive F.A.C.E. Diamond, the Cognitive T.I.M.E. Framework, and the Project Time Management phases. After a short break, the morning’s second half, entitled  Project Management Alignment , commences. For two hours, in a plenary session the entire attendance works through the Cognitive SmartStart, which is a fourteen-point sub-agenda that helps the group to (a) understand what the project entails, and (b) craft a mutually-acceptable approach to how the project will be managed.

After lunch, the group proceeds with Project Alignment, which begins with a plenary session during which the Project Execution Strategic Plan (ESP) is developed. Following a mid-afternoon break, breakout groups are formed to deal with specific issues.

  • The Owner Team works on its concerns (OFE, commissioning, occupancy, etc.)
  • The Design Team works on final design issues (especially if Design/Build project), phasing coordination, any technical interfaces (e.g., communications, security systems) quality control, and inspections/Closeout
  • The Project Execution Team sketches out a Level 3 schedule for the upcoming ten weeks .
  • The Project Administration Team organizes and prioritizes support systems
  • Meanwhile, Project Facilitation group members float around to facilitate discussions and answer any procedural questions.

In the final hour of the first day the plenary group is reassembled at which time breakout groups make their individual presentation to the full attendance. With clerical help from Project Facilitation, the DOCK Schedule is produced. This schedule, which stands for Documentation of Owner Concurrence and Knowledge, establishes the contractual basis upon which all subsequent schedule updates will be compared.

Day Two: Requirements Just as one would never think to start a construction project without a set of contract documents (plans and specifications), one would never start a Schedule Development process without first getting answers to some pretty important questions. This is what Day Two is aimed at nailing down. The morning session begins with a review of the previous day’s accomplishments and agreements. The Project Manager and Project Superintendent are asked to present the Project Big Picture, which they can easily do referencing the Project ESP and DOCK Schedule. Following this, the entire attendance will work together to draft Performance Standards and finalize the Project Organization. Performance Standards will involve discussion of Project Ecology and Ideology, as well as Project Success Criteria and Performance Objectives. The Project Organization will be reflected in organization charts and statements of company and individual roles and responsibilities.

Following the mid-morning break, the two main topics of discussion are Project Operations and Project Kick-Off. Project Operations entails development of a formal set of Management Processes, Project Time Management Performance Policies, and Project Communication Protocols. Project Kick-Off, on the other hand, carefully deliberates on the list, timing, priority, and responsibility of all things that need to occur in the opening ten weeks of the project.  A Consensus Document is drafted and signed off by all attendees.

By the time lunch rolls around on the second day, an impressive amount of team-building is happening; trust is growing and friendships are being formed. In the afternoon, focus turns to the culminating point of the Project START Summit, to give marching orders to those responsible for successful Project Time Management on the project (which is not just the Project Facilitation folks, but more significantly the Project Execution folks). We call these marching orders the Scheduling Performance Specifications. The discussions divide neatly into Schedule Development, Schedule Maintenance, and Schedule Usage. The second day comes to close with a short Q&A session and any final thoughts.

About Schedule Design

With all of the efforts of late to formalize Planning and Scheduling best practices, I find it disheartening that so little attention is being given to Schedule Design as a formal practice in its own right. As we said in last month’s blog about Project Management Planning, even the PM Bible itself, PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, fails to discuss Schedule Design as such. Under the chapter entitled Project Time Management, it reduces Project Time Management to six basic processes, the first one being Define Activities. That’s it — the problem. The first step in creating a schedule is not to start listing activities. Rather, it is to find out just who the schedule’s stakeholders will be, what they will want, need, and expect from the schedule, who will be charged with creation and maintenance of the schedule,  how the schedule’s information will be ultimately assimilated into the overall Project Execution management effort, and so forth. And that one of the main reasons why we hold the Project START Summit,  in order to develop the Scheduling Performance Specifications, by which subsequent Schedule Development will be guided and quality-checked.

I am aware of only one organization that addresses Schedule Design (under that name), the Scheduling Excellence Initiative of the Project Management Institute’s Scheduling Community of Practice. This ten-year project, under the skilled leadership and inspiration of Chris Carson, has sought to assimilate the collective wisdom of nearly 900 contributors from around the world into a seminal document that promises to guide Planning and Scheduling practice for decades to come.

I was honored to be asked to head up the initial effort back in 2004. During those formative first few years, our efforts were mainly on establishing the organizational and structural framework for subsequent thought development work. As my first act as Managing Director, I petitioned the Board (of the then-College of Scheduling) to change the program’s name for Best Practices and Guidelines to the Scheduling Excellence Initiative. I created eight committees, to look into various aspects of the Project Time Management discipline. Having formed a tight eighteen-member leadership team, we proceeded to sketch out the general look and feel for a multi-volume work product that would contain a concise set of recommendations for effective Project Scheduling. As we debated the outline for the various volumes, I fought passionately for a volume on Schedule Design.  There was a fair amount of resistance, understandable as I was fighting a decades-old paradigm. I am proud to know that Schedule Design has survived all of these years, and is a prominent part of the work product that is expected to be published in the summer of 2014.

Message to You: Design Before Your Develop

Whether your organization decides to hold a Project START Summit, or not, I hope you will at least appreciate that, before you sit down to create the Project Schedule, it will benefit both the Project itself, and the collective Project Management effort, if you take time to establish the criteria by which the Schedule and its use will be measured. We call it Schedule Design, but you can just call it common sense.

What is your opinion? We'd like to know!