With pipeline construction projects, the word “resources” encompasses a lot of factors including equipment, facilities, funding, and everything else required to carry out the project successfully. In this article, we’re going to focus on how to overcome the challenges of planning and managing arguably the most important resource of them all — your people.
Challenge #1: Determining project scope
The first step to determining the number of workers you’ll need for your project, and with what skill sets, is defining scope. However, pinning down an accurate project scope is quite the undertaking, and easier said than done.
- Establish a clear line of communication with all stakeholders. Remaining open and transparent with upper management will foster productive problem-solving and help to avoid review and decision-making bottlenecks.
- Take your time to gather the small details. Request that all stakeholders, middle management, and team leads provide a comprehensive list of every task, procedure, deadline, and deliverable required for them to fulfill their responsibilities from project kickoff through completion. This “master list” will be a go-to resource for planning what workers and skill sets you need for your project.
- Record guidelines for project scope changes. Changes in scope can throw a project team for a loop. Make sure you have processes in place to review and approve any changes.
- 6 Steps to Successfully Define the Scope of a Project [Potential.com]
- Why Project Scope is So Important [Clarizen]
Challenge #2: Creating emergency plans
When you’re determining resources on a large-scale environmentally sensitive construction project, you must consider the possibility of emergencies.
- Review your site-specific emergency action plan with all key stakeholders. Each project is unique, so it’s critical to do a thorough review of emergency and contingency plans. Someone may identify a coverage gap that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.
- Establish the expectation that contractors with industry-specific emergency response experience will be selected over others. Consider it a bonus if one of your preferred contractors is also versed in oil and gas emergency response!
- Emergency Action Plan for OSHA Compliance on Construction Jobsites [Whirlwind Steel]
- Being Prepared for an Emergency in the Workplace [OSHA Education Center®]
Challenge #3: Risk management planning
With every project comes risk. Imagine that, despite your best efforts, a dig goes awry and you’re set back for an entire week due to infrastructure damage. Or a whole team gets the flu. Or an off-season snowstorm throws you off track. The list goes on. It’s these risks that may or may not occur that can derail a budget and schedule — and you still need to document ways to circumvent these problems.
- Reflect on every project you’ve worked on while risk management planning. What roadblocks did you run into? What human resources did you need to work through the situation swiftly? Is there anyone else that could have been there to help make things move quicker? Identify these potential issues and document the best ways you know to solve them.
- Discuss with stakeholders the best way to release contingency funds from the budget. The sooner you can set your team up to successfully eliminate, mitigate, or avoid a problem, the sooner you can get back on track.
- Risk Management Planning [Pressbooks]
- 6 Basic Steps to Develop a Project Risk Management Plan [EDUCBA]
Challenge #4: Navigating the time between project greenlight and official kickoff
Chances are, you’ve been in the loop about this pipeline construction project for months, if not years. While it’s great to know about projects so far ahead of time, you’re also left to decide when to begin the resourcing process.
- Gather as many details about the project as early on as you can. That way, when you do start resourcing, you’ll have your head wrapped around the initial scope and have an excellent head start.
- Give preferred contractors a heads up. If the project is publically greenlit and all stakeholders agree, start a conversation with contractors you have a relationship with. That way, contractors will have an idea of when to expect a request for proposal (RFP). This strategy helps eliminate some of the peak season competition for top contractors, another challenge we’ll cover later on.
- 10 Steps to a Kickass Project Kickoff: A Checklist for Project Managers [Wrike]
- How to Create a Kickoff Meeting Agenda [ProjectManager.com]
Challenge #5: Overcoming tunnel vision
When you’re resourcing pipeline construction projects, it’s important to keep an eye on the big picture. But when you’re in the thick of planning, examining every little detail in front of you, it’s easy to get tunnel vision. It’s still important to pay attention to small details, but don’t get hung up on granular items that won’t impact the final outcome.
- Recognize your signals of succumbing to “tunnel vision.” Although we’re discussing tunnel vision in a metaphorical sense, signs still include physical symptoms like headaches, back aches, irritability, and fatigue. Educate yourself on how to escape the mindset to regain your perspective on the project as a whole.
- Work on something else. If you’re stumped on a task, for example, getting your hands on processes for building staging areas, step back from your work and conquer another task.
- Ask for help. Tunnel vision can set in when you’re overwhelmed. So if you’re stuck on something that another team member could complete easier or faster, don’t hesitate to reach out.
- How to Get Out of the Tunnel Vision Trap [Medium]
- Five Simple Methods I’ve Learned To Fight Tunnel Vision At Work [Fast Company]
Challenge #6: Writing RFPs
Creating RFPs can be daunting. Forget one small detail and you risk eliciting unfit responses (not to mention, looking a bit silly… no pressure, though). You might not be directly responsible for drawing up RFPs, but it’s still beneficial to learn the ropes and recognize what will yield the best responses from contractors.
- Be specific. For instance, if you’re outsourcing cost control, be sure to specify in your RFP that you’re seeking someone with experience on pipeline construction projects.
- Clarify your company history and project goals. This simple (yet important) background information informs companies of whether or not they’re a good fit for your project, completing some vetting for you.
- The Do’s and Don’ts of Construction Requests for Proposals [eSUB Inc.]
- 7 Steps to Writing an RFP That Gets High-Quality Responses [Super Copy Editors, LLC]
Challenge #7: Competing for resources during peak construction season
Kicking off the bidding process during peak construction season makes it easier to count on pleasant weather, but it does put you in a bit of a pickle when it comes to resourcing. Because as the saying goes, good help can be hard to find. Do your part to win over top contractors and you’ll have a better chance of building a dream team for your project.
- Send out RFPs as soon as you can. Any delay in the bidding process increases the competition for contractors. There is plenty of automation software that helps expedite the process and manage your submissions.
- Prioritize building professional relationships with contractors in the off-season. If you have a positive rapport with a business, the better the chance they’ll choose to pursue or book your project above others.
- The Essential Guide to Understanding the RFP Process [Vendorful]
- 5 Ways to Build a Strong Client-Contractor Relationship [MBO Partners]
Challenge #8: Planning for tasks that aren’t resourced yet
Resourcing a major project is like putting together a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle — and you might end up with some missing pieces just when you think you’re finished. The lack of clarity is challenging, but there are some strategies to help bring everything into focus.
- In the long-term, insert unnamed resources into your plan based on what roles and responsibilities the (still unknown) team will need to take on. For example, if you don’t have a utility locator in mind just yet, record something like “team of three utility locators with ground penetrating radar competency.” Just knowing what roles you need to resource will help you conceptualize who you still need to book.
- In the medium-term, soft book names. Even if contracts aren’t signed or another department head hasn’t officially agreed to assign their resources to the project, soft booking names is a step in the right direction.
- In the short-term, you need to hard book names. If your resources for a task are still unknown, get more aggressive in your search, whether in-house or outsourced.
Challenge #9: Appointing the right leaders from your internal team
Strong leaders are especially vital during environmentally sensitive projects like oil and gas pipeline construction. You want people who hold an excellent reputation within the company, are great at managing contractors, and can keep spirits high while also pushing workers when needed.
- Discuss leadership role ideas with key stakeholders. As a group, you may come up with people you’ve never considered before.
- Ask employees if they would be interested in taking on a leadership role in the project. You might be surprised who comes out of the woodwork. Keep in mind that just because someone held a leadership role before doesn’t mean they want or need to be this go-around (and vice-versa).
- Talk to people who have been leaders before. Chances are, they’ve already noticed some up-and-comers.
- 7 Ways To Identify Leaders Among Your Employees [Fast Company]
- Checklist for Identifying Emerging Leaders (8 Key Characteristics) [FlashPoint Leadership Consulting]
Challenge #10: Determining right-fit contractors
Perhaps the most demanding part of resourcing projects is finding the perfect mix of contractors. They need to vibe with your company, be aligned with your business and project goals, and have a proven reputation and track record — and those are just the cultural aspects. While there are endless ways to vet contractors, here are a few solutions to this issue.
- Find contractors that can partner with you through the whole project and beyond. That way, you don’t have to find specialized contractors for each stage of the construction process. As an example, booking a contractor with surveying, GIS, and environmental management experience will be much easier than finding individuals for each task.
- Don’t just consider the company’s project experience — look at the individuals on their team. As a whole, companies might have a particular set of project expertise, but individual workers might have an ideal skill set for your project.
- Find contractors that align with your company culture. It’s not always easy to find contractors that mesh well with your company. And when you do find one, they might not even be the best at what they do. However, culturally right-fit contractors are worth considering because you’ll run into fewer workplace conflicts.
Challenge #11: Balancing cost with quality of work
An article on resourcing wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the delicate balancing act of finding high-quality work at a price point that won’t bust the budget.
- Don’t fall into the “award to the lowest bidder” trap. In our experience, the best price doesn’t always result in the best work. You’ll be much better off prioritizing value over price.
- Hire local contractors whenever possible. That way, more workers will be able to stay at home for the duration, and you won’t have to absorb any per diem costs.
- Partner with a consultant you’ve worked with before. Not only will you know the quality of their work, but they may also be willing to negotiate rates.
- Low Bid vs. Best Value [ForConstructionPros.com]
- Avoid the Tyranny of the Lowest Bidder [The Craftsman Blog]
Challenge #12: Avoiding the risk of professional conflicts
Making everyone happy when you’re planning anything, especially a large-scale construction project, is a pipe dream. That said, it’s always best to try to avoid conflict when you’re booking resources.
- Get buy-in from more than one stakeholder. When more than a couple of higher-ups are on board with bringing on a particular contractor, the less likely it’ll be you’ll have conflicts with your peers down the road.
- If your whole team liked a certain contractor, invite that company to place a bid if it makes sense. Say your last outsourced safety manager provided deliverables with unmatched quality and they got along swimmingly with your internal team to boot. What do you have to lose by contacting them for a bid? (The answer is “nothing”!)
Challenge #13: Getting to know your resources
Depending on the scope, pipeline construction projects can go on for months or years. But once the project kicks off, opportunities to familiarize yourself with your contractors might be few and far between. Getting to know who you’re partnering with on such a large project is not only good for team morale, but it can also help you identify if you want to work with any of them long-term.
- Invite everyone involved in the project to the kickoff meeting. This preliminary gathering gives everyone the chance to introduce themselves. Plus, the kickoff meeting is a perfect opportunity to dig into project vision, scope, timeline, and expectations.
- Communicate with resources as often as you can. How are you supposed to get to know your workforce if you don’t talk to them? Aim to communicate with your workers once a day.
- 6 Communication Skills That Will Make You a Better Leader [SUCCESS Magazine]
- How Successful Leaders Communicate With Their Teams [Entrepreneur]
Challenge #14: Communicating expectations
Two-thirds of managers are uncomfortable communicating with their employees — a precarious position to be in during projects where every detail matters. At the same time, aligning everyone on expectations is key for smooth and successful day-to-day operations.
- Before trying to communicate expectations to in-house staff and contractors, meet with stakeholders. Make sure all expectations are aligned and recorded at the top level. Skipping this step puts you at risk for messy miscommunications down the line.
- Always answer who, what, when, where, why, and how questions. Your answers give your team the tools to succeed and effectively problem solve along the way.
- Continuously check in to ensure your work environment supports your expectations. Imagine that your team is expected to always work safely, even if that means sacrificing some time. Meanwhile, soil piles and other excavation materials are stacked up right to the edge of some newly dug trenches, compromising the structure. When safety standards and the working environment are at odds, workers won’t be able to meet your expectations.
- Lead by example. When you set expectations for your team, it’s critical that you consistently meet those same expectations.
- Getting the Best From Every Employee: Communication Techniques That Work [Entrepreneur]
- Communicating Expectations As A Manager [Impraise Blog]
Challenge #15: Avoiding overallocation
Spreading yourself or your workers too thin is one of the biggest mistakes you can make on any construction project. Imagine this scenario: you’re behind schedule on clear-cutting the pipeline ROW. To eliminate the risk of falling behind even further, you ask a small team of five to jump in to help after their daily tasks are completed… and also on the weekends. While you might get the clear cutting done and get back on schedule, it’s likely you’ll pay for it in decreased employee morale, lower productivity, and waning quality of work.
- Use a modern project management software. Upgrading from a legacy system requires time, money, and resources, but it’s well worth it when you can spot potential overallocation issues right away.
- Before your project begins, account for some wiggle room on each task. Planning for an extra day here and there can alleviate some of the pressure when schedules go awry.
- Realize the power of saying “no.” Chances are, you’ll get further ahead in the long run if you focus on the assignment at hand rather than overallocating resources to push an enormous task over the finish line.
- 5 Ways Top Project Managers Allocate Their Resources [Resource Guru]
- How You Can Avoid Overallocation of Resources [ProjectConnections]
Challenge #16: Maintaining a positive morale
Construction projects sometimes require putting in long hours, working in less-than-ideal weather, and making quick decisions under pressure. All these factors and more can quickly deplete energy levels and morale. In a management position, having some morale-boosting tricks up your sleeve can save you from consequences including workplace conflicts, plummeting productivity, and absenteeism.
- Celebrate milestones as a team. On long projects, it’s easy to keep your eye on the prize and not take time to reflect on successes. Even little things like ordering lunch for your team can help your workforce celebrate their progress so far.
- Grant time off requests whenever feasible. Giving your team a little time to breathe, relax, and get their mind off the project will help them come back refreshed and ready to work.
- Treat employees and contractors like they’re your most valuable asset, because they are. Even in our increasingly automated world, without people, you’d make no progress on your project. As such, you should treat your team with the respect and kindness they deserve to maintain a positive attitude (which is contagious).
- 3 Tips for Improving Construction Morale on a Project Behind Schedule [Construction Industry Resources, LLC]
- The Benefits of Good Employee Morale at Work [Chron]
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