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Project Management Professional (PMP), Risk Manager – Loss Prevention and Education, Design Professional

This is the fourth article in our series on a project quality management approach that incorporates a project quality manager on the team and the use of a project quality work plan. This installment focuses on project initiation.

Project initiation is the first step in moving the project from the planning phase to the execution phase. This includes review and approval of the project management plan (part 3 of the series) and adherence to the project quality work plan prepared during the proposal phase of the project (part 2 of the series).

As discussed in the first article of the series, this quality management system (QMS) model includes four primary roles.

These roles are integral to the model:
Senior manager – In this model, the senior manager’s primary overall responsibilities are quality leadership and accountability. Their primary project responsibilities are staffing and client satisfaction.

Project quality manager – Assigned to a specific project, the quality manager’s role is to advise and mentor the project manager. They verify that project work has not only been completed but completed to meet the firm’s standard of quality. They do not assume responsibility or authority over the project manager.

Project manager – The project manager bears primary responsibility for planning, implementing and monitoring project quality (except for project staffing/resource management).

Project team – This includes everyone who touches the project, including architects, engineers, designers, and CAD and administrative staff. While the project team does not have primary responsibility for the overall project quality, team members do own the quality of the work they complete on the project.

Remember, in this model, the project quality manager is likely a new role for A/E firm projects. Typically, the responsibilities of this role fall to senior staff (e.g., principals, partners, senior managers, department managers, senior discipline leads, senior technical reviewer) who may have other roles on the project. In this model, however, the project quality manager is a separate project role with a singular focus on all aspects of project quality.

Project initiation
As discussed in part three of this series, you know that the time you spend planning the work, before actually beginning the work, is critical to project success. The topic is so important that we decided to continue the discussion in this article. Upfront planning creates dividends for project execution and completion.

In this article we discuss the following:

  • Internal project team kick-off meeting and development of the draft project management plan (PMP)
  • External project kick-off meeting, including input from and collaboration with client and identified stakeholders on the draft PMP
  • Key client and identified stakeholder endorsement of the PMP

This initiation process should be detailed in your project quality work plan. The work plan detail should also be appropriate for the size and complexity of the project.

The work plan detail should also be appropriate for the size and complexity of the project.

The project quality manager reviews the draft PMP and is one of the project team members to endorse the final document. The project quality manager also attends the internal and external kick-off meetings as part of the overall role on the project and as defined in the quality management work plan. Additionally, this manager recommends adjustments or changes to the quality management work plan based on the outcome of the internal and external kick-off meetings, including ways to identify and manage/minimize project risk.

Kick-off meetings and PMP endorsement
The sequencing of the kick-off meetings and PMP completion and endorsement is as follows:

1. Development of draft PMP – The project design/engineering team develops the draft PMP.
2. Draft PMP – As part of the internal team kick-off meeting, the project team (as defined below) evaluates and provides additional input to the draft PMP.
3. Revised draft PMP – This is submitted to all of the project’s identified stakeholders for review and discussion at the external kick-off meeting.
4. Final PMP – After incorporating comments from the external team kick-off meeting, a final PMP is submitted to identified stakeholders for endorsement.

Collaborating on and completing the PMP is a critically important task for both kick-off meetings; the goal is to obtain team and other identified stakeholder endorsement of the document after the external meeting. The project team has collaborated on the draft PMP for discussion during the internal kick-off meeting. During this meeting, there should be an in-depth evaluation of project risks, triggers, dependencies, probability, and severity, as well as the creation of a management strategy for each prioritized risk. The draft PMP is subsequently revised and submitted to the project team, the client, and identified stakeholders for review in preparation for the subsequent external kick-off meeting.

The purpose of the internal kick-off meeting is to formally engage everyone who has a significant role on the project team (except the client), including senior reviewers and subconsultant/subcontractor representatives as appropriate. This meeting is designed to orient the project team to the project and other team members. It’s an opportunity to clarify and confirm an understanding of the project and discuss concerns or issues before meeting with the client and starting the project.

The external kick-off meeting is designed to obtain input, confirmation, and endorsement from the client on all aspects of the project, from goals, objectives, and priorities, to confirmation of the project schedule and fee as well as discussion of the change order process and how the firm and the client are going to manage risk.

As with the internal kick-off meeting, a key agenda item for the external kick-off meeting is the further development and completion of the PMP with additional collaboration with and input from the client and other identified stakeholders. The project manager should seek the endorsement of the final PMP document from this group.

Kick-off meeting agenda
One key project and quality management tool A/E firms should have in place is an agenda template or a checklist for the topics to be discussed at project kick-off meetings. The PMP incorporates many of the topics you would typically discuss in a kick-off meeting, so a discussion of the PMP alone covers most of the agenda items.

Additional items you may incorporate into the meeting are as follows:

  • Development and use of project metrics – Specific and measurable metrics for meeting project goals and expectations. They are after-the-fact measures of performance. These metrics may include effectiveness of team communication, identification and management of project risks, or management of project change.
  • Development and use of project measures – Activities monitored to determine the current state of project progress. These may include work completed-to-date versus planned work-to-date and budget spent-to-date versus planned budget spend-to-date.
  • Contract – Is it signed? Do the appropriate identified stakeholders have a copy?
  • Project health and safety – Onsite and in-office safety and responsibilities.
  • Team member roles and responsibilities – Including the client’s responsibilities.
  • Team communication – Expectations on frequency, responsiveness, and methods of communication and coordination.
  • Interim and final deliverables schedules – The project schedule and the client specific schedule.
  • Risk management review and discussion – Client input and understanding of project risk issues should be the central focus of the meeting.

Kick-off meetings, as with the project management plan and the project quality management work plan, should be flexible and reflect the project size and complexity, project type, and client type. A short call and one-page PMP can incorporate all the information needed to begin a small project.* Comparatively, internal and external kick-off meetings and endorsement of a multipage PMP with attachments would be appropriate for a highly complex and high-fee project.

The final article in this series will address project execution.

*Note: Small projects will not require this level of detail. Small projects are those with short durations and small budgets. The definition of what constitutes a small project is a firm decision. As an example, a project completed in a short time period (days or weeks) and for a small fee (less than $20,000) could be considered a small project. 

A good overview of quality in the A/E industry is available on the AXA XL Learning Management System (LMS) – please note you must be a client to access the LMS. This series provides insight into quality concepts and includes a practical discussion of quality in the design industry. If you’re already a client of Design Professional and have access to the LMS, log in here. Once logged in, open the “Resources” tab, then go to “Other Publications.” Scroll down to the “Focus on Quality” white paper series, Parts 1-5.


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