Ladder of Success

Project Planning and Risk Mitigation

August 09, 2019 Bailey Buffalo, MBA / Dr. Lana Coble Season 1 Episode 1
Ladder of Success
Project Planning and Risk Mitigation
Chapters
1:30
Why Write the Book?
8:46
Important Distinction Between Planning and Scheduling
11:56
Making the Book Relevant and Useful
13:29
The Risk Matrix
16:22
39 Years of Project Success
17:38
Creating "Time Trust"
20:57
Using the Risk Matrix as a Marketing and Sales Tool
24:52
Service for American Institute of Constructors
Ladder of Success
Project Planning and Risk Mitigation
Aug 09, 2019 Season 1 Episode 1
Bailey Buffalo, MBA / Dr. Lana Coble

It's not every day you get to interview someone who was a perfect success record over 39 years in the construction industry, who has also authored and published a book.

Dr. Lana Coble's book can be found on Amazon.  Collaborative Risk Mitigation Through Construction Planning and Scheduling: Risk Does Not Have to be a Four-Letter Word

  • 1:30   - Why Write the Book?
  • 8:46   - Important Distinction Between Planning and Scheduling
  • 11:56 - Making the Book Relevant and Useful
  • 13:29 - The Risk Matrix
  • 16:22 - 39 Years of Project Success
  • 17:38 - Creating "Time Trust"
  • 20:57 - Using the Risk Matrix as a Marketing and Sales Tool
  • 24:52 - Service with American Institute of Constructors
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

It's not every day you get to interview someone who was a perfect success record over 39 years in the construction industry, who has also authored and published a book.

Dr. Lana Coble's book can be found on Amazon.  Collaborative Risk Mitigation Through Construction Planning and Scheduling: Risk Does Not Have to be a Four-Letter Word

  • 1:30   - Why Write the Book?
  • 8:46   - Important Distinction Between Planning and Scheduling
  • 11:56 - Making the Book Relevant and Useful
  • 13:29 - The Risk Matrix
  • 16:22 - 39 Years of Project Success
  • 17:38 - Creating "Time Trust"
  • 20:57 - Using the Risk Matrix as a Marketing and Sales Tool
  • 24:52 - Service with American Institute of Constructors
Bailey:

Hey there and welcome to the ladder success podcast. You can find me through email at Bailey, B-a-i-l-e-y, spell it right, @ buffaloconsults.com or on Twitter at Buffaloconsults. I love hearing feedback, comments, suggestions, you name it. One thing about the construction industry that never changes is that you always have more risk factors than you can count on a project tha t ha ve to be considered before and during the construction phase. As good as I am at managing those and planning around him, I al s o am smart enough to realize that there are other people that have been doing this for decades, so I'm smart enough to reach out to one of them. Not only has my guest today not missed a deadline or a budget in 39 years of managing projects, she's actually gone a step further and written a book on her planning methods. You can find it on Amazon, just search for "Risk doesn't have to be a four letter word." She and I have worked together for a few years now on executive committees for the American Institute of Constructors. It's always a privilege to get to pick her brain. She's a project executive, a professor, and now she's a published author. Her name is Lana Coble, L a na thank you for joining me. It was a no-brainer asking you to do a podcast, but there's one question I want to get out of the way early and that i s, did you always know you wanted to write a book on this topic? Did it start off as a dare? What was it that led you into the writing?

Lana:

Well, I will tell you that I spent my entire career to construction , the last 39 years focusing on scheduling and planning. And it happened by happenstance of, I was finishing up my Ph.D and I had to take a class on writing proposal to write a book and I was asked the question, "But if you could write anything, what would it be?" And I've always thought that I wanted to leave behind my, all the tools that I had developed to be so successful in planning and scheduling. So it just sort of happened in a random sort of way. I got about three or four publishers that were interested in the topic because I was coming at such a unique perspective towards scheduling and planning and ended up writ ing the book. Took me about three years and I'm, I'm real happy and I'm real passionate about the topic. So, I'm h appy to be able to pass along to others some of the tools and techniques that I've developed over the last 39 years to be able to make completing projects on a timely basis a consistent success story.

Bailey:

So when you sat down to write a book on this topic, was there any particular problem that you wanted to solve or was there just some experience in how to complete projects, time that you wanted to share?

Lana:

Well, there wasn't a particular problem, but what I wanted to do, you know, there's a lot of books out there that are written about how to use scheduling software. Okay, and that talk about logic. But there's nothing really written about your approach towards how you gather the content that goes into the schedule. And when I was teaching at the University of Houston in the scheduling class, I had a lot of students that either they had a lot of experience, enough experience to where they vaguely understood what the working pieces were that would constitute the context of the schedule, and then I had the other half that had no clue what needed to go into it. And so I began to say, how can I help people narro w in o n w hat are the most important attributes about the content that goes into the schedule? That in combination with, I've done a lot of construction management at risk (CMAR) in the commercial business, commercial construction sector , where team building and working with all the different practitioners is a very important thing. And so this, this paradigm shift that I'm proposing is basically coming up with the content for a schedule, not in a step-by-step mechanical sort of way, but from a different asking a different question. And that question is "What ar e t he greatest risks to that project from the perspective of the owner, the architect, the engineer, the contractor, and even the subcontractors?" And my theory has always been that if you address the riskiest elements to the job, that it will lead you down that path of what are the things that are most likely to derail the project and how do I solve that before we actually break ground. So it's really a paradigm shift and it's, it's good for practitioners to , to give them a fresh perspective. I know a lot of architects think, well, we don't really know how to schedule. Well, they know more, a lot more about the job and what the finer points are, the tougher aspects of a building are, let's say as an example, like a high rise 25 story building that has a complex cap on it, or a complex window washing system. Those are th e major risk points that if you don't deal with those unique attributes, the n yo u're likely to get delays into the project. So that's, that's how I w o u ld lo ok at it.

Bailey:

So essentially it's a deeper way to look into project scheduling.

Lana:

Very well said, much more succinctly than I did. Yes.

Bailey:

Right. Let's see. Let's go back. Let's go back to the book itself. The name of the book is "Collaborative Risk Mitigation Through Construction Planning and Scheduling: Risk Doesn't have to be a Four Letter Word." I'm looking at the book on Amazon and they thou ght all reviews, not bad, but collaborative risk mitigation. What parties do you involve when you start this process? Are there any parties that are involved or do you bring as many people into a room as you can to discuss what risks you want to look at?

Lana:

Well, typically we bring the architect, the program manager , the general contractor , the engineer, if, if it's a tough engineering job , say for instance, if it had a lot of deep underground utilities that might have an impact on the schedule. And then we take certain subcontractors that are key to the job, that, that would be the starting point. But basically anything that has an unusual high risk component to it, we would bring those people in. And an example I can give you is on one of my projects was in Galveston and it was a, $ 8 5 million, C H P pla nt, w hich basically allows Galveston Island to operate, quote unquote off the grid during hurricanes and enables them to be able to provide electricity and chill water and, and cooling and heating capacity to the campus when utility lines may be torn down. So the electrical vault of this was going to be a very critical component. And so we actually brought in the, the electrical energy company that we would be tying into their main systems and our electrician and the electrical engineer into a sub meeting and walked through this whole process of looking at the biggest risks to then extrapolate what w ould content would need to go into the schedule to make sure that we had covered things. And it worked beautifully. So you can sort of liken it to narrowing it down to the most obvious issues. The beauty part about planning and, an d this is an i mp ortant distinction between planning and scheduling; scheduling like I talked about, is generally if you can envision a triangle, an i nv erted triangle, or the very tip of it is at the bottom, the nar r ower bas e. I look at scheduling is be in g at that level because it's typically one or two people that are actually inputting the schedule into the software and coming up with the logic required for completing the tasks. If you go to the top part of the triangle, which is the widest space, that's what planning is involved in. Planning can be done by any shareholder of the project. So, whether it's a utility provider, architect, engineer, owner, major subcontractor, they all know inherently what the risks are to the job. And if you have an orchestrated conversation about those risks, everybody can start to begin to understand from the different perspectives why it's important. And then you can then narrow down the field to the most critical things on the project and come up with a collaborative risk mitigation plan. So I, I'm really a big proponent that in the beginning you get as many people as possible. You may need to have some sub br eak out m e eti ngs to get into the detail and not sort of unused time wisely. But in the beginning, I think you need the core group, the core team to start this process with.

Bailey:

And collaborative seems to be the key word. The b ook's description on Amazon, I'm quoting here, says it gives project managers, contractors, architects and engineers, the tools to prepare effectively for the unexpected. So I guess the description of t he book wo uld've a nswered my question about who's involved and who can benefit from the book. Also on the synopsis of your book, the synopsis also includes quotes from project owners, program managers, construction agencies, subcontractors and consultants. So how much work went into making a book that could benefit so many different parties from so many different angles?

Lana:

Well, I actually , the main, the initial crux of the book is based upon two actual case studies that I participated in. One, I was the program manager on the job and the other one I was a consultant called i nto mitigate the schedule that had gotten behind. They were both major he alth c a re j obs. And so what I did in preparing the first part of the book was I actually interviewed all those team members, the program managers, the owners, the architects, a c ouple of engineers, a n d a subcontractor, and interviewed them and got their input into what they thought was the most important aspect of how that job went together in terms of the planning and scheduling. So I wanted to make sure that what, what is in this book is relevant and useful from a practitioner's standpoint. And I wanted to make sure that it ha d some, some true meaning behind it. So, yes, in the very beginning of the book, I actually gave them drafts ahead of time after I had w r itt en it and said, please give me your comments. Does, how does this look? How does this feel? So that everybody would know that it's not a contrived piece of work. It's actually had some of the, what I w o uld call high level practitioners in the Houston region review the material and gave their syno psis of how they thought the book would apply to each practitioner.

Bailey:

One reviewer of your book says that you've written a book to help inexperienced project owners. Another c alls you one of the most experienced, knowledgeable and owner oriented project leaders they've known. I've managed enough projects and been around enough project owners to know that sometimes they do have concerns whether their actual needs are being met. What specifically do you put into this book that can help project owners along ?

Lana:

Well, so once you get past the case studies, there's a whole chapter dedicated to what I call the risk matrix. And I wanted to give everybody a process whereby to me it's not the answers that are important. You get to those answers if you know the right question to ask. And so I wanted to make something that was universal enough to where if I put questions from each perspective of each one of the practitioners related to what the ris ks co mponents were in a project that you could use this matrix on any, any type job, w h ether it's a s c hool or a hospital or an industrial plant, doesn't matter. It's, it's the process. And so I outlined this risk mitigation matrix and have actually used it on several projects where we would have workshops in the beginning of the project and have each one of the practitioners write down what the answers to the questions. And then we would have a group discussion of those answers. And from that you began to build that, that list, that list of high risk elements. And then from there you can hone it down into what are the biggest ones so that you can then put that information into the general. So one of the sections is specifically for owners in terms of do you have an active campus? Is it adjacent to the building? If so who's going to b e i mpac ted? All the other things I've seen is that a on p r ojec ts, some times the owners are not prepared to actually take over the management of the building when you get it finished. There's also the aspect of what I call activation, which is when the owner, when the contrac tors achiev ed substantial completion, but now the owner and the program manager have to go in and bring in all the furniture, the fixtures they have to do training, all these things that they have to activate in order for the building to operate as their original vision was. So I look at schedules as a benchmark from the very beginning of the project through design all the way through the activation process until it's being used for its intended purpose. So in that respect, I like to think that I bring the perspective of the owner to the table, which in the end, as I al w ays say, it's not how you start a job, it's how you finish it. And the finish is when they're actually using the building. So

Bailey:

Just to validate your experience that went into writing this book, I have to ask the question: In 39 years, is the legend true that y ou've finished every project on time?

Lana:

Uh, yes it is. I had one job that we didn't, we didn't, i t technically ask for enough time at the end. There were a lot of last minute changes, so it could be debated that one project was 10 days late. But, u h , I would, I would stand and argue that, u n til the cows come home so to speak. Every project that I've done has finished on time and it' s bee n through the use of these tools that are presented in the boo k. One of the tools I give you is the reporting format. And this is something that I think that most general contractors really miss out on. General contractors as a rule are rea lly , really poor at advising the client the efforts that they're doing to maintain the schedule or mitigate the schedule. They don't do enough of that documentation during the process of the job so that when you do get a problem and you do get behind, the general contractors haven't created what I call time trust. You know, there's a lot of emphasis put on managing the dollars. We know in construction everything's about cost or time, and in e ffect time is money because of the amount of general conditions it takes when you extend a project out. So, t his report that I've come up with and I p ut in one of the chapters of the book is a great model to document what you've done on behalf of the client, what you are anticipating or looking sort of around the corner of the building to see what's coming, i n terms of what you think might be a potential issue. And then actually if you do this in advance enough with the owner and you've got more people to brainstorm about how to deal with the situation, a n d help mitigate the risks. And a pa r ticular example I have on this is, on e of the case studies was on a project in San Antonio. It was about a $750 million hospital. And, when I was brought in, the job was about halfway complete. So the longer you wait to mitigate the less opportunity you have to course correct for the schedule. Uh, so we t hen took that one step farther and said, "Okay, what can we do during activation to shorten that period to help maintain the schedule?" And we got in it adv an c ed enough to where it actually did work and they were able to open the building on time. So, there's a ll kinds of things that you can do to manage that process. And this particular report became the cornerstone for facilitating communication between all the parties. One thing I think is critically important is, and this again goes back to when you think about the people actually making the decisions on a project or generall y at a very high level, those people generally don't get down into the weeds of the issues. So, and most of them don't know how to reschedule. I mean, I'll talk about it like, you know, looking at a slot machine where the eyes are s ort o f rolling around in their head, looking at a printout of a P6 or a Microsoft Project schedule can be very overwhelming to people. So this report has an essence wh ere I call dumb it down to where you get the crux of the information there so that the key decision makers at the top of the food chain are well versed to be able to provide timely decisions so that you can make these time, course corrections and meet the schedule.

Bailey:

And since I'm always thinking of new ways to market things, is it possible that a contractor could use these reports as a sort of sales pitch for future jobs?

Lana:

Well, I use it all the time. I a m currently a project e xec a t Tellepsen and I've actually used the risk matrix to help sell two of the last jobs that we've gotten. And these are very large projects th at h ave a lot of complexity to them. And we've used that and we've used the reporting on the schedule as a means to, r e ally garner attention that we, we definitely have our hands wrapped around it. So yes, it's a great, it ' s a great marketing tool, if you know how to speak to it.

Bailey:

Yeah. I tell people all the time, if you're not marketing, you're wasting your time. How long did it take you to write this book? Months? Ye ars? Da ys?

Lana:

Well, it actually took me three years to do it, but I took a year off in between that time period. So it was effectively two years. I had just finished my PhD and I needed a break. So, I told the publisher, you just have to wait a little longer before I get this finished.

Bailey:

Well, did you get it all out of your system or is there going to be another book down the road?

Lana:

I actually, I do foresee that, there was one section in the book where I talk about how you can do internal reporting of metrics with the schedule. And I've actually developed a chart that you can put it in a n Excel sheet and graph out a very easy to read graph. And we have actually been using it at Tellepsen now for the last six years that we report. We update this every month and it, it tells a s t ory in just a very quick view of that graph. I've finished some other projects with it and I actually had one of my current clients, we'r e doi ng a four year long master plan for them , fo r the Houston zoo. And the COO of the zoo has told me she was blown away by that graph, how easily it showe d the story, and she's also told me that she's never seen a contractor that has constantly worked the schedule to be able to make things happen on time. And on this particular project we had like an 11 month job. We had like four and a half months rain, where literally, we could not be productive. Uh, so the r e was a lot of overtime that was involved, but we, eh, we w or ked t he sch e dul e hard to make it happen and that's probably the best compliment that I've ever, ever gotten. So what I foresee as an upd at e to it, we'll be addin g some of these ot her case studies and how we use these graphs to communicate. And uh, we did it as a lessons learned and now it's standard operating procedure for our projects active at the Houston zoo.

Bailey:

So there may be a part 2 in the works is what I gather?

Lana:

Yeah, they'll, yeah, they'll probably be a, an abridged, updated version of the book.

Bailey:

Awesome. Well, y our b est part from y our w ork at TelIpsen and now you'vepublished one book, you're also a college professor. And you're in the event planning game to y ou? What's that about?

Lana:

Well I serve , on the American Institute of Constructors, a board of directors, and it's something I'm also very passionate about. When I was going t o graduate school, I actually did my dissertation on individual project m anagers certifications. The organization, th e A IC and, and myself, you know, we really are about bringing the perspective of the individually certified project manager up to the same perceptive level as an architect or an engineer. They all have to go through state tests to get pas sed. S o the AIC is real big about, they 're the only agency that focuses just on construction. It's an eight hour exam and if you pass it, then you're deemed as an associate constructor or a certified professional constructor. So this organization, we meet, we have an annual forum once a year and I've volunteered to be the education chair. Not the education chair, but the Event chair, becau s e I love construction management education, obviously by the th ings that I'm doing with it. So we put on an annual forum that's attended by contractor personnel, and we bring in key people from the industry, from owners, architects, engineers, to speak to the current trends in the industry to promote that higher learning , and continued growth of your knowledge base. So, u m, we have the annual forum coming up. It's going to be in Philadelphia this year, November 9th th rough t he 11th, and it's going to be, w e're go nna h ave quite a program. We're going to have about 20 different breakout speakers. Two of them will be keynote speakers. We're working on getting those lined up now. I think, I'm h opeful that we might have someone there to talk about integrated project delivery, who I 've w orke d more c lose ly with here in the T exas medical center. But, it's a great opportunity to converse with people of like mind fr om a cross the nation. And you're not really talking to competitors because it's a broad, broad risk. So there's a certain level of openness that you get to share ideas with and come away learning something new to take back to your home base and applying it in in y our business practice. So, so yeah, that's, that's why I signed up to head up t hat effort. It's coming up

Bailey:

And that is vacation dash networking dash educational all in one trip. Can't argue with that. So with that, we'll call it a wrap. I know you're on LinkedIn /lanacoble and on Twitter at lkcoble. One more time, what's the name of the book that you have? Where can somebody find it?

Lana:

Okay. It is called "Collaborative Risk Mitigation through Construction Planning and Scheduling." The subtitle is "Risk Doesn't Have to be a Four Letter Word." A nd I , that's my own quirky sense of humor, but everybody gets the point. It can be found on Amazon. It's available on Kin dle or in hardback. My suggestion to you is the title is so unique, the first part of it' s ve ry academic title. If you just go in and, an d search ris, ks d oesn't have to be a four letter word. It'll pop up every time.

Bailey:

Sounds good to me. Um, now that I'm finished grad school, I need something new to read. Someone had to go pick me up a copy of it. Thanks for your time. This has been fun.

Lana:

Well, I appreciate it. Thank you very much Bailey,

Bailey:

And there you have it. Great insights from a great career. Again, th at's L a na Coble, L-a-n-a C-o-b-l-e. One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Napoleon Hill and inspired the title of this podcast. That quote is "The ladder of success is n ev er crowded at the top." My goal at Buffalo consults is to change that and make that crowd as b ig as I can. If you have any feedback or comments, I would love to hear them. Bailey (b-a-i-l-e-y) @buffaloconsults.com or on Twitter just at Buffaloconsults. This has been a blast. I'm thankful I had such a great guest for this one. Can't wait to do it again. So thanks for listening.

Why Write the Book?
Important Distinction Between Planning and Scheduling
Making the Book Relevant and Useful
The Risk Matrix
39 Years of Project Success
Creating "Time Trust"
Using the Risk Matrix as a Marketing and Sales Tool
Service for American Institute of Constructors