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M O R G A N S tat e U N I V E R S I T Y ’ S M S P M P R O G R A M


Putting Theory Into Practice A one-on-one with MSU’s Assistant Vice President of Design & Construction, Kim McCalla

Cordell Ratner’s PMP, CPA perspective on lessons learned Answering The Mail 70% of RFP questions can be answered using a tailored database

FAST TRACKING The Smithsonian Project

Unlucky Number 7 Best Practices or Best of Wishes Op-Ed, by Morris W. Ricks

Message from The Chair

PM Magazine


It gives me great pleasure to present the spring 2014 issue of PM Magazine. The capstone course in Morgan State University’s Master of Science in Project Management (MSPM) has served as a venue to integrate project management knowledge areas and processes that are covered in the core courses of the program. Students plan, develop, and publish an issue during the course of a semester. They document the project management process and present the project plan along with the project deliverable, PM Magazine, in print and in PDF format. Students as team members provide informative articles based on their research and interviews of experts. Photography, layout, and other tasks involved in the publication process are all done by students. They estimate project cost and time and set the milestones. They communicate and negotiate with vendors, evaluate vendor proposals, assess risks, and work within constraints. The current issue is entirely produced by MSPM students. This publication is a fine example of how our project management students put theory into practice, deliver an outstanding product while keeping the project within the required scope, time, and budget! Enjoy! Ali Emdad, Ph.D. Chair and Professor Department of Information Science and Systems



 M Theory and The Real World P


F ast Tracking the Smithsonian Project

A One-on-one with Morgan State University’s Assistant Vice President of Design & Construction Management, Kim McCalla By NaKisha McLaurin, MSU MSPM

By Marquita Braswell, MSU MSPM



 nswering the Mail A


L earning Curves


 ur Program & Links to PMI O

An insider’s look at managing and responding to RFP’s By Morris W. Ricks, MSU MSPM

Lessons learned from an ERP project By Marquita Braswell, MSU MSPM

In a recent article, Six Things all New Project Managers Should Do by Paul Naybour, he gets right down to brass tacks echoing fundamentals and “best practices” I’ve had the privilege to be taught and mentored in for the past two and a half years. Bottom line, professors like Jim Sklenar in Morgan State University’s Master of Science in Project Management (MSPM) program has conveyed that project management is a language, and that language must be communicated effectively and often.

of technical experts available to work on the project. To effectively manage these experts and the project, one should and must have the critical skills needed to get the job done well which is number five on Naybour’s list of must do’s for new PM’s. “Project managers who have a narrow technical focus will not succeed in this career. Applying a balance of technical focus, verbal and written communication, decision-making, and negotiation skills is imperative to doing one’s job more effectively.” In the quest for success in the field of project management no one person can do it all according to Professor Susan Wienand of MSU’s MSPM program. This is especially directed at the PM. The arduous task of balancing scope, schedule, cost, resources, and stakeholder expectations can easily have a new PM communicating less and less with his or her project team. This is why Naybour’s final guidance to new PM’s is hold regular team meetings. He suggests have an agenda, stay on track, and follow up to avoid potential misunderstandings. New PM’s will find that the very information they seek on their own such as time line setting, resource allocation, and stakeholder updates and concerns, will be disseminated in weekly team meetings.

Naybour advises new project manager’s (PM’s) to first learn to communicate at all levels. “PM’s need to be able to communicate their message to various levels of the organization as well as to individual.” This is pretty difficult to do if you can’t speak in public which is Naybour’s second “must do” for new PM’s to be successful. According to Naybour, good public speakers are not born; it’s a skill that if cultivated properly, can be mastered and ultimately become a prize attribute. The implementation of Earned Value Management Systems (EVMS) is next on his “best practices” list as it should be. At any point during the project the client may want to know how far along is the project, or is the project within scope and on schedule. PM’s must be fully acquainted with systems that measure cost to the actual work performed according to Dr. Monica Kay of MSU’s MSPM program. It’s not enough to affirm whether or not a project is within scope. Being able to inform the client of the value of work performed and articulating the metrics is imperative to your credibility as a PM. Naybour’s fourth order of business is finding the right resources which he suggests goes hand in hand with communication. It is crucial for new PM’s to network and find experienced people that have the necessary skill sets working on the project. Establishing and maintaining rapport with stakeholders at all levels is a big plus in ensuring that PM’s have a pool

A wise man once told me if you hear the same advice from multiple people in various locales who obviously don’t know one another and they're all saying the same thing, either everyone is telling the same lie, or someone is telling the truth! Nevertheless, if you don’t master the previous six “best practices”, you can put all your focus on number 7—sit down and write two letters. If you’re fortunate enough to have taken over an existing project, the first letter will place the blame on your predecessor…the second tells your replacement to sit down and write two letters! Naybour’s article isn’t inclusive of all that a new PM needs to know to be successful, but I think it’s a great place to start. n

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PM Theory and the Real World

A One-on-One with Morgan State University’s Assistant Vice President of Design and Construction Management, Kim McCalla

By NaKisha McLaurin, MSU MSPM

As the Assistant Vice President of Design and Construction Management (DCM) at Morgan State University, Kim McCalla is an integral part in the design and construction of all capital projects on the campus of Morgan State University (MSU). As a young girl, her sole dream was to “build a city that sparkled.” She has since put her stamp on the state of Maryland by being a major contributor in the design and implementation of the expansion of the National Aquarium in Baltimore with the Australian Exhibit, redesign of Camden Yards from an industrial park to a sports park, the third expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center as well as renovation of the existing facility, the Johnny Unitas Stadium, on the Towson University campus, and Comcast Center on the Campus of the University of Maryland College Park. Ms. McCalla, with her team is currently facilitating several multi-million dollar projects located on the MSU campus including the Business Management Complex, the design of the new Jenkins Behavioral and Social Science Center, razing of Soper Library and the construction of the new student services building in its place. Considering Ms. McCalla’s vast experience and wealth of knowledge, she is an established resource for future Project Management students. I had the pleasure of sitting down with her to speak about some of the theories and concepts that are taught in the classroom and how those concepts are applied in “the real world.”

What is your department’s primary function and goal? Our department’s primary function and goal is to manage projects from inception to completion while maintaining the budgets and schedules. We’re advocates of the projects who do not take sides. We try to do what’s best for the project. It can be a challenge with architects wanting beautiful results; contractors wanting to save as much money as possible and the users customizing the buildings as much as possible. It is really a matter of understanding all aspects of the project and making it work, design construction and the needs of the users. You must also have a good working relationship with other departments (physical plant etc.) You don’t want to put buildings up that they cannot maintain. We must also take into consideration the student’s interest and the program at heart, and we must look to the future, to design and construct for the future and not the present or the past. We work with the programs, we meet with the faculty, staff and students to understand what is required and what is desired,

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versity going, what are the University’s “The lack of goals? What are the conditions of existcommunication ing buildings, spaces? For example: Do will and could we have enough classrooms, have the systems outlived their expected life (are have significant they failing and cannot be repaired)? financial Has our program outgrown the buildimplications.” ing space? What are the trends and can we modify what we have to meet the needs of the future? Teaching now, is not just lecture style, its more interactive. Classrooms need to be set up differently with more flexibility, faculty and students are working collaboratively, and many informal spaces are now needed. What is the new technology and how do we try to prepare the buildings for this technology as best we can?

How important is Earned Value Management (EVM) to a project and is it used in every project?

we try to see it from their perspective. We pull all those things together to make it work; we also must meet with and meet the requirements of the regulatory agencies, health department, fire department, the State of Maryland, the City of Baltimore and the community at large. We want to make sure we’re not putting anything out there that will adversely affect their (the community’s) way of life and the way the city functions. We also must keep track of the schedules, budgets and the worker’s safety, which are critical to a successful project. We have to keep track of all of that, to make sure we’re going down the right path.

Ordinarily, how are projects and project managers selected? The projects are selected through the master plan of the campus and the needs of the campus by the planning department; Planning determines the priorities of the campus. With Planning, DCM works with Planning, its consultants and the users to make sure all the major components are included so they don’t have to be added in later. We estimate how much the project will cost and try to use historical data from past projects. We put the information together and it gets submitted to the state. The process typically starts at a minimum of at least ten years ahead. It can some time take more than ten years to get projects approved. There are several project managers on staff. Project Managers are assigned to projects based on their abilities, interests and workloads. Schedules are managed by usually carrying one large and one small project. I try not to overload them, because if a project is not closely watched with constant interaction it can go wrong very quickly.

When developing the proposal to conduct the project, in your opinion what are the most important aspects? What are the critical needs of the University? Where is the Uni-

It is critical. It’s a part of how we track whether a project is on schedule, seeing how much work is done versus how much they’re billing us for. We don’t want for the billings/payments to get ahead of the actual work. It is important to be conservative but fair. Some will try to push the limits and get the maximum amount of funds as soon as possible. If we are not careful you can blow through the money without having the work completed. There is a schedule of values included with each payment. This schedule of values is a detail of all the work and the cost of the activities. You review this schedule of values against the work in place and determine if it’s accurate or not, if not then make adjustments in the requested invoice amount. The project managers walk the buildings to know what is happening. If it is not what the project manager believes is accurate they challenge the contractor and make the adjustments to the invoice. Mile stone dates (work or an activity which must be completed by a certain date) are also inserted into contracts depending on how critical the projects are, as to what has to be done by a certain time. If the milestone dates are not met liquidated damages can also be assessed. The liquidated damages are adjusted based on the type of project.

What incentives are offered to keep good project team members on for future projects? One big incentive is making sure that they are recognized for their contributions and their team work; to give them the credit and for me to be in the background. To give them the opportunity to manage and make decisions. I go over decisions they need to make with the team members ahead of time and they go to the meetings with the information and lead the discussions. I try to make sure I put them in good positions to be in control. I try to give them challenges too and the ability to grow. I’m currently trying to set up opportunities in my department to allow them the ability to grow; along with treating them fairly and respectfully.

If you don’t communicate properly it will be like a game of telephone tag. The architect will say it was clear on the drawings, but the contractor will say well it wasn’t clear to me. It ends up not being right and you have to tear it out. Then you will need to assess who is responsible for the payment to fix or correct? If you communicate up front, you will get it resolved with it costing $10 instead of $50. The lack of communication will and could have significant “...PMs should financial implications. go the extra step Something we try to do at the end in making sure of a major project is a “lessons learned” things get done, session. We bring in the architect, engianticipating neers, construction manager, physical problems before plant, IT, users of the building and we they might discuss what went well and what did happen” not go so well and what do we need to do to do things better. Lessons learned are very important because it’s about not repeating the same mistakes twice. It’s not a blame game; it’s about learning not to make those mistakes for the next project. It’s also about what worked well and how do we replicate that success. Ms. McCalla’s heart has always been and will always be in the design and construction business. In her opinion, project management can be used for anything. “It is an enhancement of your knowledge but not the basis. You apply your project management skills to the field you are in or pursuing. But, project management is a job that requires your full attention; PM’s should go the extra step in making sure things get done, anticipating problems before they might happen.” In this business you’re only as good as your last project and Ms. McCalla has strived to build a reputation of being on time, on budget and being tough but fair to all parties involved. At the end of the day, it is this practice that has gained her respect from her peers and a host of individuals who are more than willing to seek her knowledge in design and construction. n

How important is communication? Communication is key! Not just communicating over e-mail or text, I need to actually be in the room with you, eyeball to eyeball.

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Fast Tracking

The Smithsonian Project

market was favorable. Again, because of the project approach, time and money was saved, and “we’re still fast tracking the job,” said Yetter.

Written and photographed by Marquita Braswell, MSU MSPM

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) broke ground on the site of the National Mall, February 22, 2012, with President Barack Obama as the guest speaker. The museum has finally come to fruition after many years of debate dating back to the early 1900’s. The Smithsonian, known for providing research on diverse subjects, will provide exhibits and artifacts that will tell about the African American culture and experience. The museum is set to open in November 2015.

Chosen by the Smithsonian were, McKissack and McKissack, a leading program management organization, who are providing construction management expertise to the project. McKissack and McKissack is the oldest woman/minority-owned, architecture and engineering firm in the United States. It’s been two years since the ground breaking, how exactly is the project progressing now that construction is underway? Senior Project Manager Charlie Yetter, and Vice President of Business Development at McKissack and McKissack, Lisa Anders, provided a behind the scenes look at managing a project of this magnitude, and the scheduling technique known as “fast tracking” used to keep the project schedule on track to ensure the museum opens in November 2015. What makes this project so unique and complex is its designed structure.

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from places like New Orleans where walkways were lined with ornamental balconies. Yetter stated: “the corona is a double wall with a glass wall inside which is the weather wall, and a very fancy cast aluminum wall on the outside of it that is a very ornamental panel.” Although other buildings have been constructed on the site of the national mall, this is the first project to excavate 80 feet below street level. As crews worked to dig the hole, 85 gallons of water per minute was pumped out each day. To restrict water, a slurry wall or “bath tub” had to be built. However, the slurry wall became a challenge because of the immense water pressure against it. “The challenge was not that slurry walls had not been done before, Yetter pointed out, it’s just that, this is the deepest slurry wall anybody has ever done in the city.” Because of the extensive water pressure, the schedule was delayed. Yet, the schedule was maintained because as the slurry wall was being stabilized, crews never stopped excavating. Besides the water table issue, the second largest risk was attaining the approval of the corona design for the building. The design had to be approved by the United States Commission of Fine Arts, a government agency that reviews designs and aesthetics in Washington, DC. The corona design came from African headdresses that African women wore, and its inspiration for the outside panels came

With a project of this magnitude, taking a traditional approach of sequencing activities one after the other would result in valuable time lost. For this purpose, “fast tracking” was selected as the scheduling technique that allows activities to be done in parallel instead of completing activities in order. The schedule compression technique fast tracking was used at the onset of the project and it maintained the schedule when challenges surfaced. One of the greatest challenges presented at the onset of the project according to Senior Project Manager Charlie Yetter, “was getting the earth stabilized and starting to come up and out of the ground.”

used, the NMAAHC would not meet the November 2015 opening date.

“If we would have waited until the design was finished, we would have just begun.” By using the fast track method, construction work could begin before the design documents were completed. This methodology took a different approach to the project by creating a series of eight packages, some of which included site work, excavation, de-watering, slurry wall and foundations. Yetter and his team told the architects “instead of drawing the building at one time, you design a package for just the site work and break it out into each one of these packages.”

“What makes fast tracking work on a project of this scale is thinking ahead.” When managing a multi-million dollar project such as this one, completing activities in parallel or fast tracking is the most effective since it reduces the project duration. As a result, instead of choosing the traditional design-bid-build project delivery method, where the architect designs the drawings, design bids are submitted, and the building is built, the Smithsonian brought on Senior Project Manager Charlie Yetter to decide what project delivery method was best. The fast tracked-construction management at-risk (CMR) project delivery method was chosen. If a traditional design-bidbuild project delivery method were

This approach allowed the architects to complete a package and subsequently start construction. Yetter said, “If we would have waited until the design was finished, we would have just begun.” Final drawings will be completed in March 2014. Using this project approach, a year and a half to two years of building has been accomplished, and the November 2015 opening date will be met. Verifying this was an effective method; the project team progressed ahead and purchased all materials early while the

Bidding occurred early and steel was purchased early resulting in a year and a half of building completed. Furthermore, a resource analysis was conducted early on in the project. For any project to be successful, resources need to be estimated and managed. Yetter said “you have to analyze all the other resources that you need. You need people, when you’re doing a government project, you need to buy in America, you need to understand what equipment and material you’re going to need to put in this building, and how long it’s going to take you to get it. You have to do an analysis of where you’re going to get the material and your manpower.” Consequently, two items, a rail car and an Angola prison guard tower had to be analyzed early in the project. Due to the size of the items, the rail car and guard tower were brought to the museum and placed in the basement during early construction. The railcar alone weighed 77 tons. So how does a project of this size know when to bring in certain items, or when to complete certain activities, especially when activities are done in parallel? To keep the schedule maintained, a scheduling technique known as the Critical Path Method (CPM) is used. The CPM defines critical and non-critical activities, and sequences them to determine which path of activities is the most time-consuming. The CPM method is valuable because it not only tells how long the project will take, but also which activities need to be done on time to prevent schedule slips. This method can be produced by hand, but with a multimillion dollar project such as this one, Primavera-scheduling software is used. Moreover, Building Information Modeling (BIM), Revit and Navisworks are used. Vice President of McKissack and McKissack, Lisa Anders stated: “these computer aided tools help take traditional drawings and put them into a 3D model so you can

model the job and even put it against the schedule. You can visually build it on the model before you build it out here, and see any problems/issues, scheduling logistics, or design conflicts.” Fast tracking is an effective method when a schedule has to be met. Meeting the November 2015 opening date is the primary goal of everyone working on the project, and although risks are greater in a fast track method, taking corrective action is vital to a project’s success. Yetter noted the key to effective schedule management is “when you come across issues, try to

solve them immediately. When you get into some major delay issues, everybody is aware of it. It’s a communication thing. If you communicate well with everybody, I think these problems become less major issues.” Anders agreeing with Yetter said “start with a good team in the very beginning and decide we’re going to work collaboratively together, and from there, set up the communication protocol. What makes fast tracking work on a project of this scale is thinking ahead. Be ready for the next week’s worth of work, for example, two-week look schedules are used to visualize what’s going to happen in that period of time. Things happen and when it does, we have good communication and everybody talks to each other and figures out a solution.” n

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Answering the Mail An insiders look at managing and responding to RFP’s

MEETING THE DEADLINE, according to Horwitz, is para-

By Morris W. Ricks, MSU MSPM

In the battle for new business corporations have employed highly skilled personnel to draft Request for Proposals or RFP’s when there’s a need to undertake a new project. No doubt these individuals have senior executive concerns in mind, as well as, maintaining leverage during the negotiation/selection process for the parent organization. “What to Mail”, the contents of an RFP, is as important as “Answering the Mail”, which entails the vendor responding to an array of questions that hopefully makes the vendor a viable option. In an interview with Larry Horwitz, Proposal Project Manager for Stericycle Communication Solutions (Comsol) I had the opportunity to explore his methodologies and best practices when responding to RFP’s, in addition to validating many concepts taught in Morgan State University’s Master of Science in Project Management Program.

THE VISIBLE MAN seen by potential clients through the eyes of proposal responses for Stericycle Communication Solutions is the proposal project manager, Larry Horwitz. With an extensive career that ranges from high-school English teacher at Polytech, graduate of the University of Maryland’s Master of Science in Social Work program, to business developer/ manager for a number of major corporations, his resume speaks for itself. Horwitz has served as Senior Proposal Writer-Public Sector for Magellan Behavioral Health, Proposal Development Team Manager for Nationwide Better Health, Business Development Manager at Business Health Services, and Proposal Developer at Maxim Healthcare Services. However, the culmination of his experience secured the position of Proposal Project Manager at Stericycle Communication Solutions, a division of Stericycle, Inc. Comsol offers unique communication services to healthcare, government and commercial clients nationwide. These services allow organizations to focus on what they do best, while Comsol handles their communications needs. Mr. Horwitz is at the helm of facilitating the needs of these potential clients, from inception (responding to RFP’s), to award (vendor selection).

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Susan Wienand on the “Conscientious Project Manager.” Horwitz explained that each technical specification in an RFP has an associated cost differential that comes along with it. “The more precise one can answer the specs within the scope, the greater the accuracy in costing the project”—cost is more than a four letter word, especially when answering the mail.

DEVELOPING THE PROPOSAL alone can be an ar-

“It’s been said

that one way to duous task without the pressures lose a contract from internal/external stakeholdbefore you ever ers who are jockeying for the have the contract. When I asked Horwitz opportunity to what were the most important competitively bid aspects of the proposal, he simply on it, is being late said, “The project…determining if ‘answering mail.’” our scope of services can facilitate the client’s needs.” He conveyed that he performs a careful analysis of each opportunity received from a potential client in the form of an RFP, to determine “can we do it”, while members of Comsol’s business development side of the house determines “whether or not we can price it and remain competitive.” He explained that part of his job entails declining offers, and although he is not the sole decision maker, many times he highlights particular specifications to discuss with executives, managers, and business development specialists on what is referred to as the “go-no-go call.” This well-orchestrated conference call starts with documents outlining the client’s requests and is distributed to members of Comsol’s Sales, Operations, and Finance departments. On these calls, Mr. Horwitz explained that he points out various specifications and/or requirements allowing department heads to assess their capabilities, and subsequently determine if this opportunity is “a go or no-go”. At this point of the interview, I felt compelled to share with Mr. Horwitz that one of our MSPM professors, Jim Sklenar, had really driven this point home last semester from opposite ends of the spectrum. As project management majors, Professor Sklenar echoed the almost fiduciary responsibility that we have as PM’s to ensure that potential vendors can actually perform the high-level requirements outlined in the scope statement. Mr. Horwitz gave me a hearty “Absolutely…we won’t render our services if it’s outside of our capabilities, or detracts from our brand name…you simply don’t want to go for something you can’t deliver.”

“FUNCTIONAL MANAGERS” was Larry’s response to how do you answer the technical specifications in the RFP. “The functional managers are also how we select the project team…they’re just not organized yet… I’m normally partnered with a member of the sales team or business development team who receives a commission if we land the contract, and they refer me to the technical experts who can answer the tough questions.” As he spoke I couldn’t help but reflecting on lectures given by Professor

mount if you expect to be considered for the contract. It’s been said that one way to lose a contract before you ever have the opportunity to competitively bid on it, is being late “answering the mail.” Most clients have analyzed and established their “flash-to-bang” time. In other words, the time it takes to release the RFP to prospective vendors, receive a response, conduct an evaluation process and determine a short list, and enter into negotiations. The need to keep to the established schedule is critical to the start date of the project. Horwitz has established a system at Comsol that ensures he can meet RFP deadlines. “The truth is, our various department heads, functional manager’s, specialists, and technicians have a myriad of things to do on a daily basis, and I realize I’m an interruption to their work when I need certain questions answered when responding to a proposal.” “This is the primary reason why I’ve created a data base that answers 70% of the questions outlined in most of the RFP’s.” Students in MSU’s MSPM program have been brow beaten on the importance of effective time management from inception to completion, I told him. Moreover, as future project managers, MSPM faculty strongly encourages the establishment of operating procedures to stay within scope, schedule, and “In order to create cost. From Horwitz’s viewpoint, a competitive one way to do this is to preserve proposal, at times data that seldom changes. “OK, we may articulate components that when I need specifics I’ll go to exceed the client’s a SME; however, questions that expectations, but pertain to our company hisnot enough to price tory, technological expertise and ourselves out of background, size of the organizathe competition.” tion, annual revenues and tax ID number…let’s face it…this information stays pretty consistent for a period time.” “Some of the answers never change no matter how many times I’m asked.” “Having this data base alleviates the need to asked department personnel the same questions over and over, so I don’t get, didn’t I just give you that information last week?” Although off-the shelf proposal software is available Horwitz’s database configuration exclusively fits the needs of Comsol, and works for them at this stage of their growth and development.

A WINNING PROPOSAL can be defined in many ways. Many believe that properly estimating the project schedule and cost, detailed responses to scope, and easily read formats at least gets you on the short list. However, to proposal project management professionals like Horwitz, close only counts with hand-grenades and horseshoes. He believes that proper cost and schedule estimates, and a detailed response to scope are all important,

but winning proposals go where the competition won’t or either forgot when responding to an RFP. “In order to create a competitive proposal, at times we may articulate components that exceed the client’s expectations, but not enough to price ourselves out of the completion.” Let’s say there is a client we’ve been trying to secure business from for a long time. We may include additional information to enhance the proposal… this shows our willingness to go the extra mile, and it may create other opportunities for our business development department to do some “up-selling”, and presents a chance to offer other products and services woven into answering the RFP, although that’s outside of the realm of what we are currently responding to.

Horwitz concluded our interview with a lesson in relationship building. “In the development of the proposal, nothing is more important than the relationships you have established and continue to maintain with the people you need the most, and we have some outstanding folks at Stericycle…without those established relationships deadlines couldn’t be met, and critical questions couldn’t be answered, nor could my database remain current.” When asked what advice he would give an aspiring project manager from his professional perspective he said, “Have an area of expertise…leverage your skills…possess excellent writing and editing capabilities, and know how to research. Most of all learn how to work comfortably with others because you’ll never know what type of positive impact they could have on your proposal projects. The interview with Mr. Horwitz demonstrated the alignment between what we are learning in the MSPM program and challenges faced every day in the corporate environment. Seeing this alignment made me feel confident that MSU students will be properly prepared to face the challenges head-on after graduation. Becoming a skilled proposal project manager is but one additional way for students to utilize their training and skill sets. And, after spending an afternoon with Larry Horwitz, I believe I can say, that although Stericycle Communication Solutions has become the leading expert at “answering the phones”, they have a true expert in Larry Horwitz who really knows how to “answer the mail” n

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Lea r ning Curv es

Lessons learned from an ERP project T

here are many facets of managing a large project that should be accounted for to optimize its success. In a recent discussion with Cordell Ratner, PMP and CPA, in the Washington DC area, we examined one of the many projects that he has either managed, or was on the project team as a subject matter expert (SME). Mr. Ratner has over 20 years of project management experience. This project which we reviewed was a multimillion dollar effort to converge two disparate systems, one used by the human resources department and one used by the finance department into a single Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. This effort would streamline intercompany business processes, improve reporting data, and reduce systems operation and support costs. The convergence of these two systems required frequent and concise communication, significant planning, and collaboration between the two controlling departments. The transfer of data from the two separate systems to the new system became problematic because the company needed to maintain the integrity of all information, old and new. Yet, this transfer of data was not fully accounted for in the planning and scheduling phases, which resulted in schedule adjustments. As a subject matter expert in Human Resources, it was important that Mr. Ratner build a system that incorporated all information, as well as, archive the oldest information for later use. In an attempt to capture all of the necessary requirements, a consultant was brought on to assist in the development of this system. This is a common practice when implementing complex projects; however, in this case, it would have been prudent to have additional experts who were familiar with the ERP system on the project team. These additional team members could have reduced the overall dependence on the consulting firm. SME’s may have offered additional information, such as determining how much data would have to be transferred to the new system in addition to running the old and new system concurrently to insure accuracy and reliability. The learning curve is a variable that should have been taken into consideration while planning and implementing a project of this magnitude. As the project progressed and project team members left, the new team members needed to be brought up to speed on the advancement of the project. This was also the case with the consulting firm. New consultants needed to be informed of the objectives of the project, the current status of the project, and how and where their skill set fit into the project. Learning curves take time to develop, and this time

8 PM m aga z i n e | SPR I NG 2014

by Marquita Braswell, MSU MSPM

must be accounted for in the schedule. If not, the project will incur substantial delays. When scheduling, the Project Manager should not cut him or herself short of the appropriate amount of time to accurately complete the project. Setting overzealous schedules will inadvertently result in cost overruns and time delays. It is wise to set a schedule that includes time for testing, customization, and training. Finishing early with a schedule that has room for known unknowns is more advantageous than setting an accelerated schedule with unrealistic time-lines. Whether or not to customize an ERP system should also be taken into consideration. From inception, the ERP system lacked customization to keep maintenance costs down, but as the project went through testing, the project team realized because of organizational/department workflows customizations had to be added. For this purpose, workflows had to be recognized early in the project to prevent scope creep, and project team members should be fully aware of how the system works. Training should be conducted prior to the start of any project, and if it had occurred in this case, the learning curve would have been significantly reduced, resulting in the project getting the most out of the system and inherently “getting the biggest bang for the buck.” Today, issues and challenges arise in any multimillion-dollar project and after a project is closed out, most of us are just happy it’s completed. We spend all our time and effort on these projects, working overtime and sacrificing our personal lives, but as a project team, we do not reflect on lessons learned. By the time the project is over, we are on to the next. Hence, archiving lessons learned is imperative in any project; anyone can look at the archive to ensure that mistakes are avoided and best practices are embraced on future projects. n Lessons learned from this ERP project that will improve the success of future ERP projects and projects in general involve: n Bringing subject matter experts in who have knowledge about  your ERP system. If the expert tells you from prior experience what will work and what won’t work, listen. n K  now your organizational process assets, or at least bring someone in who knows them, and have a project management office to keep track of small details. n If implementing a system for the first time, know the system and what it can do for you ahead of time. Attend trainings. n Lastly, it is efficient to put buffers in your actual plan, and it is okay to finish early having scheduled a little longer time for your implementation. This approach is much more prudent than to miss your deadlines consistently, and rush to a finish line for the sake of meeting a deadline.


Morgan’s MSPM program is suitable for professionals that want to develop their knowledge and skills to move up to senior planning, consulting, and project management positions. Applicants are required to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, at least two years professional level work experience, and you must meet the MSU Graduate School admission requirements. The program requires 30 credits and a comprehensive examination. Program participants complete courses as a cohort. Three core courses are offered in the fall and three core courses are offered in the spring. Supporting courses may be taken in the following terms and semesters. Samples of courses offered include: n Project, Program, and Portfolio Management n Project Communication, Negotiation, and Human Resource Management n Project Planning and Resource Management n Project Cost, Value, and Financial Management n Project Execution, Risk and Quality Management n Project Procurement Management in Public and Private Sectors Students choose 3 courses from a listing of over 40 courses to integrate project management skills in a specific subject area from Architecture; The Arts; Business; City and Regional Planning; Civil Engineering; Industrial Engineering; Information Technology; Science; and Transportation. The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers membership to full time students in degree-granting programs at a college or university that has U.S. accreditation or the global equivalent. A PMI student membership also offers discounts on certifications such as the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), and the Project Management Professional (PMP). Additionally, PMI has held CAPM and PMP preparation courses on the campus of Morgan State University and scheduled to do so in the future.

SPR I NG 2014 | PM

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PM Magazine (Spring 2014)  
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