How Do You Manage a Remediation Project?

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The fundamental elements of managing any project, from building a house to cleaning up an environmentally contaminated factory, are the same: What is the Scope of the project (that is, what do you have to get done?); what is the Schedule (or, how much time do you have to do this work?); and what is the Budget (how much money is there to spend on this work?).

As project manager, you rarely set the Scope. The project owners, clients or agencies, those who are paying for the work or ordering the work, will define this. In the case of a cleanup project, often associated with a Brownfields project, ultimate goals for cleanup are set by law, regulations, and agency-issued guidance, end-use of the site, and by the requirements for protecting human health and the environment. Nonetheless, the Scope can vary even under that over-riding goal, and that Scope is set by the tasks you have to accomplish. Do you dig? or pump water? or install wells for assessment? Obviously, the definition of a Scope demands a finished product at the end: whether a “clean” location, or removal of drums or piles of material, or defining where something (like contamination) can be found. Projects without a good definition of Scope are like trying to knit without knowing what you intend to have at the end: You don’t want to finish with sleeves for a sweater when your goal was a pair of socks.

The tasks within a Scope definition will of course vary. As a simple example, if your Scope is defined as a sub-surface assessment, you will need to figure out where and how deep to install wells, whether you need access from neighbors, which driller has the right drilling equipment and skills, what the hazards are your people will be exposed to and how to protect them, whether or not you can get physical equipment to the locations you want to drill, how you will collect your data and compile it, and whether or not you need to draw conclusions from the work. Each of those tasks will require specialists who form your project team, and their input will also go into defining the list of tasks to accomplish that Scope.

Regulatory and guidance requirements will also add tasks. Site health and safety plans will need to be written and approved, then implemented, as will task-based work plans. Reporting of progress, data and conclusions is often done to a defined schedule, and in the case of a project done under an order to do the work, penalties may be imposed if that schedule isn’t met.

Schedule is often the bane of the project. Those spending money want the minimum amount of work, done quickly, to minimize expenses. Geologists, chemists, and other scientists who will survey and make conclusions on data will always want more data which means more field time, and often want or need more time to develop conclusions. As project manager you are an important part of the group that finds the medium between these two positions. Weather is often a limiter of Schedule, since winter snows and cold and summer heat can be hazardous to field personnel, or make it very difficult to obtain data (as an example, consider the difficulty of taking water samples on a minus 10 degree Minnesota January day). Gaining off-site access can take considerable time when neighbors and their lawyers are difficult to deal with. Getting interim and final reports reviewed, modified, and approved always takes more time than is ideal.

And the Budget is looming over it all. None of us work for free, and equipment, and down-time, is expensive. Clients resist increases of expense, yet change orders always arise, despite your efforts at planning. The crass interest in keeping expenses down is often at odds with a moralistic approach to exactly define and fix an environmental impact. But even on agency-run cleanups, the Budget is paramount. Agency budgets are not unlimited, especially in these rough economic times, and every project, not just yours, is a priority for those who are touched by it. So you must be capable of analysing and forecasting spending and trends and aware of contingencies, because they always arise, and someone will want to know where the money has been and is going, and what they get for the money spent.

Keeping track of all of all of this demands skills not often taught in school. Project management tools will assist, but as project manager you must balance these important elements as much with strong skills for dealing with people as with engineering expertise, since after all, the end-goal of a project is to satisfy the stakeholders.

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