Project Management for Frontline Leaders in Rail

Author: Geoff Smith, Principal Asset Management Specialist - Rail

With the recent announcement from Bluefield AMS of our complementary partnership with Kepner-Tregoe in providing Project Management Training courses with a focus on Project Management in the mining industry, it is also very important to recognise the standing of Project Management within the rail industry.

The levels of Project Management are far reaching. At the upper end of the scale are the Project Managers who are responsible for the delivery of significant projects such as the Inland Rail and Cross River Rail for example. However, Project Management tools and techniques are just as important and useful in assisting Frontline Supervisors in Maintenance and Operational roles and assisting in making the challenges that they face, easier to manage with the Bluefield facilitated Kepner-Tregoe practical and systematic approach.

As the rail industry becomes increasingly more competitive with the outsourcing of once-core maintenance activities, it is vital for the Supervisor to have a good commercial focus and understanding of their team and activities and how they can affect the efficiency of the overall business and add significantly increased value to their customers. Even more important is the ability to be able to review a process by breaking down the steps and evaluating with a view on continual improvements.

Have you ever had a seemingly straightforward task run over time? Do you know the implications to your business and to your customers? Have you ever thought to yourself; Is there any easier way? Where did it all go wrong and why did I miss it? What can I do to make sure it never happens again, to my team or another?

Don’t worry, we have all made similar mistakes. The important thing is to learn and create opportunities.

The reality is if there are additional unaccountable hours or rework due to poor quality, these all add unwanted costs to the task while reducing the value add to the customer and lowering your effectiveness to deliver the schedule consistently. It is therefore very important for a Supervisor to understand and be able to explain and communicate to the team, the relationship between these constraints and how to eliminate any variances to the plan.

Even though you and/or your team may have done the task many times, it is always imperative to define your project; have a plan, know your plan, and communicate your plan. Start off by reviewing the key indicators that are required to be met and that make the project a success. Make sure all stakeholders have the opportunity to have buy in into the project. Have your plan broken down into logical steps and highlight points in time where a critical decision or action needs to be undertaken and intermediate targets that are met are showing that the plan is on track.

Next, the project planning phase is where you have all the work packages mapped out with tasks having allocated resources and that these allocated resources have clear responsibilities. The work packages need to align and flow with a clear path that leads to the most critical tasks being monitored to ensure milestones are met. These milestones are flagged as the important points within the project that if they are not achieved, can impact on other tasks, and potentially derail your ability to meet expectations.

Are there times when you need additional staff, staff with specific skills, or when surplus staff can be put onto another project? Are your materials on site or confirmed for delivery before they are required? Have you completed a risk assessment and identified how to manage risks and have controls in place to minimise any disruptions?

As you get set to start the project execution you need to ensure that you have the deliverables of the project set in stone. What needs to be done, how it should be done, who needs to work on it, and when it needs to be complete by. Once you are confident that the plan is locked in you need to have a kick-off meeting with your team where you can assign resources and tasks, ensure your team fully understand their responsibilities and have all of the important information related to the project and their role. It is vital that your team understands exactly what the project is and how important their involvement is in ensuring success for the whole and broader team.

The performance and control of your project management occurs from the time the project starts and right through to completion. Monitoring the project serves as a method to measure and compare the status of the project compared to the original plan. As targets are hit, so too does the confidence in a successful outcome grow, however if things aren’t running smoothly it is your role as the Supervisor to show leadership and courage to pull the pieces back together. This is where your communication skills are invaluable as you need to be regularly talking to everyone involved with the project and ensuring that all is running smoothly and that any potential issues are resolved immediately.

The final phase is that of the project’s close. This is where all tasks are complete, and the desired outcome achieved. Keep in mind though that the project is not complete until all the housekeeping is done. Clean the work area, despatch components that need to be refurbished and all work orders are checked for accuracy and completeness and then closed out.

When this is done it is time to evaluate how the project was executed. Compare the initial plan and goals with the actual outcome including the project costs, time, and quality and what was achieved. The ideal outcome was for the project to have been completed ahead of schedule, within or below budget, to a high standard of quality and accuracy, and with limited issues.

Project management in your role as a supervisor is the key to sticking to your budget and deadline, whilst keeping the most important tasks at the forefront of your company.

So, if you were waiting for the perfect time to advance your Project Management or Supervisor skills and to make your contribution to creating an efficient and focussed team culture, seize this opportunity. The time is now.