I remember the first big client engagement we did at ODIN Technologies. It was exciting because of the real-world scope, and the tension was heightened because it was a classified engagement within the federal government. What I wasn't ready for were all the details involved with getting on-site: when and where we had access, who would bring in what, where things would be shipped, and what seemed like 100 other little details. The project was a big success, despite its multi-frequency, multi-protocol, multi-vendor complexity. Looking back on that blessed day several years ago, I can easily see how much room for improvement there was and how many things we learned.
What I'll share with you now are some of the lessons I've learned over the years in doing scores of projects all around the world.
When you put together your POAM, you need to add in some assumptions-for example, when you can get on-site, who will be arriving, and how long they will stay. This of course is critical on classified facilities, but it is becoming standard practice even in many global corporations operating in this world of heightened security. Logistics and access management are components that many teams do not stress. This ends up causing full team delays that are completely avoidable, and there is nothing worse than having half a dozen guys standing around unproductive for a couple of hours because there are access or logistics problems.
The key is to communicate the logistics are regarding the people and products that need to be in place to execute the necessary tasks. This includes site access, bill of materials delivery, and travel plans. The flow of information goes through the project management office (PMO) to the deployment team, and to on-site point of contacts.
For each site visit-whether for site survey, site prep, or deployment-the PMO office should contact the on-site facilities person and coordinate schedule. The PMO office should follow up with a detailed e-mail that gives the timeline for arrival on-site and shares contact information with all parties involved (particularly if there are subcontractors).
Even the smartest engineers and best equipment can create a failed RFID deployment if the communication strategy is weak. Specifically as an RFID+ engineer, you will need to know about project management and planning for deployments, but doing it right requires having a solid process in place for communication. It is easy to spend a lot of time talking with your client point of contact, but what about the subcontractors who might be putting in electrical outlets, installing bollards, or running Cat 6 cable? These too often go overlooked in the initial project planning and then that omission creates a cascading problem once on-site.
One of the most critical aspects of any subcontracting plan is the communications plan. To aid in communication in the project, you should create a means of simple communication, such as a secure Web-based portal where the team can come together to share knowledge and to access information relevant to the project. This is a good model to follow. There are also a number of tools and techniques that you can apply to ensure a smooth and predictable flow of information that helps keep the project on track. Standard project management and program management models such as the Microsoft Excel- or Project-based POAM and the EasyReader bill of materials can both be easily shared. Training RFID project team members as Six Sigma trainees or in PMI's Project Management Professional program also helps.
A well-defined and established communication plan is critical to managing multiple tasks and subcontractors in a project of this size. You need to create a plan that takes into account all of the key project participants and tasks and use tools to ensure that the overall program stays on track.
At ODIN, we differentiate between the content being communicated, the mechanism for communication, the tools for managing content, and the timing of communication. These factors represent the "what," "how," "where" and "when" of effective communication.
There are four key content areas that will be critical for communication for any successful RFID project:
We will look at these in the following sections.
Project status information is general information that is relevant to all parties engaged in the project. Information elements of project status include the following:
Activity definition and tracking
Weekly project status summaries
Team contact information
Although many project participants contribute to this content, it is the responsibility of the PMO to maintain and communicate to all parties involved. This is particularly important for scope change or timeline adjustments.
Execution coordination is the next critical area of control around communication. With multiple teams and large amounts of equipment shipping to different sites, it becomes even more essential to have detailed coordination pertaining to the logistics of the people and equipment, the access to the facilities, and the deployment specification itself. If any of the execution coordination is misaligned, it can add significant extra travel costs and project delays, so this information must be tracked carefully.
The distribution of execution coordination communications will be based on the events that are taking place. For example, people and equipment logistics information should be posted to the secure project portal I mentioned earlier. It can then be pushed out to the teams at a site level on various sites. Access to the facility will be provided to each team member individually to ensure that they know exactly where they are going, whom they need to meet with, and what kind of security paperwork they may need in order to get access to a site, or where prepackaged equipment needs to be delivered and staged, if that is different from the original delivery spot.
The more secure and larger the company that you are dealing with, the more likely they will require you to adhere to strict procedural standards. General procedure information should be distributed to team members when they first start the project. As part of the on-boarding process, creating a method for training will give information and documentation that can be referred to at a later date. This ensures that new and existing team members will have the tools they need to work effectively within the team.
Of course, as the project grows and new people are added, you should make sure to set up training meetings to introduce the members to the teams, the project methodologies and best practices, and management processes that will be employed. The PMO will maintain procedural information to ensure consistency and make the content available as needed throughout the project.
Finally, a number of artifacts are generated both in the process of a deployment as well as in deliverables for a deployment. An artifact is simply a document or deliverable that is specific to the client. The artifacts are generated on an event basis and may be either simple work-in-process (WIP) artifacts that are made available for the team's use or deliverables that are submitted in fulfillment of required work products. Most of the project artifacts will be developed by the deployment teams and will be used by the teams that are responsible for troubleshooting and maintenance of the RFID network.
Earlier in the chapter, I mentioned subcontractor management as being one of the biggest overlooked facets of a deployment. It's important to ensure that subcontractors are providing the best possible value by checking and measuring performance against defined goals and metrics. There are two pillars to the management of subcontractors:
On-boarding and checkpointing
Quality and conformance control
Each pillar plays an important role when dealing with a diverse team that is composed of different companies and multiple stakeholders.
The on-boarding process begins with initiation and training of the staff that will be joining the team. The goal is to make sure that any members new to the team are fully aware of how you will operate and know the rules of engagement for the project. Each integrator or engineering shop has their own way of doing things, and each project manager may have strengths and weaknesses. Making sure you are aware of those before you manage a subcontractor or look for a subcontractor who can augment the weaknesses is paramount to a successful relationship. On-boarding is usually a three-or four-day process when getting a subcontractor up to speed on how you do RFID.
After the subcontractor is trained, you should create checkpoint reviews after the first site survey and deployment. The checkpoints ensure that the subcontractor is reviewed for performance outside of the site-by-site compliance, and it provides an opportunity to provide feedback from both the subcontractor and from your team. This is why strong project management can have such a positive impact on an RFID deployment's success.
Throughout an RFID project, you have to make sure that there are processes in place to confirm that each task and milestone is completed with the level of quality necessary for the deployment and that each subcontractor is executing in conformance to the specifications. There are three key tools you can use to track quality and conformance:
Infrastructure Analysis Checklist This details all of the elements involved in each deployment. The checklist should go through quality checks on electrical, site prep, network, debris removal, protection placement, and all of the other key elements that go into analyzing and deploying a site.
Quality Assurance Reviews This should be conducted to make sure that each item on the checklist is being executed up to the level that is required and that the equipment functions as expected. These reviews are conducted both randomly and at scheduled intervals. By using this dual approach, quality consistency is assured.
Quality Management Plan This is owned by the PMO. The plan is then tracked during the weekly reviews. The quality management plan includes an overall plan, the tasks to execute the plan, audits and reports that come out of the deployment teams and the Technical Design Review Team, and metrics that are used to measure and report quality.