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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 68 · No. 1 > A Well-Conceived Plan Will Pull It All Together

Jul/Aug 2004
Vol. 68 · No. 1

A Well-Conceived Plan Will Pull It All Together

by J. Richard Capka

A successful billion-dollar journey starts and finishes with a roadmap.

Illustration of people looking at a blueprint.I had an opportunity to travel through North and South Dakota last fall, visiting sites and tracing some of the steps that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had made 200 years ago. It struck me that the preparation requirements that preceded that adventure must have been quite similar to those that precede today's transportation megaprojects.

On February 28, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson won approval from the U.S. Congress to fund a small expeditionary group led by Lewis and Clark to explore the uncharted western United States. President Jefferson's goals for the expedition were many: to identify an overland passage to the northwest coast, to survey water routes on the Missouri and Columbia Rivers, to prepare Native Americans for the coming of traders, and to establish intertribal peace to the extent possible. It was a tall order, indeed, with many high expectations.

Over the next 4 years, Lewis and Clark's expedition would travel thousands of miles and come across lands, rivers, and peoples that no one on their expedition had ever experienced before. Their "undaunted courage" and their monumental journey ultimately opened the door to the westward expansion of the United States.

For many of us who manage today's transportation programs, megaprojects can be Lewis-and-Clark-like journeys into the unknown—something that we have never personally attempted previously. Megaprojects require not only a great deal of management courage but also well-conceived plans to define the objectives, shape the preparations, and ensure successful execution. Managing a megaproject is more than managing a major construction effort. It is also managing a public journey. Lessons learned from experiences on megaprojects over the past decade have shown that a hallmark of successful projects is a comprehensive project management plan that serves as a roadmap for the long journey ahead, from start to finish. This roadmap will be key to ensuring a quality product that is delivered safely, on time, within budget, and in a manner that meets or exceeds everyone's expectations.

Establishing a Game Plan

Project management plans are certainly nothing new. The Great Pyramids of Egypt likely benefited from project management plans. Lewis and Clark had a plan before they set out. They had a mission statement, knew where they were headed, had a budget and timeframe, and assembled a team with assigned responsibilities. They took great care both to anticipate their requirements along the journey and to account for the uncertainties that they would surely encounter.

The project management plan provides the guiding philosophies and management strategies for the project, serving as a comprehensive game plan approved by all key project decisionmakers and stakeholders. The project management plan is like an umbrella document under which all of the various supporting documents and planning components fall. Those supporting components capture key decisions, define strategies, and lay out the planning activities that are essential to managing all of the project's parts successfully. (See "Evaluating Your Plan: Asking the Right Questions".)

Several aspects of project management planning deserve special attention in a megaproject environment. Some issues that warrant particular emphasis include the following: adequacy of financial resources; effective integration of public-private sector management; a comprehensive project acquisition (procurement) strategy; identification and mitigation of project risk; and special, focused attention on achieving the ultimate success ensuring public trust and confidence.

This aerial photo shows two of the existing highway bridges (background) and a defunct railroad bridge (foreground).
Two new bridges will be built across the Ohio River near Louisville, KY, as part of the recently initiated Louisville-Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges Project. A cooperative effort between two States, the project requires a comprehensive management plan to coordinate resources and decision-making. This aerial photo shows two of the existing highway bridges (background) and a defunct railroad bridge (foreground).

Adequate Cash Flow and Financial Plans

Congress originally appropriated a total of $2,500 to fund the Lewis and Clark expedition. The final cost would eventually reach $38,000. Today, challenges to forecast costs accurately and to ensure adequate program funding continue to be major sources of concern. Megaprojects often demand a very significant proportion of a State's overall highway program and can have a considerable impact on the State's budget and bond ratings. Getting the financing right is absolutely crucial.

The project management plan's supporting financial plan will ensure that adequate funding requirements for the project are both identified and will be made available as required by the approved project schedule. Of course, accurately estimating the total funding requirement for a megaproject using year-of-expenditure dollars is a vital first step in developing a solid financial plan. (See "Accounting for Megaproject Dollars".) The estimate and optimum project schedule will provide the basis for determining adequate funding cash flow. Contingencies should be considered to ensure that unexpected occurrences do not undermine the project's financial health.

Synchronizing cash flow with the project schedule demand is much more of a significant consideration on megaprojects than it is on smaller infrastructure projects. Experience on a number of megaprojects at the Federal, State, and local levels has revealed that assumptions concerning the sources of required funding have often proven to be too optimistic. Starting the construction of a project under unrealistic and unachievable funding assumptions can lead to a future financial crisis and expensive delays. "Work-it-out-as-you-go-along" financing is certainly not the answer.

Pulling a financial plan together can be quite complex and often requires special skills. Funding sources may be varied and include both public and private sector sources that may have special restrictions on how they may be used. Large projects may likely require some form of borrowing that will be based on forecasted revenue streams. The various sources of funds must be integrated into an effective plan to support an optimum construction schedule. Innovative but complicated financing strategies are often necessary, and they require considerable skill to assemble and execute.

Evaluating Your Plan: Asking the Right Questions

The overarching purpose of a project management plan is to ensure that the project is aligned for success. A good plan is a product of asking the right questions about the task at hand. The following questions represent a good place to start when evaluating a plan.

  • What is the purpose of the project?
    • Has the purpose remained consistent?
    • Have any changes been tracked?

  • Is there a clear, consistent description of what is to be accomplished?
    • Is the project description easily understood?
      • Scope, commitments, and public expectations?
    • Are there other objectives unrelated to the asphalt, concrete, and steel?
      • Social and community objectives?
    • Have there been any changes . . . have they been tracked?

  • Is there a clear, consistent definition of success?
    • Is public trust and confidence a clear objective?
    • Is the estimate valid and achievable?
    • Is the schedule valid and achievable?
    • Is there general agreement about what defines success?
    • Are metrics adequate to measure and track progress toward success?

  • Is there a clear, consistent understanding about the project execution strategy?
    • Are there project "pulse points" that will be key to management decisions?
      • How important is maintaining the schedule?
      • Is project cost more important than the schedule?
    • Has risk been assessed?
      • Are there contingencies and a strategy to manage risk?
      • How will the project contingencies be managed?
    • Can the strategy adapt to change . . . technological and scope?
      • How often is the plan reviewed and updated?
    • Is there an acquisition (procurement) strategy to execute the project efficiently?
      • Right-of-way
      • Design and construction
      • Labor
      • Insurance: workers compensation and general liability
    • Is there a clear description of how dispute resolutions will be worked out?
    • Is there a plan to mitigate adverse impacts during construction?
      • Traffic, abutter quality of life, and commerce?

  • Is there a clearly defined and appropriate management organization?
    • Are roles and responsibilities clearly delineated?
      • Are authority thresholds clear and reasonable?
      • Public and private sector?
    • Does it facilitate efficient and timely decisionmaking?
    • Is it tailored to the work schedule?

  • Are the resources adequate and available to execute the project as scheduled?
    • Is there an approved financial plan?

  • Are the controls adequate to keep track of the status of the project, including cost, schedule, scope, quality, safety, and security, in order for management to make timely and effective decisions?
    • Value engineering
    • Meetings, reports, and reviews . . . content, frequency, and distribution
    • Claims and change management

  • Is there an oversight plan that provides management with an objective, separate, and periodic review of project progress?
    • Do the public oversight agencies have a defined and integrated role?
    • Are adequate checks and balances in place?

  • Is there a communications plan to keep public and stakeholder awareness and expectations current and accurate?

  • Is there a plan to close out the project?
    • What skills are required of the management team to close contracts?
      • Litigation?

  • How will institutional memory be maintained?

  • Is there a transition or commissioning plan to move the project from construction to operations?
    • Are roles, responsibilities, and expectations clearly defined?

  • Is there a signed agreement among principals that confirms the charted course for project management?
    • Are the required multistate/multijurisdictional agreements in place?
    • Are elected and other public officials included in deliberations?

  • Is there an effective way of tracking commitments and promises?

 

"It's clear that the project's financial plan provides a framework for maintaining public trust and confidence in a vital area—managing public resources," says John Broadhurst, financial specialist with the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Major Projects Team.

As true for the project management plan itself, each financial plan will be tailored to the needs of the individual megaproject. The major elements include: total cost estimate, implementation plan (including schedule), financing and revenues, cash flow analysis, and an accounting of risk.

(The financial plan, a component of the overall project management plan, is worth special note since there is a statutory requirement to develop one for major projects. Special guidance developed by FHWA is available at www.fhwa.dot.gov/programadmin/contracts/fpgatt.cfm.)

Bridge being demolished.
Originally built in the 1950s, this bridge is being demolished and rebuilt to accommodate the widening of I-25 in Denver, CO. Because of good project management and planning, crews needed only two overnight sessions to tear down the structure.

Acquisition Strategy

Special attention should be given to converting the complicated megaproject requirement into a manageable series of contract activities that the private construction sector can deliver efficiently. Managers should be willing to explore unconventional or unfamiliar methods of contracting and carefully plan the allocation of risk with the private sector when determining how work will be assigned to the contract construction industry. A single megaproject might integrate a number of separate, large contracts using a variety of contracting tools in order to craft the optimum procurement solution. (See "Breaking from Tradition".)

There are certain advantages to minimizing the number of prime contracts to be managed by the project management team. The degree of risk assumed by the management team is directly proportional to the number of contracts to be managed. However, as with the Central Artery/Tunnel Project in Boston or the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project near Washington, DC, the mere size of the project might demand awarding numerous large contracts rather than just one megacontract. In cases like these, it is vital that the public sector management team understands and accounts for the additional risk associated with owning and managing complex contract interfaces.

"A megaproject can require the concurrent management of numerous very large and complicated construction contracts," says John Gerner, former project manager with the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project. "Effectively managing the various contract interfaces is crucial to keeping the project on schedule and within budget. The effect of delays on one contract can quickly multiply and ripple through the entire project, creating much more complex and costly problems to resolve as time goes on."

The project management plan, therefore, needs to account for the changed management dynamic and its inherent risks. The plan also needs to provide a strategy that focuses on assessing the impacts of delay and resolving those impacts effectively. Finally, other significant objectives, such as small and disadvantaged business involvement, labor dynamics, and project management flexibility, will require a well-thought-out acquisition strategy.

Risk Management Strategy

To cover their risks, Lewis and Clark recognized that they had to be trained and equipped to handle a broad array of unexpected encounters. In the spring of 1803, Lewis went to Philadelphia, PA, for instruction in botany, zoology, celestial navigation, and medicine from the Nation's leading scientists. He wrote list after list of provisions he would need, which included guns, ammunition, medical supplies, presents for the Native Americans, scientific instruments, clothing, and camp supplies.

The project management plan must account for how the management team will deal with the inevitable risks associated with large projects. How valid will all of the planning assumptions remain throughout the project's protracted lifetime? How many new requirements or surprises will surface after the project begins?

Major projects undoubtedly will present challenges that cannot be quantified or even forecasted in the traditional sense. But effectively managing the unexpected events, or uncertainty, will play a significant role in the successful outcome of the project. The management team must employ a disciplined and deliberate approach to identify, mitigate, and resolve the effects of unexpected events. (See "Reducing Uncertainty".)

According to Jim Ruddell, construction manager for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project, a number of factors make the Woodrow Wilson Bridge an especially big technical challenge. "The Woodrow Wilson Bridge is the only bridge in the United States owned by FHWA," he says. "The project involves the second largest soil-cement stabilization effort on the East coast [behind the Central Artery/Tunnel Project in Boston, MA]. In addition, the bridge crosses a national park [the Jones Point Park in Alexandria, VA] and passes through the habitat of endangered species [the short-nosed sturgeon and bald eagle]. Lastly, the milestone that takes traffic off of the existing bridge in 2006 requires six contractors, each with contracts valued at $50 million or more, to meet a common 6-week window. Writing the special provisions to manage and coordinate the effort has been one of the greatest challenges."

Sea of cranes fills the skyline near the construction site for the I­90 tunnel on Boston's Big Dig.
A sea of cranes fills the skyline near the construction site for the I-90 tunnel on Boston's Big Dig, shown here at the Fort Point Channel in the late 1990s. With so many contractors working next to each other, ensuring that each adhered to its plans and schedules was critical to avoiding delays, which in return saves taxpayer dollars and minimizes construction time.

Integrating the Management Team

Lewis and Clark could not have been successful had they not been able to take advantage of and integrate into their team the skills and talents of the individuals and communities that they encountered along their journey.

The project management plan should provide a clear description of the project management team's composition and organization, and how it will conduct business. Roles and responsibilities need to be easily understood. Large projects, more often than not, will require the skills and talents of the private sector to augment those in the public sector's management organization. The plan should describe how those skills will be integrated to provide management with efficient decisionmaking while ensuring that public oversight is—and is perceived to be—appropriate and effective.

Because major projects commonly include multiple States, it is important to have a common plan that crosses multijurisdictional boundaries. In these cases, the plans should describe how the two or more States will synchronize their management, financial, and oversight activities to avoid inherent complications.

Effectively integrating the necessary talent into an efficient management team is vital to the success of the project. "One of the benefits of a project management plan is that it organizes the project team to deliver the objectives of the project in an efficient way," Ruddell says. "Our goal was to have a plan that outlined the schedules, budget, processes, and organization of the project. We have four agencies involved—FHWA and the DOTs from Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC—and 180 consultants and 20 agency staff to oversee 27 separate construction contracts concurrently. It was very important for us to define the roles and responsibilities at an early stage to establish an organization that was functional and effective in keeping all the parts well oiled and running smoothly."

Case Study: New Ohio River Crossings at Louisville

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) and the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) initiated a project to build two new bridges over the Ohio River: one from downtown Louisville and the other a downtown bypass on the east side of the city. In September 2003, FHWA issued the record of decision (ROD), the final step in the project's environmental review process, which represents FHWA's final decision on what and where to build, based on recommendations from KYTC and INDOT.

Early design concept shows one of the new bridges that would link eastern Louisville, KY, and Clark County, IN.
Developing a project management plan helped to identify which agency would be responsible for archaeological reconnaissance and procuring the easement and permits for the Ohio River Bridges Project. This early design concept shows one of the new bridges that would link eastern Louisville, KY, and Clark County, IN.

In addition to the two new bridges, the project will rebuild the Kennedy Interchange where I-65, I-71, and I-64 converge at the base of the Kennedy Bridge (I-65), a tangle of mainlines and ramps locally known as the Spaghetti Junction. With a total cost of $1.9 billion (2003 dollars) and a final expenditure estimated at $2.4 billion, the project clearly qualifies as a megaproject. In addition to the price tag, the bridges feature other hallmarks of a major project as well. It is a very complex undertaking that will have a significant impact on the communities in Kentucky and Indiana. The scheduled completion dates, for example, are projected for 2014 for the Eastern Bridge and 2020 for the Downtown Bridge—nearly three decades after initial planning. And the public has been and will continue to be intimately involved.

In summer 2003, KYTC and INDOT, with assistance from FHWA, developed a project management plan that could serve as a template for megaprojects in other States. "The project management plan becomes particularly important when dealing with more than one entity because it helps everyone understand his or her roles and prerogatives," says William Gulick, assistant State highway engineer with KYTC.

"It was an incredibly beneficial process," says Larry Heil, P.E., FHWA's interim project manager for the Ohio River Bridges Project. "Light bulbs were going off left and right as the States identified how to manage a number of very important aspects of the project."

Interstate Coordination and Collaboration. In the process of developing the project management plan, KYTC and INDOT established a solid and tailored framework for managing many key and unique aspects of the project, including historical preservation, baseline data, utility relocation, and communications.

The project management plan afforded an opportunity for the two States to identify and reconcile differing State practices. Kentucky and Indiana each use different grid systems for surveying. While developing the project management plan, the States decided which baseline they would use for the project and how controls would be established. This step was critical, considering that in addition to the general engineering consultant, six segment design consultants and an even larger number of contractors will rely on the baseline survey data.

The plan also can help synchronize State budgets and the contracting and decisionmaking processes. "With a management plan, multiple parties can commit more precisely in writing, knowing what the variables are," Gulick says. "If I go to another division in my agency, whether it's accounting or the permitting division, with a management plan signed by two States and FHWA, that opens doors to getting things done. The plan provides leverage and essential clout to the team trying to execute the project."

Environmental Issues. A number of important archaeological sites and historic structures exist within the proposed project area. Louisville was founded in 1778, and Native Americans had settled along the Ohio River for centuries before that. During the planning process, the States made several commitments to preserve the historic cultural resources in the area. The process of developing the project management plan enabled the team to identify who would be responsible for the archaeological reconnaissance and procuring the easement. Furthermore, the team identified who would obtain the many permits for the project.

Public Processes. The project lies within the jurisdictions of two States, with stakeholders in three counties and five cities. Historic preservation groups, environmental groups, and the public have been involved since the beginning. KYTC and INDOT recognize the critical importance of consulting with stakeholders, so communications management comprises an entire chapter in the project management plan.

Engineering and Construction Issues. Utility location and relocation was another key issue. The team decided that the general engineering consultant would identify the overall utility relocation plan and what that would entail. The segment design consultants would develop the detailed plans, so the scopes of work for the individual contracts will be fashioned accordingly.

The team held extensive discussions on selecting the type of bridge, weighing the options of a design contest versus a set of designs devised by consultants. Team members also considered the merits of different approaches used by State DOTs around the country to select a bridge type. Considering the strong current of the Ohio River, navigability requirements, and public sentiment, the team decided to allow the general engineering consultant to narrow the field of possibilities and then involve a larger group of stakeholders to define the type and style.

Management Issues. FHWA encourages States to use earned value management to track the progress of the project in terms of schedule, budget, and work completed. Earned value management is a technique in which the anticipated resources for a project (for example, labor, equipment, and materials) are linked to the schedule. All work is planned, budgeted, and scheduled in time-phased increments. The project schedule and expenditures then are reported and tracked against these planned increments. Neither KYTC nor INDOT have used earned value management in the past, primarily because their projects were too small to warrant the effort. This project will be the first time that both States will use this innovative approach to managing the budget and schedule.

Aerial schematic of tunnel.
A tunnel, shown in an aerial schematic (above) and in an artist's rendering (below), will carry traffic beneath the 22-hectare (55-acre) Drumanard property, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While constructing the new bridges near Louisville, KYTC and INDOT will use the context-sensitive design approach to minimize impacts on the many historic structures and archaeological sites in the project area.
Artist's rendering of roadway under history Drumanard property.

The team also established the overall accounting framework for the project, establishing requirements for the level of detail for the general engineering consultant, segment design consultants, and contractors regarding work breakdown structures, and scheduling and reporting requirements. Consultants and contractors will be required to develop their own "project operations plans," which will add even more detail to the management and accountability aspects of individual pieces of the project.

According to Chris Baynes, manager of the project management section at INDOT, the plan will encourage all parties involved to take ownership of the project. "The plan will help the people working on the project realize how important they are and where their roles fit into the overall project," she says. "Staff members need to understand that historic resources and utilities are not afterthoughts but instead are integral parts of the project. To complete a project of this size will take all the pieces coming together. And the more people who are aware of the full plan, the more efficient we are [as a group]."

An Invaluable Process. The process of developing a project management plan highlighted the full range of issues that had to be addressed and focused the attention of both States on assessing and identifying mutually acceptable planning solutions. The process of talking through the issues enabled the team to sort out who does what, when, and under what parameters. In all, developing the project management plan, including the new template, for the Ohio River Bridges Project took several months of meetings and discussions.

"An effective plan needs to address all situations and scenarios, including the standard practices," KYTC's Gulick says. "But it also needs to emphasize the unique or exceptional efforts and the creative strategies that will be employed to address problems. In addition, the plan must be agreed upon at the absolute top levels, or it won't have any teeth when it gets down to the people responsible for implementing the plan."

The team recognized the importance of developing a cost estimate that would stand up to the test of time and explored adjustments to the estimating process to account for the uncertainties that surely lie ahead.

FHWA's Larry Heil is quick to point out that the project management plan itself will be used extensively throughout the project; other team members echoed this attitude toward the value of the planning process.

"What is remarkable is that there is definitely a team approach," Baynes says. "I'm quite impressed that we have been able to discuss issues without regard for which side of the river they concern. It would be easy to fall into the mind frame of saying, 'That's a Kentucky issue' or 'That's an Indiana issue.' But this is one great big project, and we are one great big team."

Public Trust and Confidence

Lewis and Clark departed Camp Dubois (near St. Louis, MO) for the great unknown on May 14, 1804, but few Americans knew about the expedition until its triumphant return on September 23, 1807.

Today's transportation megaprojects, on the other hand, are conducted under intense public scrutiny. Unlike Lewis and Clark, who had to meet one person's expectations—President Jefferson—project managers of today must satisfy a variety of officials, stakeholders, and representatives of public interests. The projects are highly visible and inherently risky, require significant investment, take a number of years to complete, and often attract regional, if not national, attention. Megaprojects generate high expectations from the public, and management decisions are routinely subjected to critical second-guessing by onlookers. Achieving success under these conditions is a monumental task that cannot be left to chance. The project management plan needs to integrate the objective of building and maintaining public trust and confidence into its roadmap.

"Each project has different areas of emphasis," Ruddell says. "In ours, safety was a major priority, as was integrating the multiple contracts involved in construction of the corridor and taking into consideration the impact on the community. Specifically, we are focusing on timely completion of our construction contracts within budget, which builds public confidence for the prudent use of tax dollars. In addition, we have gone to great lengths to reach out to the public and establish working relationships with stakeholders. Through these relationships, we gather input for construction operations that consider community concerns. During construction, we engage our stakeholders to provide feedback and make adjustments to the extent that we can."

10-lane-wide, cable-stayed bridge, shown here under construction.
This 10-lane-wide, cable-stayed bridge, shown here under construction, now carries I-93 traffic over the Charles River in Boston, MA. Prior to opening the bridge to traffic, the project team hosted an official dedication ceremony that enabled the public to walk across the bridge. The ceremony attracted nearly 1 million sightseers and represented a valuable aspect of building public trust in the project.

Traditional definitions of project success should be recalibrated. In the past, the success of a construction project was defined in terms of safely delivering a quality product, on schedule and within budget. However, with a much more informed and participating public, it has become clear that the definition of project success must be expanded. Transportation agencies now understand that success requires a new, intense focus on maintaining public trust and confidence throughout the life of a project, from its inception through completion. In fact, public trust and confidence may be the most important measure of success for any major project. This is why the traditional purpose and use of a project management plan must be adjusted when undertaking a megaproject.

The management plan needs to provide a clear project objective and strategy to achieve public trust and confidence. Maintaining public trust and confidence involves clear, unambiguous, and effective communications. The management team must be able to manage the megaproject as if in a "fishbowl," where all decisions are visible to the public, and have a plan that reflects that philosophy. Project owners need to manage the public's understanding of and expectations regarding the purpose and scope, required funding and schedule, and any risks or collateral impacts. The plan needs to define and track an accepted set of metrics against which all parties will measure success and facilitate effective communication to keep the public apprised of any changes to established expectations. The plan should truly guide the management of the public's journey.

Providing Continuity

Developing and delivering a megaproject is a protracted process. Key players, the environment surrounding the project, and public priorities may change several times during the project's development, yet the project must be managed with a consistent philosophy and set of rules. Without consistency in the project objectives, management philosophy, and management strategy, confusion and inefficiency will ensue. Inconsistency will ultimately result in added cost to the public in terms of money, time, and frustration.

Every transportation infrastructure project moves through a continuum of phases: planning, environmental review, design, construction, and operations. Important factors are identified and key decisions are made during each phase that must be carried through to the subsequent phases. Although the plan will necessarily evolve, adapt, and expand as the project moves from one phase to the next, care should be taken not to lose key information at phase transitions to avoid confusion when trying to define project success. An initial project management plan should be developed early in the planning process to ensure that such information is not lost and to guide subsequent activities and decisionmaking. The project management plan provides a means through which owners can achieve and sustain project continuity.

Complex Kennedy Interchange, where Interstates 64, 65, and 71 converge in downtown Louisville, KY.
The complex Kennedy Interchange, where Interstates 64, 65, and 71 converge in downtown Louisville, KY, is known locally as "Spaghetti Junction" (above). As part of the Louisville-Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges Project, the interchange is to be reconfigured and moved to the south. An illustration (below) shows a redesign concept that will eliminate tight weaves and curves, resulting in safety improvements, more land near the river for public use, and better traffic flow, particularly during peak hours.
Illustration shows a redesign concept that will eliminate tight weaves and curves.

Aligning Support

A successful megaproject leadership team involves a synchronized combination of project managers and proponents. The project management plan, itself, must have the support and concurrence of all key officials and decisionmakers in order to ensure that the management philosophies and strategies reflect a common expectation from both those who are responsible for oversight and those will be responsible for day-to-day management. The entire team should agree on what is to be accomplished and how success will be measured and reported. All key officials need to take ownership of plan, and periodic reaffirmations are crucial to maintaining effective and consistent leadership direction, since officials and managers will most likely change during project delivery.

Capturing Lessons Learned

The process of developing a well-conceived project management plan provides an excellent and disciplined opportunity to capture, assess, and integrate previous lessons learned into the management of subsequent major projects. Developing a project management plan helps managers anticipate challenges and devise plans to address them adequately. A good project management plan will align leadership and stakeholder expectations and energies at the earliest stages by establishing the philosophy, strategies, tactics, and metrics by which the project will be managed and the progress measured.

The plan is a journey of exploration in itself and will most certainly yield a solid roadmap to success, from defining what needs to be done and thinking through the stages of project delivery to searching through the experiences of others, identifying what will be important to project success, and designing a tailored team and set of business processes to execute the project. (See "Case Study: New Ohio River Crossings at Louisville".)

Developing a Template For Success

Although megaprojects present unique challenges and requirements, transportation agencies stand to gain from the established base of previous project experience. FHWA sees great value in leveraging its national perspective to assist States in considering key project elements based on lessons learned from previous projects.

One way that FHWA can help is by developing a draft project management plan, or template, that State departments of transportation (DOTs) can use as a guide to create their own specific plans. Rather than prescribe a cookie-cutter requirement for managing projects, the template would serve as a guide to assist DOTs through the thinking involved and stimulate management's deliberations in preparation for the project. As a result, the States will be in a position to produce high-quality, detailed plans that are clearly and adequately tailored to their specific project requirements.

Removal of old lanes of I­25 in Denver.
Collaboration among team members is critical in a design-build environment. T-REX developed a comprehensive partnering process to ensure that tasks, such as removing old lanes of I-25 in Denver (shown here), were completed in a timely manner.

A Living Document

The project management plan is a living document. Although it imparts consistency of objective and management philosophy, the plan that is developed early in the project development continuum will necessarily evolve to look quite different from that which is used to guide construction. In addition to the change in focus from planning-related activities to design- and construction-related activities, during the protracted life of a megaproject, early planning assumptions might prove to be inaccurate or technologies, techniques, and standard practices might change. The plan needs to be flexible enough to adapt when change requires. And project owners should periodically review and update the plan to ensure that it remains relevant and useful.

Stewardship for Tomorrow's Journeys

The quality of an executed mission is directly correlated to the quality of the mission planning. If Lewis and Clark were to have set out for a second adventure along the same route, they certainly would have been in a much better position to forecast their needs. The new plan would have been more specific and efficient, with much less left to chance. Consequently, the team would be much more comfortable about its expectations for the successful journey ahead.

However, if two other explorers, Jones and Smith, were to have set out for a journey along the same route, would they not be better off if they could tap into the experiences of Lewis and Clark? Armed with knowledge gained from the experiences of the explorers who had gone before them, Jones and Smith could set out with a level of comfort that their challenges were adequately identified and that their planning would lead to success.

Megaprojects are no different. Like Lewis and Clark, few megaproject teams have had previous experience with such large projects, and few will have the opportunity for a repeat performance. Not every State DOT is challenged with a megaproject on a regular basis, as these large projects normally emerge in different parts of the country and are managed by new teams without the advantage of previous experience. Successful outcomes demand filling those gaps in experience. The process of developing a project management plan based on others' past experiences can fill those gaps.

As transportation agencies undertake more and more megaprojects, the FHWA template and the process of developing the project management plan will capture an ever-increasing institutional body of knowledge that will enable managers to become more effective stewards and wise investors of the public wealth. Together, we can deliver successful megaprojects on a routine basis.


FHWA Deputy Administrator J. Richard Capka is responsible for shaping the management of highway megaprojects across the country and developing other FHWA programs and initiatives. Prior to joining FHWA in August 2002, Capka served as chief executive officer/executive director of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, where he directed the oversight of the $14.6 billion Central Artery/Tunnel Project in Boston. Capka is a West Point graduate and retired as a U.S. Army Brigadier General after a 29-year military career in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He holds a master's degree in engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master's in business administration from Chaminade University, Honolulu.

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