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Strong communication, planning essential in successful project management, states Girardi

Nathan Medcalf
Strong communication, planning essential in successful project management, states Girardi

It’s tough to manage a multi-million dollar construction project; there are a lot of variables to consider and expectations to manage.

“However, a well-defined project management plan that includes a detailed communication plan and risk management plan is the key to successfully managing a project,” says Graziela Girardi, heavy civil division project manager at R.W. Tomlinson Ltd.

Girardi has been managing construction projects for nearly two decades — first in Brazil, then in Ottawa.

“Managing projects in Brazil is similar to Canada,” says Girardi.

“Except in Canada it is more based on heavy equipment and in Brazil is heavily based on the labour component.”

This spring, Girardi successfully completed managing the largest construction project in her career — the Hwy. 417 rehabilitation project.

This $59-million project included paving 50 kilometres of two-lane highway east of Ottawa, realigning the highway, building two new bridges, rehabilitating two overpasses and installing 200m twin box covers.

Graziela Girardi
Graziela Girardi

“The project management plan defines how the project is executed, monitored and controlled, and closed,” says Girardi.

“The project management plan documents the actions necessary to define, prepare, integrate and coordinate the various planning activities. The plans created during this phase help me to manage time, cost, quality, change, risk and issues.”

The project meant managing several operations simultaneously, including partial depth asphalt removal, cold in-place recycling, placement of Hot Mix asphalt, as well as the construction of five structures

“The key success in managing a job is to keep the project on track,” says Girardi.

“To ensure the project stays on track, it is crucial to review the project progress on a regular basis, daily communication with the team to make sure everyone is kept in the loop; provide frequent status updates and address any problems before they occur. And, last but not least, support and provide direction to the team.”

Due to her experience, Girardi has strong technical and management expertise working with structures and heavy civil projects and is skilled in planning, estimating, scheduling, implementation and budget control from conception to close-out for standard design-bid-build and design-build projects.

To develop a great project management plan, Girardi recommends the following six keys to success:

  • Develop a scope statement and scope baseline. This will help define the project in detail, as well as avoid project creep.
  • Acquire a team and define roles and responsibilities. Understanding what is expected from everyone at the beginning of a project can save a lot of time, missed opportunities and in-fighting
  • Create the work breakdown structure (WBS). This divides the project into its different parts or phases while outlining which crew is responsible for that part.
  • Develop the schedule and cost baselines. Use personal experience, historical data and site information to project a schedule and a budget that supports successful realization of the project.
  • Analyze project quality and risks. Compare the project to previous projects completed and to other similar projects, as well as consider building standards and benchmarks for excellence.
  • Communicate the plan. Hold a kick-off meeting and inform everyone about the plan in detail. The more that gets communicated prior to the shovels breaking ground, the less chance for error and need for clarification.

“Before you start the job, you need to plan,” says Girardi.

“I use the knowledge based on the project management initiative to develop the project’s scope, schedule, cost, communication, risk and more—before starting the work. And then communicate the plan; that way, everybody knows the schedules, approved work methods and other jobsite expectations.”

Having everybody on the same page is the biggest challenge to managing a large construction project admits Girardi.

“What one person does can affect another person working 15 kilometers behind him.

“You have to have one communication point. Communication is key to managing a large job.”

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