Delivering an Increasing Project Workload with Limited Resources

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Chuck Gilman

Program Manager

A version of this article originally appeared in the June issue of the Texas Municipal League’s Texas Town & City magazine, page 19.

Cities and counties face increasing pressure to complete infrastructure improvements — road repairs, new parks, underground utility extensions. Meanwhile, cities often are just trying to keep basic services running day-to-day without interruption.

How can agencies with limited resources give adequate attention to all their responsibilities?

How do you balance regular operations and maintenance with successful and timely completion of capital improvements and bond projects?

Supplementing your workforce with outside staff dedicated to completing specific programs can offer a workable, scalable and affordable solution. This approach can be tailored in multiple ways, depending on community needs. And it offers the dual benefits of having an experienced team focus on project delivery and public engagement while also fitting within a fiscally conservative budget.

Why Are Workloads Increasing?

In growing areas, infrastructure must keep up with demand for services: New residential and business developments need additional water and wastewater services, roads and transit systems, utilities and more.

In older communities, aging infrastructure requires repair and replacement, especially where deferred maintenance has led to acute deterioration.

Local voters might have approved a large bond program to address the needs, but staffing these can quickly feel overwhelming. There might not be enough staff to handle the planning, community engagement and delivery of new projects, either because of recent turnover, budget-driven low staffing levels or the imperative to focus on basic services.

What Level of Support Do You Need?

Hiring more full-time staff can take time, be expensive and not fit within available funding. But creative staffing alternatives provide flexibility: additional part-time staff for limited-time or open-ended assignments; technical experts to handle specific duties; or a team to take on full program management for particular projects.

Here are some support configurations:

Project Delivery

You might need outside professionals to serve as an extension of your project team, providing short-term or long-term assistance. They could bring technical expertise your staff doesn’t currently have, expand the current team to share tasks, or fill key vacancies to keep projects moving.

Staff augmentation could cover a variety of areas, including:

  • Project Management
  • Project Controls: Scheduling, data management and cost control
  • On-Call Design
  • Construction Management
  • Design Review

For instance, a mid-sized city might retain a full-time construction inspector for a large-scale expansion to their wastewater treatment plant rather than consuming their current inspection staff with this one project. A different city might enlist a part-time project manager to focus on delivering a neighborhood utility rehabilitation project.

Project Planning

An outside professional can guide your team in planning for multiple projects:

  • Identifying and Prioritizing Community Needs
  • Assisting with Budget Development
  • Educating the Public on Each Important Project
  • Helping Structure a Capital Improvement Program
  • Guiding Development of a Bond Election for Voter Approval

Program Management

This might be the solution when you prefer to designate an outside professional to oversee all aspects of a large undertaking or a series of related projects. The program manager would be responsible for a broad range of tasks to ensure the timely delivery of all the projects in the program:

  • Project Management Oversight
  • Design Management and Review
  • Bid Phase Assistance
  • Construction Phase Assistance

Cities and counties typically have a baseline workload of design and construction projects intended to either replace aging infrastructure or add new infrastructure to meet a growing population’s demand for services. In some cases, the planning, oversight and management of more voter-approved bond projects is simply too much for a limited staff that already has a portfolio of projects. Hiring a program manager for the newer set of bond projects allows staff to focus on current projects.

Public Engagement/Community Relations

Public involvement and support can be essential to a successful capital improvement program, but most cities don’t maintain a large communication staff. An experienced outside team can:

  • Coordinate Public Meetings
  • Develop Tools to Keep Residents and Stakeholders Informed
  • Be Responsible for Maps, Graphics and Website
  • Handle Social Media and Other Communication Channels

What Do-It-Yourself Tools Can You Tap?

Even with enough staff, you might rely on old or unwieldy processes. Streamlining or updating them could improve in-house project management and delivery. This is where a consultant could help with a variety of customized resources:

  • Project Management Toolkit: Checklists and templates to complement your existing process and ensure consistency and appropriate documentation
  • Construction Management and Inspection Toolkit
  • Program Management Information System
  • Project Delivery Manual
  • Project Management Training
  • Public Engagement and Community Involvement Plan: Steps for your staff to implement

How Freese and Nichols Can Help You

We’ve managed billions of dollars of programs and construction projects, from airports to reservoirs, countywide roadway programs to energy facilities.

We know that every organization is different, so our program managers customize solutions according to your goals and needs, and we work hard to make sure every dollar is spent wisely.

We integrate with your staff and can help organize your multiple and concurrent efforts; assess risk; leverage funding options; navigate regulatory requirements; scale available resources appropriately; manage stakeholders and contractors; and expedite project timelines.

Chuck Gilman,, 713-600-6829

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Chuck Gilman, PE, PMP, is a Program Manager in Houston. He has served as Public Works Director and Director of Capital Projects for a midsize city in Texas.