By Col. Mike Myers, P.E., PgMP, CCP, M.SAME, USAF (Ret.), and Lt. Col. Chris Knutson, CEng, P.E., PgMP, F.SAME, USAF (Ret.)
Early in 2019, crews began demolishing buildings at RAF Lakenheath in England, beginning preparations for follow-on construction work to support two U.S. F-35A Lightning II fifth generation fighter squadrons.
The ongoing $482 million beddown, one of the largest engineering programs undertaken by the U.S. Air Force, has produced significant insights for successfully planning and executing major infrastructure programs for the Department of Defense.
RAF Lakenheath was named the first U.S. European beddown location for the F-35A in December 2015. The 48th Fighter Wing—the installation management executive for the beddown—began planning a construction program that included 20 MILCON projects and 10 facility, sustainment, restoration, and modernization projects. The program team initially consisted of the 48th Fighter Wing, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center as MILCON agent, and the U.K. Defence Infrastructure Organization as procurement executive.
The 48th quickly realized the team would need additional staff to manage program delivery.
In 2017, the wing increased program management capacity by recruiting military and government civilian over-hires and procuring a manning assistance contract. Then in June 2018, the wing established a program management office (PMO), which evolved over the next year to increase planning capacity, accommodate the increased intensity of procurement and design development activities, and support senior leadership with decision-quality information.
As the reality of missed facility delivery dates set in, decision-makers reassessed what benefits were absolutely required at each phase of the program. A flurry of activity to reassess costs, optimize schedules, mitigate risks, and modify scope led to a realization that while the project teams would continue to pursue completion as close to budget and schedule as possible, a different focus would be required to ensure the wing could realize the benefits of the program.
Early on, project teams lacked the bandwidth and expertise to conduct the planning and analysis required to fully develop the growing program. Resource scarcity and lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities resulted in inadequate project definition. To address the problems, stakeholders met offsite using the services of an outside facilitator to establish roles and responsibilities. This workshop, conducted over several weeks, contributed to four principal recommendations.
- Hire a client-side partner that helps the government project team plan, design, procure, and lead the program delivery process at a scale not typically handled by an installation.
- Organize for success by identifying an integrator who will coordinate stakeholder inputs at the velocity a major construction program requires.
- Establish formal roles and responsibilities to prevent overlaps and gaps among the project team and optimize valuable time and resources
- Implement program-level management processes that provide decision-quality information senior leaders can trust as they mitigate risk and exploit opportunities across the program.
A client-side partner is a contracted consultancy relationship that integrates experienced, skilled personnel into a government organization to provide capacity and capability. The model helps focus on core program management activities and removes hurdles to program delivery.
Air Force civil engineering organizations are not typically manned to perform the highly specialized activities required to manage major projects, such as detailed cost estimating, scheduling, and risk management. A client-side partner can fill the gap by leading front-end planning, improving requirements development, managing concept design, analyzing cost, and identifying regulatory barriers.
For the Lakenheath team, a successful relationship was created by chance rather than by design. In 2017, the four-person client-side partner was an extension of the government staff. Early in the program development lifecycle, the government’s instinct was to focus on adding capacity rather than capability; the contract only reflected a requirement for experienced personnel. As the pace of planning and design increased, the client-side partner, in collaboration with U.S. and U.K. government team members, developed processes for design review and request-for-information management and began to outline a U.S.-U.K. governance structure. Today, the program team is adding advanced capabilities, such as independent cost and schedule analysis and risk management.
Although the team is now achieving the right mix of knowledge, experience, skills, abilities, leadership, and culture through trial and error, hiring a partner with the right capabilities early in the program lifecycle is greatly preferred.
At RAF Lakenheath, the client-side partner organized its personnel and processes to handle the increasingly high volume of inquiries and requests from the contractor project teams.
ORGANIZING FOR SUCCESS
In military construction programs, no single stakeholder holds complete authority for program delivery. The installation civil engineer or public works officer, headquarters staffs, PMO, MILCON agent, construction contractor, client-side partner, and other vendors in the supply chain all have important roles. In fact, each of these stakeholders may have a “project manager” assigned to each project.
An effective client-side partner contract with the partner acting in an integrator role can help the program team achieve effective integration. The partner runs the process by which information is gathered and curated to support good decisions.
At RAF Lakenheath, the client-side partner organized its personnel and processes to handle the increasingly high volume of inquiries and requests from the contractor project teams. Through necessity, the PMO—with the partner providing integration—established customized governance processes to perform timely design reviews, address funding shortfalls, and manage changes in the program on behalf of the wing. Specifying these expectations in the contract would lead to faster implementation.
ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
In any contractual relationship, parties will have differing perspectives on who should carry what responsibility. Through cooperation and negotiation, healthy program teams come to agreement. Formally documenting this agreement is important. The core activities of program delivery provide managers a basis for defining roles and responsibilities. The program team identifies primary responsible stakeholders for each activity, and the responsible stakeholder further defines the tasks. The framework lends itself to additional sophistication as appropriate for the scope and complexity of the program and can be easily adapted into a scorecard or dashboard.
The program team at RAF Lakenheath clarified roles and responsibilities through an offsite collaboration event after the program was well established. Had roles and responsibilities been clearly defined at the initiation of the program, however, stakeholders could have staffed their organizations better from the outset. The wasteful practice of picking up responsibility along the way by necessity could have been avoided.
|CORE ACTIVITIES OF PROGRAM DELIVERY
|Governance & Controls
|Scope & Requirements
|Benefits / Outcomes Management
|Risk & Issue Management
|Integration with Current Operations
|Change Control Management
|Sustainability / Resiliency
|Organizational & System Engineering
|Cost & Financial Management
|Collaborative Planning & Integration
|Health, Safety, & Welfare
|Key Performance Indicators
|Information & Knowledge Management
|Ideas & Optioneering
Effective program management requires program-level processes to reap benefits not achievable from a project-by-project approach. Cost and financial analysis, risk and issue management, forensic schedule analysis, stakeholder engagement, and benefits management should be established for the overall program. The installation team is strengthened by adding these capabilities within the PMO through a scalable client-side partnership. The client-side partner is contracted to provide experienced personnel who can adapt industry-standard program management processes to achieve appropriate oversight and an overall view of risks, opportunities, and trade-offs.
On the F-35A program, the 48th Fighter Wing began with a project focus that evolved into a program focus as the PMO grew into a wing-level program integration office. As facility projects developed in maturity through planning, design, and early construction, the office then shifted from delivering projects to focusing on facility capabilities needed for first aircraft arrival, initial operating capability, and full operating capability. This shift in focus from a project point of view to a program point of view was a matter of necessity.
In fall 2019, the program team was faced with escalating costs and slipping schedules on the first six of 20 MILCON projects. As the reality of missed facility delivery dates set in, decision-makers reassessed what benefits were absolutely required at each phase of the program. A flurry of activity to reassess costs, optimize schedules, mitigate risks, and modify scope led to a realization that while the project teams would continue to pursue completion as close to budget and schedule as possible, a different focus would be required to ensure the wing could realize the benefits of the program.
During the shift in thinking in terms of project to program, a need for program-level management processes was identified. Using a program management approach allowed the wing to manage risk and realize the most important program benefits, despite challenges on individual projects. The focus on benefits delivery, driven by the reality of aircraft arrival dates, emerged out of necessity.
Though the F-35A program at RAF Lakenheath is still underway, it has already produced valuable insights and lessons learned for successfully planning and executing major infrastructure programs for the Department of Defense. The beddown is proceeding due to strong collaboration between government and industry despite challenges associated with early project development and an initial shortfall in program management capacity and capability.
An effective client-side partnership has been a key element of the program team’s mitigation of these challenges. Together, the government-industry team has recognized the need for program-level management and is combining efforts to specify how it shall be delivered for the duration of the work.
Col. Mike Myers, P.E., PgMP, CCP, M.SAME, USAF (Ret.), is Deputy Base Civil Engineer, RAF Lakenheath; email@example.com.
Lt. Col. Chris Knutson, CEng, P.E., PgMP, F.SAME, USAF (Ret.), is Europe Project Manager, Stanley Consultants; firstname.lastname@example.org.
[This article first published in the May-June 2020 issue of The Military Engineer.]