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Delivering programme change management to improve asset performance

John Mason

John Mason, Leader – Programme, Portfolio & Project Management at Aurecon catches up with Dennis (‘Denny’) Plockmeyer. John and Denny discuss the challenges of managing huge asset management programmes for the US Navy and the rebuilding programme in Iraq following the war in 2003.

Denny is currently Deputy Director for MELE Associates Biomass-to-Energy vertical delivering programme and project management services to large commercial clients fielding large biomass-to-energy plants.

He was previously the Technology Director and Senior Program Controls Manager for the Coalition Provisional Authority Program Management Office in Iraq and Office of the Secretary of Defense, USA and the Chief Information/Technology Officer, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, US Navy.

John Mason: Denny, let’s talk a bit about the nature of programme management you experienced within the US Navy and your experiences in Iraq.

If we could look at some of the challenges and some of the solutions that you put in place, this might help to frame our discussions.

Denny Plockmeyer: I’ll start with my Navy experience first, because it led into the programme work in Iraq. I spent 24 years in the US Civil Engineer Corps. The Civil Engineer Corps is a group of about 1400 naval officers whose sole responsibility is to manage all aspects of the US Navy’s infrastructure. As a group, we delivered general and capital project planning, operations, maintenance and acquisition.

A typical posting involved a two or three year tour and in practice I did a minimal amount of time in the acquisition phase, the bulk of my time being in operations and maintenance. At the end of my career, I focused for six years on re-shaping the asset and program management systems that were being developed to better manage the Navy’s inventory of facilities and structures, from a lifecycle perspective.

We started at the local level looking for better maintenance and asset management solutions that we could deploy across the Navy, at a particular base or installation, to help track maintenance costs and operational efficiency of facility maintenance.

Our issue was that the government built data applications were frequently problematic, as they were always four or five generations behind current technology. They were also often full of errors because their testing hadn’t been done correctly and they were so rigid that as the programme focus changed, the applications wouldn’t allow us to reflect those changes.

John: So adopting a programme management approach to the task was vitally important, as it allowed the US Navy to start applying a consistent approach to the management of all of its assets and to create a knowledge base in relation to asset condition and maintenance needs?

Denny: Yes and during the last six years of my time as an active duty Naval Officer, I was involved in technology-focused whole of life asset management programmes. The first three years of this focused on a specific base installation model where I worked hands-on to deploy a commercial, off the shelf solution that supported base operations and maintenance needs – as related to facility structures, utilities, transportation and power generation. This commercially available application was IBM’s Maximo.

The second three years were spent at the engineering systems command level, in the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFACENGCOM). This group provides technical guidance and oversees the military construction programme, provides technical support and guidance for all of Navy in the area of infrastructure maintenance and operations. I took up the role of Chief Information/Chief Technology Officer working directly for Admiral Dave Nash who was the Commander of NAVFACENGCOM.

Between 1993 and 1996, we selected and deployed a commercial application, and we deployed it using hand-held technology. This application was deployed across a workforce that was technologically illiterate and had little idea how to even use a mouse on a computer, let alone be able to work with a very sophisticated maintenance management application.

So for us, the challenge was twofold:

  • number one, how do we ‘simplify’ the user interface in the minds of a predominately blue-collar workforce?
  • number two, how do we develop tools and supporting systems that are capable of collecting and reporting the maintenance related costs and activities we needed to manage, but in a way that was also readily accessible and understandable to the managers who needed to review the data?

We also needed to capture failure/cause/remedy, as related to the specific failures within that facility and track and update the condition assessment on our facilities.

As the Chief Information Officer for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, I was responsible for 17 000 desktops in 152 sites worldwide, and our focus was to take what Admiral Dave Nash had started in 1993, and take it to the global level that he had aspired that it would get to. The dataset of maintenance management costs and facility conditions reports and records was substantial and related to facilities at the nine major naval installations worldwide – places like Norfolk Virginia, San Diego California, Yokosuka Japan, Pensacola Florida and other similar and related facilities around the world.

We also wanted to take the opportunity to take a look at the Navy’s legacy systems as they related to asset management and asset registers. We needed a holistic solution that integrated local facilities data with the Navy-wide asset management register.

What we ended up doing was effectively deploying a single enterprise asset management application (IBM Maximo) that serviced multiple sites and organisations, across thousands and thousands of facilities. This application supported work activities and put them into an easy to use solution that formed a single repository of maintenance activities, as they related to the facilities in a particular geographical region.

John: And the key benefits of doing that were?

Denny: The key benefits were that by deploying a programme management approach, we ended up with standard operating procedures and a standardised and normalised dataset for the collection of asset condition related information and maintenance costs. It also gave us a single interface point with the Naval facilities asset database which listed all of the assets that existed at the time within the United States Navy.

John: So again, just to draw that back a step, I can see the benefit of functional standardisation within the broader programme, as it provided you with a common approach and confidence in any overview that it provided.

But what did this allow you to do as a result? For example, did it allow people to take strategic decisions on purchasing, or to see what assets were deteriorating quicker than other assets?

What were some of the metrics, or some of the advantages of the information that you collected?

Denny: I think there were benefits at multiple levels. There were benefits at the major installation level, because now we could take a look at what assets were in the worst shape by category, so we could then prioritise where we were going to spend our money.

For example, we were looking at piers, docks and wharves in San Diego, and compared them to what we had in Pearl Harbour from a Navy and from a Fleet perspective. We could now make a decision on where we wanted to invest between two geographical disparate regions, where we wanted to prioritise our maintenance money or our capital improvement money.

John: The message I’m hearing Denny, is of having to take a budget which is under pressure, and make sure that that it’s targeted at the best place, in order to achieve value for money and the best return on investment, ensuring that you’re making the correct investment decisions.

Denny: Agreed.

The second major benefit was that the United States Navy, being part of the Department of Defence, continued to go through downsizing exercises in what we called ‘base realignment and enclosure’ projects.

One of the benefits in having this centralised, standardised programme management approach and the related dataset, was that it helped us evaluate which installations had capacity, additional capacity or spare capacity; or which installations would require an initial or additional, or even exorbitantly high influx of funds to bring the facilities up to standard.

So when we went through the decision process of deciding what assets were going to retire, or which assets we were going to renovate, we now had a more comprehensive and accessible dataset to look at rather than a very static list of what we’d previously called birth certificate data elements that sat in an asset register.

John: So summarising, one of the other secondary benefits was that with this knowledge of the asset baseline, it allowed you to identify where the priority investments needed to take place?

Did it also allow you to leverage volume in the supply chain as you could then look at common activities at multiple sites?

Denny: I think as the model really matured after 2001/2002, what we saw then was the capability of multiple integrated management solutions – across maintenance and assets, to handle a whole geographical region. What we were able to do was to start increasing the programme’s boundaries further and further out, so we were picking up smaller installations, providing them with the management tool and helping them get their dataset into the standardised set without having to carry the overhead.

In the end, we got to a point where the project teams could continue expanding the boundaries themselves and we were fast approaching the point where every Naval installation’s maintenance facility and the management of facilities, that were in an active role as opposed to a caretaker role, could be fed into a single enterprise asset management, maintenance management system.

John: We’ve talked through a number of the advantages that the programme brought.

Did this awareness of the asset base enable you to make prioritised, strategic investments and mean that when you invested in a particular upgrade or enhancement, you had a much better view of the baseline with regard to what you were actually spending?

Denny: When we started, we looked to find a commercial application (in 1993) and deploy it as a pilot. From ’93 to ’98, this system permeated through the major installations and concentrations of Naval installations in the world.

In 1998, as the Chief Information Officer, I managed the Naval facility asset databases. We took that application off the mainframe and put it into a web-enabled solution where we could do two things. Number one, we could marry the inventory of assets that were identified to be in (say) San Diego, California with their maintenance applications. Second because we now had a complete inventory, we had an integrated or normalised the list of assets in both data locations. Most importantly, the field or local data agreed with the official audit record, or the official fiscal record which was contained within the Naval facility’s asset database.

By adding a standardised maintenance approach, we then had common operating procedures throughout the capital and military construction programmes. The approach effectively created an asset based “birth certificate” or property record card in the asset register. So if we undertook work at a particular facility, not only did we record information to do with the building and its square footage, but we also logged information in relation to related utilities, sidewalks, kerbs and gutters and pavements etc. Each one of these then had a special code, so in the end we had a comprehensive list of asset additions that went into the master asset inventory.

The third piece, and probably one of the more interesting pieces, occurred within the last two years of the project. The Navy took this information, including the asset register and the maintenance management information, and looked at the operating costs of the facility and their capacity. Without the common dataset and a common awareness of what we had, it would have been pretty hard for them to be able to do that effectively.

So as an example, the Commander of Naval Installations Ashore, from an operational perspective, was trying to figure out why the cost per child per day in a childcare centre varied so much from one location to the other. From a comparison perspective, what they were looking for was why can one facility manager be more cost effective than the other one? What advantages does this person have, is the facility in better condition so operating costs are better, is it more efficient so staffing levels are different?

John: So now you have the sponsor on the service side in a position to start analysing what was working and what wasn’t working by service line?

Denny: Yes, and the fourth component was that we could now make a full facility assessment, a one-time snapshot to establish a baseline. With this common dataset and a common approach we were able to make informed decisions about retiring facilities, as we were in a position to know what the maintenance costs were and as well as what the backlog of maintenance was and the actual physical condition of the facility.

We had two applications with one shared data set; the maintenance application and the asset management or the facility condition assessment application. We then created an analytical tool that allowed the client sponsor/funder to look at and analyse the financial information that was coming in. This person was then able to compare these to the capacity, condition and facility maintenance or operating costs that are associated with the facility and add it to staffing or the soft costs to come up with some realistic view of what was going on.

John: What were some of the challenges you faced on the data and information management side in terms of establishing a programme management office, given the geographical diversity of the programme?

Denny: On the data and information management side, when I went in as the Chief Information Officer, all nine major concentrations of facilities in the Navy implemented the application differently. I ended up pulling nine Navy Captains into the same room, I was one myself and so we were peers, and saying we needed to have one set of common data. And if you have some unique requirements, we’ll add them, but there’s a core set of data you need to provide me with in order to be able to support the navy’s operations from a global perspective.

John: So this was all about data harmonisation and alignment of programme objectives; understanding and respecting what was needed at the programme level, the ‘sub-programme’ and project level.

Denny: Exactly. From within the programme office, I was able to set up a hosting environment that would allow us to move all nine locally installed instances of this application to one central location and host them out of one single platform. Now all of the sub-programmes were working off the same platform, via a web enabled environment.

John: With that as background, let’s now talk about the Iraq experience. I’d like to focus on the programme management aspect of that challenge.

Denny: In 2003, at the start of the Iraqi reconstruction programme, Admiral Dave Nash, who ultimately served as Director of the Iraq Program Management Office (PMO) under the Coalition Provisional Authority (and later and as Director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, IRMO, under the U.S. State Department), came to me and said; “Denny I have a job for you, come to Iraq and help me set up the management control and information systems to be able to not only manage the reconstruction programme, but also to provide a legacy platform that we can transfer over to the Iraq Minister of Planning and Economic Development so that he has a fully functional life cycle view of all the assets under his jurisdiction in Iraq.”

To put this in context, under Admiral Nash’s direction, these organisations managed the USD 18.4 billion Iraq infrastructure reconstruction programme.

John: At a portfolio level?

Denny: Yes, but it was a complete integrated solution that we were prepared to pass off when we were finished. The objective from the outset was to the structure the programme management office so that there was one overarching programme manager supported by an integrated programme management team made up of government officials and contractors. Their role was to manage six other programme management organisations by geographical or service sector and one of the primary objectives was to ensure that everyone within the programme was using the same management, controls and reporting systems.

John: That’s an immense programme and I suspect a major challenge given the scope, timing and diversity of those involved both from a stakeholder perspective and from the supply chain side.

Denny: You’re right and ultimately, we didn’t end up achieving our 100% of goal because of the practicality of implementing it with such a diverse supply chain and in some cases established, robust but inflexible proprietary processes, procedures and systems in an incredibly compressed timeframe.

What we did end up with, from a platform perspective, was driving down a very broad set of information and data standards to the six sub-programme management leaders by sector. From a reporting perspective, they then fed the programme management office with the critical information we needed to know that the programme was on track.

At a programme level, we needed to provide sub-programme teams with a list of projects to be addressed and a reporting structure that teams had to conform to and the milestones that needed to be achieved. To facilitate this we created a reporting tool which allowed teams to give us weekly feedback on issues such as contractor schedules and progress across each sub-programme and the projects that sat within them.

From this, two issues emerged as priorities. There was a huge discussion and some disagreement, that’s probably the polite way to put it, on how to structure this, and given the urgency of the programme we didn’t have a lot of time to sit and argue about what was going to happen.

John: How did you manage that situation?

Denny: Obviously, time was of the essence. What we came up with was a skeletal structure of data that we thought was the minimum needed to effectively manage the programme. We looked at things like estimated start to actual start, estimated contract award to actual contract award, estimated complete, contract complete, percent complete, cost to complete, those basic items, and then on the side we looked at benefits derived through the programme.

We looked at how many houses does this sewage treatment plant serve, or how many children does this school support? We had to look at the human issues as well as the more structure-based, infrastructure side of things.

John: What were some of the technology challenges you faced?

Denny: The information and data platform was ultimately established in Iraq because of bandwidth and latency issues that we experienced when we first tried to operate it from the United States. We also had to deal with the same issues that I dealt with in 1993 in the US, where I had Iraqis in the field who did not necessarily have familiarisation with, or the skill set to run the applications that we’d put in place.

So in the end we looked at more elementary data feeds, such as paper reporting and gave people a list of things that they had to report on. Again, it was a standardised reporting framework and we addressed user interface issues in a pragmatic way. So if we had a subcontractor who couldn’t handle the technology, we’d get them to record the data needed on a piece of paper and then get a clerk, who had some technology capabilities, to upload information into the system.

John: What would you describe as some of the biggest programme management challenges you and your team faced?

Denny: I think the biggest issue we faced was ‘not built locally’, and how do you get over the organisational inertia of accepting something that’s foreign and it may not be what local teams are used to.

So change management within the organisation was a huge challenge within the programme. If you can answer the question ‘what’s in it for me’ at the programme management level and at the workforce level, things generally work much better.

Both in the Navy and Iraq the issue was we had to be personally involved and we had to have somebody who was functionally knowledgeable of what the business was about driving the technology. Not let the technologists try to drive it; because, like it or not, technologists generally don’t understand the business. They may understand the technology but in most cases you need someone who can show the benefit of using the solution.


Dennis Plockmeyer

Dennis PlockmeyerDeputy Director for MELE Associates Biomass-to-Energy vertical delivering programme and project management services to large commercial clients fielding large biomass-to-energy plants. (Previous) Technology Director, Coalition Provisional Authority Program Management Office, Iraq, Office of the Secretary of Defense, USA and Chief Information/Technology Officer, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, US Navy.

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