Introduction

Project management within the data center world is known to encompass several disciplines including ground-up construction, mechanical and electrical work, and the installation of IT infrastructure. While risk is inherent in every project, identifying and managing risks is especially challenging within the data center environment. Numerous facility and IT infrastructure factors weave together, creating a complex landscape that demands focused coordination across various functional departments.

Proactive project management can help mitigate risk and lay the foundation for efficient and successful execution. The methodology behind proactive project management involves implementing the right team early, understanding the impacts of unmanaged risk to the business, and focusing on continuous improvement.


The methodology behind proactive project management involves implementing the right team early, understanding the impacts of unmanaged risk to the business, and focusing on continuous improvement.

Assembling a Shared Leadership Team

Before kickoff, the project manager should assemble a team comprising all appropriate stakeholders. This team should include the client, main contractor, key subcontractors, finance, IT, and commercial managers—and most importantly, the data center operators, who are key to developing the Methods of Procedure required for successful project execution. Each team member should establish and communicate their priorities and relative skill set. Additionally, everyone should feel a sense of ownership and understanding around the benefits of working together as part of the risk management effort. Through this shared leadership approach, knowledge gaps close as the ambiguity clears.


Additionally, everyone should feel a sense of ownership and understanding around the benefits of working together as part of the risk management effort.

Shared leadership is a creative approach to problem solving that incorporates the diverse perspectives of each team member. In the historic project management model, information is generally segmented and shared only with the associated stakeholder/department to be efficient with communication; however, this potentially puts the entire team at a disadvantage, as team members do not get a holistic view of project activity. In the proactive model, the project manager provides full visibility into the overall project progress and scope. This enables each team member to understand how their part fits into the big picture and the various tasks that must be completed before they can fulfill their part.

The coronavirus pandemic is compelling teams to boost communication efforts as new and unforeseen challenges arise. Teams are increasing communication frequency and elevating collaboration via virtual meetings, AR, and VR, among other methods. Now more than ever, shared leadership is supported by enabling technology tools.

Initiating Projects Early

Risk takes many forms, and impact varies from business to business. However, knowing how to quantify and mitigate risk is often overlooked as a core project team skill set. Harvard Business Review recently conducted a study of IT projects, illustrating the various reasons why, on average, one in six projects result in a 200% cost overrun—with a mean cost overrun of 27%—due to not being able to fully quantify and account for large risks. The Project Management Institute reported in 2018 that only 58% of companies understand the true value of project management. As project management may be considered a “sunk cost,” many overlook the importance of utilizing an experienced project team, favoring instead the allure of potential cost savings by managing the projects internally.

Proactive project management requires professional experience and knowing how to quantify risks and initiate a project before major problems arise. Often, projects are initiated too late—for example, replacing a chiller after it fails, or recommissioning a facility after a local municipality implements sustainable legislation. Ensuring that an asset lifecycle cost replacement program is in place and governed through proactive project management is an essential element to managing risk in the data center.


Ensuring that an asset lifecycle cost replacement program is in place and governed through proactive project management is an essential element to managing risk in the data center.

Funding should be available to avoid future unseen and unquantifiable costs and lost time. For example, funding for an asset replacement management program should be considered prior to annual capital expenditure planning. This is especially important in colocation data centers where lifecycle or project works need to be coordinated with clients and their customers alongside day-to-day, planned preventative maintenance with very specific parameters.

A proactive project management team knows the data center risks prior to a project being initiated in the facility and communicates the triggers to the client before they become critical business problems. It is also essential to manage risk throughout a project’s lifecycle; continuous risk management involves reevaluation at regular intervals appropriate for the project’s complexity. Risks will still present themselves, even if not quantified at the beginning of a project.

Communicating Lessons Learned

Proactive project management teams understand that continuous improvement involves more than a meeting at the end of a project, where details around critical issues may have faded and team members have shifted focus to other initiatives. Sessions to understand and discuss lessons learned should be conducted regularly throughout the project, with the team adopting a continuous feedback loop. Understanding how the team is progressing and where improvements are needed can dramatically improve both project and team performance and accelerate success.


Sessions to understand and discuss lessons learned should be conducted regularly throughout the project, with the team adopting a continuous feedback loop.

Per the Project Management Institute, a lack of time and resources are two major inhibitors to executing an effective lessons learned process. Communicating lessons learned from other projects at kickoff—or before—is an effective way to mitigate and avoid risks. With this approach, issues related to a lack of time and resources are avoided, as critical discussions surrounding previous feedback and relative positive project outcomes have already been initiated.

Creating an environment in which team members feel safe to provide feedback is also critical. It may be necessary to have additional meetings with smaller groups for team members who are more comfortable sharing their thoughts in a more intimate setting. Proactive project teams adjust their communication styles to accommodate the varying needs of team members and create a safe environment for feedback sharing.

Conclusion

While many methods and approaches exist for effective project management, the data center industry is ever evolving and has requirements that go beyond a traditional project management approach. Proactive project management includes the following critical steps:

  1. Early involvement of the right project management team—prior to project kickoff
  2. Initiating projects before risks become major problems
  3. “Lessons learned” is more than a meeting, rather a continuous feedback loop that allows teams to evaluate progress toward goals and course correct accordingly

Successful project management in the data center environment requires skilled leadership honed by experience and continuous improvement. Proactive project teams should serve as an example of shared leadership within a dynamic environment. These teams comprise active listeners from all levels of an organization who understand client expectations and use projects as a vehicle to exceed them.