Years ago, there was an eye-opening advertisement showing the head of a company listening reflectively as his assembled staff discussed scenarios and recovery measures for a situation involving a long-time, now disappointed customer – each talking over the other, noisily throwing out various ideas about how to appease the wronged customer. The boss suddenly stands up and turns to leave. When asked, he announces he’s buying a plane ticket to go visit that customer and suggested everyone else do the same. The ad’s hard-hitting style left no doubt that the best way to resolve an issue with a customer was not through any digital means, but face-to-face.
Strong relationships have sustained the Middle East District’s stability and longevity in the Middle East region. The District now employs another method to further enhance those relationships by assigning project managers overseas, referred to as project managers or PMs Forward, with our field staffs and customers.
The applied concept has been very successful within the District for both the customers and the construction staff.
“PMs Forward allow us faster access to respond to customers, providing the type of service and support that Stateside customers of CONUS districts can do more easily,” said Joseph Zaraszczak, chief of Programs and Project Management Division’s Iraq, Egypt, Jordan,
PMs Forward Tasks
• Implement guidance from upper management, corporate decisions, laws, regulations and policies
• Participate in programming decisions affecting long and/or short range courses of action for assigned projects
• Participate in planning operating budget process
• Periodically brief customers on program status
• Inform customers of project issue resolution
• Identify problems/issues while finding the most appropriate solutions
• Lead negotiations to develop agreements between customer and District
• Coordinate various aspects of engineering projects such as program planning, design, cost engineering, construction and turnover
• Manage technically complex engineering projects by completing customer requests.
• Manage all aspects of ongoing projects such as feasibility studies, rehabilitation projects and various design and/or construction projects.
• Integrate customer requirements into a comprehensive program management plan.
• Ensure that all organizational commitments to the customer are fulfilled.
• Provide program management support to projects through oversight of all activities.
• Assist customer in defining needs for complete projects.
• Resolve intricate project management problems arising from the complexities of engineering projects.
Lebanon and Foreign Military Sales work in Afghanistan. “Travel issues, crossing several time zones, passports, visas and even country clearance, all take time and can slow down our response. So the PMs Forward provide us with more flexibility and immediacy in serving our customers.”
The Area Engineer on the ground manages the day to day operations and has the supervisory authority over the remaining staff. The PM Forward, not a supervisor, can focus on the customer and serve to leverage reduced staffing.
"Having a program manager like Steven Martinez embedded in the Bahrain Ministry of Works has helped MED focus effort and energy on our Customer,” said Richard Dickson, chief of Programs and Project Management Division’s Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia Branch. “This program is unique in that we are helping the MoW formulate their program and then execute it for them. Without a highly qualified individual sitting in and working with the MoW personnel on a daily basis, we could never expect to develop the professional rapport with our customer.
“Our PMs Forward develop both professional and personal relationships that are critical to the customers’ trust in us for expert advice and assistance, which could never be developed via (temporary) visits," Dickson said. "In fact, we value PMs Forward so much that we are hiring at least one, probably two, for the emerging programs in Saudi Arabia."
In Iraq, David Schmidt has been the program manager forward for the Department of State’s funded projects since February 2011, during the time the Gulf Region District was preparing to close (which it did in June 2011).
“Having a program manager forward was an essential part of this transition, given that there were 44 projects under a $367.7 million contract, and 10 projects valued at $14.5 million in the pre-award stages,” said Schmidt. “The DoS program was being briefed bi-weekly to Ambassador Peter Bodde, the Assistant Chief of Mission for Transition Assistance. It would not have been possible to perform this job remotely given the Ambassador-level of attention, and the significant level of the projects and funding. For the Department of State programs, it was important to have an enduring presence forward, one who was familiar with the prior U.S. Government funded construction in Iraq.”
In Afghanistan, the District has a program manager and three PMs Forward.
“We have two PMs Forward in Kandahar, one dedicated to the Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund Program for projects in the south, and the other is dedicated to military construction,” said Robert Schaible, chief, Programs and Project Management Division’s branch that manages projects in Afghanistan and the other Stans. “We also have a PM Forward in Bagram dedicated to the AIF program for projects in the north.”
The Program Manager in Kabul is Romel Punsalan. “He is embedded with JPIO (Joint Program Integration Office), our AIF customer,” said Schaible. “These PMs Forward are critical to the success of our missions. They are primarily customer-focused, taking this load off of the construction resident engineers, project engineers, and construction representatives, allowing them to focus their attention on managing our construction contracts.
“The PMs Forward interface daily with the customer, user, and other stakeholders to be sure they are well informed on the progress of the work and to assure their concerns and questions are addressed,” Schaible said. “They assist the construction staff with stakeholder coordination when needed. They represent a clear point of contact within the Resident Office for the customer and they facilitate the exchange of information and reporting to Winchester.”
The program and project managers work very closely with the customer to manage their planning, programming, and design requirements, helping to guide the customer and recommend solutions on program development.
“I could not adequately manage our Afghanistan programs without this forward PM presence,” said Schaible. “Their value is greatest at locations where we have active and involved customers in the field and where design/pre-award coordination is required locally. For this reason we do not have PMs Forward at all locations. Oman, for example has an active construction program but without a forward customer representative or future design program there, it is not necessary to staff a PM Forward there.”
“Working with a PM forward overseas has been very positive for our construction mission,” said Neal Thibault, chief of Engineering and Construction Division’s Construction Branch. “With a PM Forward on the ground handling project management responsibilities, the area and resident engineers are freed to focus directly on construction.”
“I have had two rotations as the PM Forward – September to December 2012 and September to December 2013,” said Jason Zorger, Program and Project Management Division’s FMS Branch. “During that time as PM Forward, I worked with OSC-I (Office of Security Cooperation - Iraq), which allowed for the continuity for the program. The OSC-I folks, primarily military, are deployed for six to 12 months and most of them do not work the program while back in the States. That means the PMs retain the historical knowledge of the program.”
The FMS Branch project managers who rotate in and out of the area of operations have their own projects they are responsible for, in addition to their PM Forward role, unlike the PMs Forward permanently assigned to an area.
“The program size is currently manageable with Patrick Tilque, Brian Ball and I,” Zorger said. “Each of us is aware of the issues/challenges on each project. This revolving arrangement allows one of us to rotate in and already have knowledge of the program which means we can hit the ground running and not have to learn a new program. If we were to hire a new PM Forward every 12 months, there would be a loss of productivity as that person learns the program.”
The relationships aspect of this arrangement is key. “We have been allowed to build relationships with our Iraqi counterparts,” Zorger said. “Since the three of us continue to rotate in, we deal with the same folks within the Iraqi Government, which continues to enhance the relationships and build trust. It also gives our U.S. customers a familiar face to work with as we work the programs while deployed and while here in the United States, allowing for seamless flow of communication, information, and support.”
“The District’s relationships with customers, including AFSAC (Air Force Security Assistance and Cooperation), have greatly improved recently and that can be attributed in part to the PM Forward positions,” concluded Zorger.