TIME, COST, AND QUALITY: LESSONS LEARNED IN BROADBAND ENGINEERING
I stumbled into broadband engineering after a few retail and entertainment industry jobs didn’t work out. My college degree is in audio engineering, so the concept of light’s signal flow through a fiber network made a lot of sense – very similar to audio flowing through microphone cables. My first task in broadband was simply placing addresses in a GIS database for a fiber project for a large telecom company. Even in this very rudimentary process, it was drilled into my head that any task can be done with varying degrees of speed, cost, and quality. Every client will want all three – work done quickly, at a cheap rate, and at high quality. However, it is nearly impossible for a project to excel in all three components. In this blog post, I will share some of my lessons learned working my way from a totally “green” Designer 1 up to managing my own projects and how I’ve learned to balance the trifecta of time, cost, and quality.
Spend more time planning a project at the beginning to save time during production.
Kicking off a new project is an exciting time! Everyone on your team is meeting everyone on the client’s team, relationships are being formed, and ideas are flowing freely. Sometimes my first instinct is to jump in and start producing, but extensive planning up front usually leads to a more successful project. One example – I lead a project in a major US city where the client made a comment that our durations starting new work orders was longer than other vendors in the area. However, our durations during production and permitting were much quicker. This is because we did extensive research on permitting requirements and city codes before starting, which lead to a higher quality product, fewer delays, and eventually getting more work from the client.
One tool I’ve found essential before starting a new project is a formal “kick-off meeting.” This is a meeting where everyone on the broadband engineering team meets with project stakeholders to confirm the goals of the project, the expected timeframes, and what the deliverables will be. When these foundational aspects of the project are agreed upon, the internal planning and preparation begins. What tasks are involved in the project workflow? What is the duration of each task? What information or approvals will be needed from the client? Ask as many questions as possible up front to avoid delays in the middle of the project. The best way to avoid this is to…
Make communication easy and constant.
I find it ironic that communication seems to be a weak point of many broadband engineering firms considering we are helping connect people through internet access. When possible, a daily 15-minute morning meeting is a great way to keep the whole team connected and distribute information to all team members simultaneously. As a project manager, this is also an opportunity for me to set a positive tone for everyone’s workday and address any questions or roadblocks so that they don’t interrupt production time later. When a new process document or QC checklist is distributed to the team, I like to upload it to cloud storage like Google Drive or Microsoft Sharepoint and use the “Comment” feature for everyone to discuss or ask questions together within the document. Try not to bombard the team with long emails or meetings but do make sure all information is communicated quickly and efficiently to everyone involved at the same time. An up-to-date project tracker spreadsheet with estimated and actual completion dates for each task is also essential to everyone knowing the status of the project.
Being a leader means taking ownership.
This task I had to learn along the way, but a team will not respect a leader who points fingers at anyone other than himself. If a project deliverable is late, even if it was due to a team member making mistakes or internal roadblocks that couldn’t be helped, the project manager should assume the blame to both their internal team and the client. This is not to say that employees shouldn’t be held to a standard. Expectations should be clear about all three elements – how fast a task should be completed, what constitutes acceptable quality, and how much the client is willing to pay for the task. This helps the employee feel effective and not overwhelmed by their workload. If all these parameters are clear to the team, there is much less chance that the deliverable will be late, or mistakes will be made. However, mistakes do happen, and tasks oftentimes take longer than expected. Instead of saying, “My team took longer than expected,” I would suggest saying “I didn’t set a correct duration for that deliverable. I’ll make sure the rest of our dates are accurate.” Taking the blame instead of deflecting will help your team and client respect you as a leader on the project and will inspire your team to support you by being faster, more efficient, and producing quality work.
What I love most about broadband engineering is connecting people. Helping deliver high speed internet to a community isn’t just about checking social media and shopping on Amazon. We are jumpstarting entrepreneurial enterprises and giving students new opportunities to learn. Unemployed workers can learn new skills and find new jobs. Hospitals, fire stations, and police departments can respond to emergencies quicker and more accurately. That is why I find it so critical to deliver an efficient, high-quality product at a good cost – we are developing infrastructure that can revolutionize lives for decades to come! Whether you are a project leader or a producer, I encourage you to re-evaluate your own internal processes and take steps to make every project your best yet.
Feel free to reach out to the Broadband Engineering team at Foresite Group with any questions or ideas!
About Sam Goodwin
Sam Goodwin is a Project Manager for the Broadband Engineering division in Birmingham, AL. He earned his B.A. in Audio Engineering Technologies from Belmont University, and has been active in the telecom industry since 2015, starting as a designer and then advancing to managing his own projects. He specializes in site plan creation and permitting, network design, and prides himself on being an effective communicator and staying organized and on-schedule.