& Project Work Programming
We are a relatively large County Planning Agency that has had a fair
amount of turnover recently and are in the process of being sure our
staff is adequately trained. Two areas that both new and existing
staff could use some technical assistance in is Project Negotiations
Skills and Major Project Work Programming tips and tools. We are hoping
that you or other planning agencies may have some recommendations
for consultants that you have had a good experience with on these
Thanks for your help.
San Luis Obispo County
You have raised two separate issues as follows:
- Major Project Work Programming
I partially answered this question in a previous Management
Doctor question. You can see this under the topic "Project Management."
Much to my surprise, this generated only one response from a reader.
Maybe we will have better luck this time. My guess is the reason
I had so little response is that very few planning departments are
doing this project management. Like most consultants, I do project
management for our projects all the time. We keep it simple.
- Know what the client wants or at least think they want.
- Know the timelines, monitor your progress as you go and meet
- Know the budget and resources available for the project.
- Segment the work into smaller pieces that can be delegated
and monitored. There are a lot of books, one- or two-day short
courses on the market and probably even courses on the Internet.
I haven't previewed it but Video Arts has a 25-minute video,
"Project Management, Leading a Project Team," phone 1-800-861-4246.
- Project Negotiation Skills
Good negotiations requires good interpersonal skills, so I would
start by working on those skills. Again, there are a lot of one-
or two-day short courses and books. Video Arts has a 31-minute film,
"Negotiating: Tying The Knot." There is also a lot of selling in
negotiating so the books on sales can be helpful. My favorite is
"You Can Negotiate Anything," by Herb Cohen, Bantam Books. Finally,
many communities have non-profit mediation schools for the more
Come on readers — share your wisdom.
Here's a couple of thoughts on your Project Management/Project Negotiations
We've put together a program now that is similar to your bullet list...
and through three major projects—it works. We're a small shop, and
time management is critical.
- Find out when the client wants to break ground. Knowing their
expectations can help. It also helps to know if they have "drop
dead" dates that must be achieved. We have one project that failure
to obtain a permit by a specified date results in loss of an expensive
option. Obviously, the client must have enough knowledge of agency
timelines and planning laws to have "planned ahead."
- Determine the date the project must be approved ensuring the client
has time to meet conditions and obtain initial building permits.
- Work backwards from that date through your permitting process.
Essentially, by starting with (1) "Board/Council approval, Date
X," "Published/mailed notice, Date X-14," "Commission Action, Date
X-60," and so on, you'll arrive at the "Start Date." If the start
date is yesterday or earlier, then either the timeline needs to
be adjusted if possible, and the client's expectations need to be
extended, or it's just not going to happen.
- If using a consultant, consider a liquidating damages clause or
bonus clause in the contract. We deduct a 1% penalty for each date
the consultant is late on a milestone... provided the consultant
has had control over the milestone period.
- Make staff and particularly internal reviewing agencies accountable
for meeting deadlines. This is probably the biggest hold up I've
personally seen. The Administrative Draft comes in and the jurisdiction
does not manage when it's supposed to be back to the consultant.
APA also has some good project management books, but frankly, this
topic is so common you can check your local library. I'll bet there's
at least two books in your Department's planning library.
In training our staff, we counsel the planners to explain issues
in one of two perspectives:
- This is a code requirement and we don't have the ability to modify
or waive it at staff level. Let's just agree to disagree and you
can explain your view to the Planning Commission; or
- With this requirement we are trying to accomplish "Objective X."
Do you have another way we can accomplish the same objective?
In both cases, it helps the applicant understand the range of authority
we have at the staff level. Since undertaking this approach about
a year ago, only one Director Determination/Interpretation has been
appealed and the Planning Commission has overridden staff only twice
in more than 50 projects and hundreds of condition recommendations.
Eric Jay Toll