The complexity of managing multiple projects for a single client presents a wide range of potential roadblocks, especially if those projects are in different cities. From suppliers and contractors to stakeholders and budgets, each additional piece of the puzzle adds variables, increasing room for error. For large programs to be completed in a timely, cost-effective manner, each piece must be handled carefully, with special consideration given to the relationship between all moving parts and the program’s ultimate end goal.

Program management offers a solution to the potential issues associated with managing multiple projects for a single client. A program management office (PMO) creates a central location where management can coordinate large numbers of tasks and personnel. As an overarching manager, PMOs have the ability to develop an effective schedule, make assignments and provide detailed reporting throughout the program’s lifecycle.

Successful program management puts everyone on the same page, resulting in time and cost savings for the client. At Burns & McDonnell, our team was given the opportunity to implement program management on a large scale for American Airlines’ (AA) global rebranding project.

Putting Program Management to Work

When US Airways merged with AA in 2012, extensive rebranding was required to produce a crisp, cohesive look and feel at airport terminals, hangars and off-site facilities in 224 cities around the globe. This program would also involve integrating Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) technologies and procedures, as well as updating facility security and IT systems to improve passenger experience.

The program includes the direct management of three signage vendors, three general contractors, five supplemental contractors and five millwork providers. This, coupled with the program’s enormous scope, meant the coordination of a large quantity of people, equipment and materials.

As program manager, Burns & McDonnell was tasked first and foremost with bringing the client’s goals to fruition. This included coordinating the implementation of the NextGen airport elements that would reduce congestion and create a more efficient environment for passengers in major gateway cities. Additionally, our team became responsible for supplier selection and contract administration for all selected entities.

Solving Challenges

Because a target completion date was already set, time was of the essence. This required developing a program work schedule that could grow and change with each project, allowing for simultaneous workflows that simplified project phases.

Coordinating between the contractors’ independent schedules while still acting as one holistic construction and implementation team presented a significant challenge to the scheduling process. To do this effectively, we used Primavera for scheduling, AA’s proprietary payment software and other easily accessible software programs.

Because our teams were in multiple locations and constantly travelling, having a PMO as the central repository for individual airport information was critical. The PMO employed Bentley ProjectWise software to store more than 60,000 documents and files, amounting to more than 125 GB of stored data. Weekly teleconferences kept individual site project managers in tune with the PMO, which in turn stayed in sync with each rebrand team.

Continuing the Success

Implementing program management has proved successful for American Airlines’ rebranding, with individual construction contracts coming in 15 percent under budget and on schedule.

But from the perspective of a design-build firm, our focus on design allowed us to offer AA more than just program management. For example, strategic software selection streamlined the program and kept each phase on track and within budget. And, despite differing locations, airport layouts and vendors, effective implementation of goals across the entire program contributed to the success of the schedule and budget.

Making it Work for You

Program management has applications in a number of industries and can be deployed as a means of simplifying management across multiple projects. For example, rolling out a program for an airline is similar to conducting program management for an entire airport system — the stakeholders are the same and a program manager can provide the insight needed to resolve issues. The trick is finding the right firm with the experience and know-how to make your goals a reality.

Interested in learning more about how this management method can be applied to your next project? Feel free to comment below or connect on LinkedIn with Yvonne Bilshausen, a national aviation program manager based out of our Chicago office.

Joel DeBoer is a Burns & McDonnell group president leading the operations and design-production for aviation clients. His experience includes engineering, project management and staff development while supporting projects domestically and internationally.