MSc in Integrative Ecosocial Design
Gaia University

Richard Kühnel

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Project Plan Design Process

The following is an attempt to verbalize some of the processes and steps I am using to create a plan applied to the project management for this project:

  • First, all the different pieces we wanted to realize were gathered during various discussions, notes we have been taking over years and an interview with Berta (for which I lost the notes) and entered into a spread sheet.
  • Then I assigned and subsequently sorted every item, according into which area of the property they fall, like front yard (F), North part of the back yard (BN), etc. This allowed me to think through the different elements, how they relate and influence each without getting overwhelmed by everything. This also allowed to then see what interaction appear between the different areas. This I achieved by defining tasks and giving short descriptions. These descriptions include the purpose and intention as well as things to consider and/or research. They are quite critical as they show a lot of the design thinking that went into the front yard and the whole project. It became quite clear that one category called activity (A) needs to be added to cover for certain tasks that are not physically represented on the property, like phone calls, planning for work party events, deciding where to place a water tank, etc. During writing the descriptions some of the same things showed up in different tasks, which indicates to me an overlap - at least in my thinking - and a need for some additional attention.
  • The next step was to categorize all tasks in different phases, 1 (within the first year), 2 within two years, 3 (within 5 years) and 4 (within ten years). Then I sorted all the tasks by these time periods.
  • In the next step I needed to sort all the tasks of phase 1 by dependencies to determine what gets done first, second and third. This I did by assigning dates to the different tasks. Tasks that depended on each other were either in the same week or the following week. Subtasks to a task were given the date of the main task. By going through the task list several times a pretty clear order appeared. To do this I looked first at the main tasks that either needed to be done first before another one can be done (for example I first need to dig a ditch before I can place or replace a pipe) or because of other reasons, like availability of help, cash flow, duration of getting permits, etc.
  • Doing all the above I realized that this project plan is constantly going to change due to all kinds of reasons, like tasks take longer or shorter to finish, equipment is not available when needed, the weather is unfavorable, the costs are way different than the estimates, contractors and vendors change their dates or simply by realizing another course of action is much more sustainable or necessary when actually starting implementing. What I call the incremental approach tries to address these issues by planning a project at different level of detail and also using visualization methods. Once the intention and goals are pretty clear and agreed upon with everyone involved, in our case Berta and myself, all project tasks, activities and steps are gathered. After the process described above only a portion of the immediate plan, in our case the next 3 months, are planned out in greater detail. A smaller portion, the next month, in even greater details and maybe a week or two in greatest detail. This is re-done at least every week. By doing it this way there is enough attention given to the whole project as well as to the fine details and reviewing prevents overlooking tasks. For example, when it is clear that an excavator is needed for digging out a pond the reservation of this equipment with the rental company needs to happen earlier. A phone call will show how long the equipment is rented out in advance on average and an action item can be put in the plan for a specific date in advance to reserve it. Usually Gantt charts can be very helpful to define dependencies like this, so when the pond digging date changes, the reservation date needs to be reviewed too and a Gantt charts can make sure this is taken care off. For now I have decide not to use Gantt charts as there is too much changing and I don't want to use my time to update the Gantt chart all the time. Also, there is only one opensource program I found, which needs some time to learn. Now, this plan can be used for scheduling the day's work in the morning and at day's end to see what has not been done or what has been done that was not on the plan and make the appropriate changes and move undone tasks to the next possible date.
  • After the dates, usually in increments of weeks, except for very specific date requirements, are all assigned, I went through the whole phase 1 list and estimated the costs. This is based on experience and project size as well as on some verbal information I have received and some bids. I am only assigning costs to items that mean an actual additional cash layout - like for local phone calls, or office paper - I usually would not do that. Of course there can be exceptions. Also, for some tasks I will use material stored or recycled from the property itself. For example the old concrete from the sidewalk renewal task, will be used to build a path on the west side of the house, or the wood from the deck will be used for several other tasks, like building new raised beds, some fencing, etc.
  • In the next step I put everyone, who is involved in a particular task or activity next to it, with the first one indicating to be the lead, including contractors, specialists and experts. One activity in the plan is to find contact help and hire them. In our situation we found someone who works as a carpenter, used to be a plumber, knows electrical work, earthwork and is currently licensed to install heating systems. This covers most of our needs for now. He also has contacts to other specialized needs, like roofing, etc.
  • Now I can go over the whole list and see for which pieces I will need to apply for a permit or need to find out if a permit is needed
  • Last not least, I need to make a list of what materials, tools, hardware, equipment, etc. is needed for a task. This part has not been done in any detail, although some of it is already integrated in the plan (like the soil needed for the beds or renting an excavator).
  • At the end or beginning of each phase the whole plan is reviewed and gets re-prioritized.

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