What’s the one skill
every project manager
The ability to maintain
focus on the big picture,
despite all the day-to-day distractions.
What’s your favorite
I love trail running—
being one with nature,
alone in my thoughts.
Here in California, I can
do that all year long.
What’s the best
Never make a decision too early or too
late. You can’t be too
knee-jerk, but you also
can’t wait too long to
obtain all the necessary
information. You need
to find that sweet spot.
time frame, and monitored them closely in weekly
What did the planning phase look like?
We addressed any stakeholder concerns to get
their buy-in. The project goes through five cities.
Each has different concerns and requirements, so
we worked with all of them to establish a scope
they were satisfied with. We completed planning
documents with the California Department of
Transportation and got a safety and security plan
approved by the California Public Utilities Commission. We performed a site assessment to determine environmental hazards. And we did all this
before we hired the design-build contractor.
Did any unanticipated challenges arise?
Yes, and the biggest one really jeopardized the
project. Because the light rail runs on electricity,
we needed to have 10 traction power substations. You can’t do any of the extensive safety
testing without these substations, so they’re
critical to completing the project on time. Los
Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation
Authority, which owns and operates the rail
system once we build it, wanted to procure
the traction power substations, and we agreed
to let them do that. But in 2014, I realized the
procurement was in really bad shape and not
being managed well. Engineers at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s vendor were in
charge, and they really had no project management processes in place. So the delivery of the
substations was drastically late.
How did you overcome the substations’ delay?
A representative from L.A. Metro and I spent two
days with the vendor’s executives to assess the
situation and develop a recovery plan. L.A. Metro
hadn’t assigned a project lead, so we assigned
leads from all three parties—my organization,
L.A. Metro and the vendor—and established clear
accountability. Then we held weekly conference
calls to track our progress and made about 10 site
visits to verify progress.
It took a big effort, and ultimately the vendor
did a good job of recovering. I’m very proud of
completing the project on time and on budget. A
lot of projects will re-baseline their schedule, but
we achieved the initial date we set in our contract
of September 2015.
What lesson have you learned on the Foothill
projects that can be applied to other public-
sector infrastructure projects?
Community sentiment is really important. You have
to get the community involved with the project to
some degree so that it has ownership and feels more
favorable toward it. We did that through the station
design and art review process during the planning
phase. The community had input into architectural
features of the stations, like the colors, pavers and
landscaping. Also, we kept the public constantly
informed about roadwork, street blockages and
Any other major lessons learned?
Make tough decisions quickly. Sometimes when
a challenging situation arose on other public
works projects I’ve been involved with, the decision was delayed to analyze it further and gather
more information. Certainly you want to make
an informed decision—knee-jerk reactions are
not good. But I’ve seen project leaders take too
long to make a decision. We were very nimble
at gathering just enough information needed to
make a sound decision and then taking action to
implement it. PM
We were very nimble at gathering just
enough information needed to make a
sound decision and then taking action
to implement it.