Saturday, November 7, 2009

At the Ends of the World: Projects at Remote Locations

At the Ends of the World: Projects at Remote Locations. By Fabio Teixeira de Melo, PMP
PMI eNews, Nov 06, 2009

We have all heard that the world is getting smaller and smaller. However, some projects challenge that view: namely, those performed at remote locations.

For project management, a remote location is a place where:

Access to resources is more difficult; Both public and private sectors have less presence, or no presence at all; Local communities have little connection with the “civilized world.” Successfully executing a project at these locations requires a specific approach for some of the unique challenges you’ll face. Here are a few suggestions:

You should creatively explore what alternatives are available for supplying materials and consumables, and know the risk for each one. You have to consider natural factors, such as flood and dry seasons and their impact in site access, as well as frozen, blocked and / or dangerous access roads.

Consulting local communities is vital for gaining knowledge on alternatives, potential risks and contingency plans. Keep in mind that it is not only about bringing equipment in: it is about feeding and supporting your site team.

Communication depends heavily on wireless phone and internet access. These options facilitate working at remote locations, but they do not always function properly. Between thunderstorms, heavy rain, energy shutdowns and frozen equipment, many things can go wrong.

Communicating through traditional, hard-copy mail is safe and reliable, but takes more time. Consider adding redundancy—exchanging data electronically but also sending hard copies through traditional mail—to the communications management plan, logistics plan and schedule. It can make the difference between taking advantage of wireless communication and suffering from the lack of it.

Local Community:
With very few exceptions, remote locations are inhabited, usually by poor and unassisted communities living in a subsistence economy. They often lack proper authorities, which is an invitation to the actions of drug producers, smugglers and others who interact with the local community. You should consider them as a part of it – in fact, sometimes they even act as the “local authority.”

Base your approach on the core values of respect and honesty. Show interest for the community and try to build trust without interfering in their relationship with potential outlaw groups. For those groups, try to negotiate your relationship in the basis of non-interference, but consider their presence in your risk management: it’s not unheard of for project managers to be kidnapped by local gangs or terror groups.

Social Responsibility:
Your project will probably impact the local community. Hiring its people is a good way to inject money to the local economy, but you have to be cautious as to how many people will be employed and what jobs they will take.

Resist the temptation to hire everybody, since they will have to continue to live after you demobilize. If you train them to work on your project—for example, to operate your bulldozers—when you finish they either will be unemployed or will have to leave the region in search for a job.

Instead, give them insight and training on how to improve and market what they currently produce for their living. Help them get more productive and organized. Your project will certainly bring them closer to “civilization,” and you should help them make that encounter more of an opportunity than a risk.

When you plan for a project at a remote location, don’t associate the challenge with logistics only. Remember that the communications and stakeholder management for these projects have particular requirements, which, if not properly performed, can be as harmful to your project as a natural disaster.

Fabio Teixeira de Melo, PMP, is a Site Manager working for Odebrecht, a Brazilian multinational construction company with projects in over 20 countries. An LI ’04 graduate with more than 15 years of experience in construction project planning and management, he was founder and first President of PMI Pernambuco – Brazil Chapter; participated in the elaboration of the Construction Extension to the PMBOK® Guide, served a 5-year term as DPC SIG Latin America Chair and contributed with articles for the SIG’s newsletter. You can contact him writing a comment to this post.

A ground-breaking study shows that New York City's calorie labeling law is ineffective

After Calorie Warnings, Diners Order More Calories. By ALLYSIA FINLEY
A ground-breaking study shows that New York City's calorie labeling law is ineffective.
WSJ, Nov 06, 2009

Before food czars get any more punch-happy on their own Kool-Aid, they need to be purged of the illusion that their laws are actually working. Last month, New York University and Yale medical professors published a ground-breaking study, which shows that New York City's law requiring fast food chains to post calories on their menus doesn't reduce their customers' caloric intake.

Lawmakers everywhere should take note. Efforts to require fast food restaurants to post nutritional information on their menus have been gaining ground across the country. Sixteen municipalities including California, Seattle, and Portland have passed laws similar to NYC's, and the Menu Education and Labeling Act, which would impose labeling regulations nationwide, is pending in Congress. The bill would extend the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which requires food manufacturers to include nutritional information on their packaging, to restaurants. We all know how effective that law was. Since 1990, obesity has more than doubled.

Published online in the journal Health Affairs, the NYU and Yale study is noteworthy because it considers the practical significance of food labeling laws. The researchers examined 1,100 restaurant receipts from McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and KFC franchises in low income, high-minority neighborhoods where obesity is most prevalent. They found that the poor fast-food customers that the law intended to help weren't affected.

Only half of the customers said they noticed the caloric information, and only about 15% said they used the information. But the researchers' most striking finding was that customers actually ordered more caloric items after the law went into effect than before, despite the fact that nine out of ten customers who reported using the information said they made healthier choices as a result of the law. This disconnect can partly be explained by response bias in which people tell surveyors what they think the surveyors want to hear.

But the problem may also be more complex. It's possible that people who are less educated may actually think they are eating more healthily than they are notwithstanding the calorie numbers staring them in the face. Calories as a measure of food intake (or more precisely, energy consumption and output) may be as foreign to them as the metric system is to many Americans.

The poor are also extremely price sensitive---especially in a bad economy. Give them the choice between a $2 double quarter pounder with cheese and a $5 chicken salad, and they'll make an economically rational decision and order the $2 burger. And with the extra three bucks saved, they'll order a side of fries and a Coke. Why should they care how many calories they're eating if they're getting good value?

Under pressure to subvert the NYU and Yale study, the New York City Health Department last week came out with its own report, which it nicely packaged in a press release and power point presentation (evidently, the Department didn't want to confuse the media with an actual scientific study). Though the Department's results are equivocal, New York City lawmakers are using the data to argue the efficacy of the law.

The Department is boasting that 56% of customers saw the caloric information and that 15% said they used it. But these figures demonstrate the law's failure---not success. Despite the fact that people were readily presented with the nutritional information, 85% of them ignored it.

The lawmakers who enacted the calorie posting regulations succumbed to the fallacy that everyone thinks like them. They probably reasoned that because they would make healthier choices if presented with nutritional information, everyone else would as well. But maybe what consumers actually want is a delicious meal at a low price.

While information is important, even fully informed people won't always act as lawmakers think they should, especially if it's economically irrational. Any public health legislation won't significantly change people's behavior unless it 1) provides proper incentives for people to put their long-term well-being above temporary gratification and 2) takes into account the economic rationality of people's behavior.

Unfortunately, many lawmakers refuse to swallow this inconvenient truth, preferring the taste of their Kool-Aid.

Ms. Finley is Assistant Editor of