Launch 3 is always proud to share insight about the wireless industry. Wade Sarver, a professional in the industry for 25 years, writes blogs about issues surrounding cell towers and has graciously allowed us to share his knowledge with our readers.
Do you know what efficiencies can be driven from deployments with proper planning? Maybe I am asking the wrong question, let me ask you this, did you ever have a PM (project manager) or foreman call you and beg you to do a job or a task that you didn’t know about at the last-minute? Oh, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Schedules and last-minute changes can kill workers physically and mentally. You know what I mean! Why is it that the customer’s emergency becomes your problem? Probably because something got missed or changed at the last-minute. It happens quite often.
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We all complain about how screwed up deployments can get, especially when we are on the receiving end of a schedule change or a last-minute install. We also hope to get paid for these emergencies that are caused by someone’s poor planning. So looking at this up front, what can we do to help the situation out? We can look where we can save time and money with WDE.
OK, planning is very important and most of the time the poor planning is pinned on the contractor when in reality the PM or the customer just missed something or didn’t listen to the people who do deployments all the time. Sometimes the customer pivots to get something done that they didn’t foresee. Other times permitting frees up in one market unexpectedly.
If you pointed something out prior to the deployment, then get over it. Just remember that when you say “I told you so” that it won’t accomplish much except to anger someone. So instead of saying that, why don’t you offer a suggestion on how to improve the situation? You should already know what to do. Make it a discussion, not an argument.
So what do you do? You work with your experience and make sure that your SOW (Scope of Work) has the information in it to make sure you get paid! Make sure that you are a partner in the deployment planning. Have a talk with the PM or customer to figure out the best way to deploy without breaking the budget.
Most of the time this starts up front, with the site surveys. If the survey is done properly and the planning is realistic, then many problems should be avoided. However, what other kinks can happen, like permitting delays, changes to the design post survey, and other factors can ruin efficiency.
If you can, try to make the best out of planning ahead of time. When you are bidding on a job or when you are working on the SOW, make sure you are already thinking of how to improve time to market (TTM) and control costs. What efficiencies can be found? Well, I have notice that in many deployments I have done and planned that there are savings in the following.
- If the site survey is done properly and documented well then the installers will have no effort in deployment. This will include not only the installation information but building the proper Bill of Materials (BOM). Documentation really helps. Pictures that can be shared with the installers and equipment vendors can really help out the planning process. Many companies put their most experienced people on the estimating and surveys because they want it done right to avoid problems later.
- If the same company doing the installation does the survey, then the transition usually goes much smoother for the actual deployment and BOM building. However, if something is missing then the installers will need to be sure that they can make up the missing parts. There is no excuse when the same company does the survey and then the installation and something is missing, unless there is a change at the last-minute. Also, the deployment team should let the estimator know if they missed something. Feedback is very important.
- If the PM plans out the permitting the best they can then the installers should be able to move in an orderly fashion. That is hard to do but it may get better if the permitting process improves. Permitting can be a real problem because of the complexity of the process so the PM will need to keep everyone updated on the status.
- Warehousing and staging is very important, make sure that the logistics team is aware of the schedule and works with the customer and the installer to provide constant updates. The warehouse will work with the team to provide updates on what has been delivered and staged. Include the installer on those updates to make sure that they are in the loop.
- If the installers and the commissioning team are “connected at the hip”. They need to be talking and working together to schedule properly. It used to be that many PMs did not like different teams talking because they were afraid they would plan around them. Let me tell you, nothing is farther from the truth. When the installers and commissioners work together they become more efficient and deployments move faster than ever.
- Deployment planning needs to be shared with the team. If the PM has a priority list then they should make sure that the installer and the warehouse is on the same page. Then let them know that they can move on the top 10 as soon as the site is staged. This is a way to let the installers know that they can move as soon as the staging is completed.
- Batch sites by region, this is probably the one thing that can really save costs but the hardest to do. I have mentioned it before that if you can do all the sites in one region or city, then you save so much money on travel. It doesn’t always work, mostly due to permitting and leasing and customer expectations. I have been on projects where the customer wants to see progress and they order the installer to do one site in a region because they want to show the customer/investors that they are making progress in a hot area. They argue that they want you to install for the bulk price even though the installer costs increase when going to one area to do a single install if they are not local. Chances are you will do it to keep the customer happy but this really eats into margin causing you to raise the prices next time because the customer requests irrational planning not thinking of how the cost rolls downhill.
- Understand what they big picture is. Sometimes the deployment team will get caught up in the deployment of their priority sites because they don’t think about the system. Sometimes the deployment of the sites may be ahead of either the core/controllers or licensing is ready for the turn-up. So the sites may be deployed and sit for months until brought live. Then when they are brought live problems show up. I have been through many deployments like this. It causes so many problems but this is how many deployments happen. Sometimes the customer will expect you to come back to repair something months after the installation, understand what the agreement is ahead of time, read the SOW and the contract so you can plan accordingly. Customer relationships need to be thought of as well, remember that if you piss of the customer you may lose the customer.
- Have the right tools for the job. Remember to plan out the deployment. If you need a bucket truck then get a bucket truck, put it in the pricing and use it! You may need a crane or a welder or more manpower. Plan accordingly.
- Plan out the overnight stays ahead of the deployment. You can save money sometimes if you are going to be in an area for over a month by finding an apartment or negotiating with a local hotel for the full month. If you can plan and work on hotel costs, it saves money.
- Learn what you’re installing! This is something where you will need proper training on the equipment. Whether its beefing up a tower or installing several RRHs. Sometimes you will be deploying something new, but if this is something that has been GA’ed, (General Acceptance) then it should have a MOP (Method of Process) put out by the OEM. Remember not to confuse the OEM’s MOP with the customer’s MOP. They are usually very different. The OEM will cover the OEM equipment only but the customer’s MOP should cover all of the site equipment. If you know the proper process then it will cut down on the return visits for the punch list. Return visits cost money and time and delay payments. Make sure you do as much right the first time as possible and have the MOP to back it up.
- Plan to be on site when the inspection takes place. This is really hard when you have limited people. I used to have a crew or person that would be on site when the inspection took place so that all the issues could be resolved in one inspection. This would speed payment and closure. The PM should be able to schedule this but they need to be aware of how much time this will save. One of the biggest reasons time and money is lost is because the customer and the contractor go back and forth trying to closeout a site. It can go on for weeks or even months. It is very frustrating and can be prevented by some simple planning.
- Site prep is very important. If this is a new deployment, for macro or small cells, power needs to be ready. Leasing needs to be completed. Permitting needs to be completed. If you go to install something and something is not ready, it is a major problem. So if you are the PM, make sure everything is complete to prevent the second visit. Verify as much as possible.
I put a few things in here that may help you out. Most of this is obvious, but it seems that there are still problems with what I have laid out, no deployment is perfect. I see all of these problems arise again and again. Problems always arise, there are always delays due to outside issues, like weather or if the customer makes a change or if the contractor will not get paid. We always see problems that can’t be counted for. It happens.
Let me know what delays you have seen derail a deployment.
To read more articles from Wade about cell site safety, you can visit his website: www.wade4wireless.com as well as follow him on Twitter. You can also visit Launch 3 Telecom to learn more about the products and services we deliver.