Monday, July 07, 2008

Project Scope

Can anybody tell me what it means to say that the current status of a project is "project scope?" I tried to play with C. Ray's new toy twice over the holiday weekend, and, while Clancy DuBos may have been impressed, my reaction was much closer to Schroeder's. I was interested in what was planned for two different city owned properties, but I couldn't figure out, from the wonder ribbon*, what the city had in mind for either site or how far along the city had progressed with its indecipherable plans for either site.

In the first case, seeing a picture of a recovery sign in front of the Latter Library, in a post at Liprap's Lament, made me wonder what the city had planned for a library that it plans to close. The roof of the building needed repairs before Katrina, and it's safe to assume that it will need repairs no matter what the city decides to with the building. However, spending money to make it a better library, only to then be forced to re-renovate it as meeting facility would make about as much sense as spending money to gut and remediate houses before spending money to demolish the same houses. It wouldn't be wantonly destructive, but it would be just as profligate. However, I'm not prepared to accuse the city of planning that, because this could mean anything:
Latter Library

5120 St. Charles Ave
Council District: B, Ward: 13
High Priority FacilityProject Type: Public Libraries
Scope: A-E firm currently developing project scope.
Current Status: Project Scope

Project Contact: Geneva Walters

I doubt that there's anything too extraordinarily wasteful going on with the Latter Library, I merely included it as a prime example of what you can expect to find when you click the wonder ribbon.*

However, the second situation seems much more serious. Whenever I ride my bike down Franklin Ave (Franklin Ave, the last part of it anyway, is actually a good bike route to the lake since the federal flood, there was too much too much traffic before) I wonder about the Milne Boys Home. I even considered writing about it after reading this NYT article a while back, but that's not a subject that I usually post about. Sure the writer is mistaken about a few facts (the obvious contradiction in the fourth paragraph is a dead giveaway), but she does document an unforgivable case of neglect. Anyway, this recent letter to the editor rekindled my interest, and I found this infuriating article from January:
New Orleans has missed out on $7 million in state money to repair The Milne Boys Home, a city-owned historic community center for young men.
Sean Cummings, executive director of the New Orleans Building Corp., the landlord for the city-owned property, revealed the oversight Nov. 27 at City Council budget hearings when District C Councilman James Carter asked if Cummings knew about the capital outlay appropriation for the Milne Boys Home from the Legislature. Cummings's response was "no."

Oddly enough, that the story made me feel really good about the future of the city's riverfront. I mean, if the talented board members of the NOBC screwed the pooch that badly on the Milne Boys Home, it must have been because they were devoting all of their talent and energy to Reinventing the Crescent.

Once again, I don't want to insinuate that the demolition by neglect is intentional or make any other uninformed accusations. Of course, such accusations would be uninformed because I can't quite figure out what this means:
Milne Boys Home (8)

5420 Franklin Avenue
Council District: D, Ward: 08
High Priority FacilityProject Type: Other Public Spaces
Scope: Remove and replace architectural, electrical, mechanical, telephone systems, fencing and roofing components to several buildings.
Current Status: Project Scope

"Remove and replace architectural...components" worries me, but it doesn't say what architectural components will be removed.

Correction: On a second reading, the fourth paragraph of the New York Times articles isn't so much contradictory and factually incorrect as it is confusing or misleading. I would call it poorly worded, but there's that thing about pots and kettles.

* Meanwhile, citizens can track the quiet (for now) progress of several hundred public recovery projects online by clicking the orange recovery ribbon in the upper-right-hand corner of the city's Web site ( The link will take you to a Google-based map that allows you to search by project type, by individual project, by City Council district, by ward, by area and even by specific address. Type in your home or office address and check out the projects that are in the works within a mile or two.

And don't give up hope.

"project scope" sounds like something they say just before they tell you to bend over.
On the Milne Boys Home topic...since I live a few blocks awaay from the site, I have a particular interest. At our neighborhood (Gentilly Terrace) association meeting a couple of months ago Councilwoman Hedge-Morrell spoke about the Milne site. She said that one of the main reasons things have dragged on as far as development on this site has been because although the City is technically the owner of Milne, when it was donated to the City the Milne Trust was able to get the City to accept wording in the agreement such that the land must always be used for "an educational purpose" and that the Trust would retain some "right of refusal" on development ideas. Hedge-Morrell said that the Trust at this point essentially consists of "a few old guys who can't agree with each other, much less with anyone else", so while there have been some fairly ambitious ideas for the land which don't involve wholesale demolition because of all of the open space at the site, it's just recently that any real concrete "plan" has coalesced.
Actually, the old Milne board was a bunch of old men, but the board that took over in 2006 had big ideas for the site.

They had partnered with UNO to start a charter school, which hoped to eventually reoccupy and renovate the entire site, and they had bridge financial backing from the revived FNBC bank.

The issue wasn't the Milne Trust, it was the city and their inability to let the Milne Trust move forward.
Interesting. The story I'd heard was that the Milne Trust's (non-unanimous) idea was for the buildings to be used to house all of the city's "at-risk" students after they'd been expelled from the individual RSD schools. Sort of a return to the original mission...back when there wasn't too much in the line of a neighborhood surrounding the campus. Guess they figured after the storm there wasn't too much of a neighborhood around once more to object to that use. But then, I'd been told this was still the same "old men" board proposing that.
This is my large corporation's view of project management, which is really no different from any other large company:

1.Project Charter
2.Preliminary Scope Statement / Statement of work
3.Business case / Feasibility Study
4.Scope Statement / Terms of reference
5.Project management plan / Project Initiation Document
6.Work Breakdown Structure
7.Change Control Plan
8.Risk Management Plan
9.Risk Breakdown Structure
10.Communications Plan
11.Governance Model
12.Risk Register
13.Issue Log
14.Action Item List
15.Resource Management Plan
16.Project Schedule
17.Status Report
18.Responsibility assignment matrix
19.Database of lessons learned
20.Stakeholder Analysis

See where Scope is WAY up there? Scope usually means requirements and specifications, which the city has had years to setlle on. Some argue that once Scope and Deliverables are agreed on, everything else is cake and downhill. The problem is that many slowdowns occur later on in the execution phase due to bad concept selection, delays and lack of follow-through and oversight at every step.

This kind of project management applied to New Orleans requires due diligence which I am afraid City Hall is not capable of.
Thanks for the comments, hopefully, i won't be a project any time soon, Karen.

Maitri, thanks for the definitions. I actually should have gone back and reread Schroeder's post -- the city does provide its if you download the recovery booklet, but it's easy to miss if you just go to the recovery map.
"Link it, read it" was one of the best pieces of blog advice that I ever seen. It meant, of course, to actually pay attention to what you're linking because some readers actually follow the link. You look pretty stupid if what you link doesn't say what you say it said. In this case, it merely answered a question that I asked. I actually had read Schroeder's post, but wrote my post a week later. So. my corollary to that rule would be, "if you link it several days after you read it, reread it."

As I discussed in a later post, there's really no excuse for the problems in the planning and oversight. Or, the excuse that the mayor's office gives only goes so far.
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