My Personal Lessons on Beginning with the End in Mind

By Bill Ballard, P.E., project manager and partner at EFI Group

I learned this lesson early on, but the concept of beginning with the end in mind was truly brought to life for me while I was on assignment in England in 1996.

I was working for a company with international operations. Management was planning an expansion in Western Australia and the engineering for the project was to be completed in England. My role was to serve as the Mechanical Design Lead and the Maintenance Representative.

For the first time in my career, I was “the customer.”

My wife and I accepted this assignment sight unseen. Having never been to England, Australia or anywhere outside the U.S., it was going to be a great adventure and I was ready. Or so I thought.

We took the red-eye flight and landed at Gatwick Airport on Sunday. Despite the excitement (and stress) of our first trip across the Atlantic, I showed up at the engineering office in Crawley, England at 9:00am on Monday.

I immediately discovered that a meeting had been scheduled for noon with the engineering contractor’s Mechanical Leader, John Smith, and the Document Control Manager, Mary Jones. Hoping for food, I was disappointed to learn that lunch in England begins at 1pm.

The primary purpose of the meeting with John and Mary was to determine the mechanical deliverables list for the project. At 10:30am, I received a detailed agenda listing the discussion topics and I was also expected to review the draft document list to determine how many copies of each item would be required and exactly who in the U.S. and Australia would need copies.

I wasn’t at all prepared to provide this level of detail and, fortunately, I was able to put off giving a response until a later date.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that having that particular meeting that early in the project made perfect sense.  

After all, I was the customer. John and Mary needed direction from me to determine their scope of work and everyone on the team knew that design activities were on a fast track schedule. Additionally, John’s group was being paid on a time and expense basis, so understanding the scope of work fully and ascertaining the design deliverables early were essential to them for avoiding mistakes, delays and wasted money.

Beginning with the end in mind is such a simple lesson and this trip provided a powerful reminder of its importance. I have never forgotten my experience in England and I’ve kept what happened there at the forefront of my mind, and how I work, ever since.

Today, we aggressively apply the “begin with the end in mind” mandate on every EFI Group project by incorporating engineering work plans and design schedules into our quotations for service. While many firms consider creating these documents part of the scope of work that’s done once the contract is signed, we do it before our clients even become our clients – it’s one way we demonstrate our commitment to minimizing technical and financial risk.

We also meet with each client to carefully review their expectations and goals, as well as EFI Group’s deliverables, at the very beginning of the work. This may be overkill for some firms since discussing goals and expectations is always part of initial discussions. However, we’ve found that going over these aspects of the project again is critical and doubly ensures absolute clarity regarding what the “end” looks like.

If beginning with the end in mind is that important, then why would any manufacturer or consultant not adopt these practices?

In industry, or in any business, there are certain scenarios that compel teams to move forward on a project even though they have less than perfect vision of the end result. Here are just a few of those situations:

  • Project is already late and the culture views missed deadlines as the worse sin on earth.
  • Project is poorly funded causing shortcuts to appear necessary.
  • Company is full of bottlenecks stalling or preventing the flow of information.
  • Data is faulty.
  • Company is iffy on long-term objectives.
  • The right people aren’t involved, or are brought in too late.
  • Project management best practices are not ingrained.
  • Consultants are overeager to get the company’s business.
  • Consultants are nervous about causing a ruckus.

These situations and many more can consciously and unconsciously persuade leadership and teams to begin significant work at a disadvantage. And, of course, even in those cases the “end” eventually does become crystal clear: it includes many mistakes, delays and wasted money.

The best way to begin with the end in mind is during a project’s Kick-off Meetings. Here is the list of agenda items that we use at EFI Group to ensure a far better result:

  • Project Goals Review: Focus on the benefits of the project such as cost savings, productivity, safety, etc.
  • Personnel Involvement: On larger projects we go over the project’s organization chart. For smaller projects, we list the names of the project team and the customer’s operations and maintenance representatives.
  • Expected Plant Changes: Review the process flow diagram and new equipment planned as part of the project. Also, talk about how the work requirements for shop floor personnel will change.
  • Project Procedures Requirements: Examples are safety requirements, meetings, drawing approval, project reporting, cost control, management of change and risk management.
  • Project Schedule: This early you may only have an indication of milestones, or management’s completion expectations. Go over these and make plans to complete a detailed schedule.
  • Commissioning Requirements: Not details, but rather a general review of the downtime needed for installation, training needs, spare parts, etc.
  • Actions List and Initial Project Task Assignments: There is information that is needed on Day 1 to get the project off to a good start. Review this list in the Kick-off Meeting and make assignments.

It is my experience that giving the project team and the management sponsor a clear picture of the end result and the expected path to get there leads to successful projects.

You may have other ideas for starting projects that have led to successful outcomes.  I would love to hear your suggestions and comments.

No one takes developing strong processes that increase profitability and reduce risk more seriously than our team. If you’re a manufacturing company seeking to increase results in 2016, contact Jim Solich at js*****@ef*********.com.

We hired EFI Group to help us figure out a project and scope it, and I felt confident they would keep a keen eye on it. They had to deliver quickly and they did it well. They are especially good at project management when you don’t have the resources to do it internally. Reliability is the word I would use to describe EFI Group.
— Coatings Industry Professional
EFI Group is timely. We’ve had a lot of situations when we’ve been in a time crunch and they’ve responded very quickly. They are detail oriented and efficient. They’re a good group of people who also have a lot of strength in pre-engineering — the thought process to get to preliminary design and making sure we’ve investigated all the potential asks of a project to ensure we didn’t miss anything. They have great attention to detail up front which is very important to any project because having that detail-oriented deep dive into the pre-engineering phase sets the stage for the success of the rest of the project, making the process smoother and making it much easier to keep the project on schedule and on budget.
— Mike Quigley, Engineering & Maintenance Manager, Food Industry
I’ve worked with EFI Group for a while, so I know they have a good, knowledgeable staff. We know we’re going to get the results from them we expect. From my interactions with all the different EFI team members I’ve worked with, I know they have knowledge across many industries. Equally, I never have to follow up with EFI Group and, in some cases, they keep me on track.
— Ryan Fredsall, General Manager, Pacer Minerals LLC
We view EFI Group as a team that can dimensionalize our capability to execute projects. We can articulate what it is we want to do and they can take that input and run with it without much intervention from us. They’re able to move a project along independently and only engage us when it’s time to bring us up to speed or get more input to drive a project to conclusion. That’s one of the reasons I view them as an excellent contractor.
— Environmental Engineering Industry Professional
EFI Group has good engineers and good customer service. We know when we get an EFI engineer on a project, we’re going to a get a good job from them and it’s been a productive relationship for both of us — I genuinely like the people.
— Corporate Director, Project Management in Food & Flavors Industry
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