Interface Management: The Multimillion Dollar Difference

Tim Haïdar

In this exclusive interview, we speak to a seasoned interface management professional on how something as simples as getting communication right and all your ducks in a row can make the multi-million dollar difference between success and failure.

Tim Haidar

PQ Paul Quintavalle

TH Hello and welcome; this is Tim Haidar for Oil and Gas IQ and today I’m going to be speaking with Paul Quintavalle who is the Senior Consultant, Systems Engineering and Integration at Parsons Brinckerhoff. We’re going to be speaking today ahead of the Interface Management for Capital Projects summit which is going to be taking place from 17th to 18th November, 2014, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Paul, thank you so much for joining us today.

PQ No problem, nice of you to invite me.

TH Paul, first of all give us a little bit of insight into the areas that you work in and what you do on a day to day basis within Systems Integration.

PQ A large amount of our Systems Integration work is within the UK rail industry, although an increasing amount is now coming from overseas. Day to day I manage a team of systems integration consultants on a range of large and complex programmes in the rail environment.

This work ranges from requirements management to programme set-up and process management to interface management. This also includes developing ‘architectures’ for clients, configuration management, and lots more in-between. Essentially we help our clients to set up programmes through which they can specify, understand and manage the entire life cycle of their programme.

One of the key challenges is the migration from an existing environment to a future operating environment both from a technology and human perspective. Getting there and going through the different stages is always a challenge, especially when you have to take account of existing operations to keep the railway running at the same time as you are developing new programmes and introducing new technology into the operations.

TH Paul, you say that you do the majority of your work within the railway sector, what do you see as the greatest challenges to project management in the rail industry at the moment?

PQ Ultimately, I think the biggest challenge we face is communication; good communication ensures that all parties know exactly what is being progressed and allows them to accurately define what they’re seeking to achieve either on different projects or on overarching programme objectives. One of the key challenges with main line rail in the UK is that the companies operating the trains are different from the companies who maintain and run the infrastructure, track and the signals. Integrating them all into a single way of working can be a real challenge.

Collaboration is critical to the way we work: collaborating with clients, with customers, operators and the supply chain. Often when addressing a programme at an early stage it is important to really understand the client’s objectives, to ensure what is being developed is the best solution. We will work with all parties to challenge every aspect of a project’s goals, brief and perhaps more importantly its suitability. We will also challenge the way work is to be progressed - just because it’s always been done one way doesn’t mean that’s the best way.


TH Now you’ve delineated the challenges, how do you go about rectifying these challenges and what solutions can be employed to do this in an efficient way?

PQ At Parsons Brinckerhoff we have adopted a three-stage approach from best practice and proven experience on a wide range of programmes and projects. We spend considerable time up-front understanding and developing what the issues are - what the programme aims to achieve and what the objectives are. We draw on our wide range of experience to put effective measures in place, using tried and tested techniques to address all of those points.

Then we move on to define; what are the boundaries of the system we’re looking at? We class the entire railway as a ‘system’ and that includes all the technical disciplines, the trains, the track, the signalling, and also the people – employees, maintainers and also passengers. As we work within many boundaries, it is vital that we develop ways to visualise the whole system approach that we’re actually looking at, to give the teams we are working with that overall view and understanding they need.

The forms of visualisation can range from complex software driven architectures which show a variety of boundaries including functional, maintenance, operational, physical or geographical, to simple context diagrams which show the programme’s stakeholders and their relationships to each other.

The final stage involves different techniques to deliver the programme. Developing the understanding and defining the boundaries does not provide a suitable output for a programme without ways of managing and structuring the delivery of solutions.

In terms of communication, helping people to fully understand what they’re dealing with on a wider scale is hugely important. Consequently stakeholder engagement is a critical element of our approach; simplifying what people can understand and knowing who needs to get involved drives how we present problems, solutions and views of the entire system.

In this way, we know what each stakeholder needs and we employ the right subject matter experts and ensure outputs are prepared with the appropriate level of detail for all the different audiences.

Within an existing railway environment there are many different systems interfaces covering areas such as technical, performance, reliability, functionality, operational and many more. Each must be addressed throughout the project lifecycle while keeping the trains running. In order to address these areas, we look at various different tools including the creation of what is commonly called ‘architectures’ – they are whole-system views of what we’re looking at. We create databases of information to link to the different architecture views which enables us to develop an interface management and tracking system so that people can understand what they’ve got to do and by when whilst creating appropriate alerts, processes, reporting methods etc.

TH Now Paul I’ve heard a lot of times from project managers that "you’re only as good as your last project"; do you agree with that?

PQ Absolutely – however the uniqueness and differences in scale and complexity of rail projects means that while this is of course true, being able to compare approaches and demonstrate success can be extraordinarily difficult. The true gauge of our success is through the satisfaction of our clients in the service we provide and their willingness to commission future work with us. At present, we are successfully working on a growing range of the UK’s most complex rail projects, from HS2 through to Crossrail, the New Tube for London programme, the Northern Hub and major electrification work on the Great Western and Trans Pennine lines.

TH Okay, well Paul thanks very much for that run down and thanks for your time today. And we’re looking forward to meeting you at the conference in The Netherlands coming up in November.

PQ Thanks you – and yes, I’m looking forward to the conference.