3G VIEWS AND OPINIONS
Network rollout quality challenges
By Petri Possi
New 3G projects are getting ready for the main rollouts everywhere and operators, network vendors and subcontractors are trying to learn how to work together as a team. This always takes some time and a new generation of managers and engineers will get frustrated and will learn the reality of less that perfectly run projects. It always looks like during the first six months of any mobile network project, the organisation is re-inventing the network rollout. Three months after the start, projects are normally six months behind the schedule. After that, more people are added to a late project and everyone know how that affects the system. Funny that so many managers talk about building the best network in the world, doing the fastest rollouts ever and having a world class support in place.
Best indication of project health status is the reporting system. When a weekly reporting turns into a daily reporting and then to an almost hourly reporting, you know that the quality of the network rollout is doomed. Because the eventual network quality is not easily quantifiable in a rollout stage, it is normally thrown out of the window first. Someone should actually study the importance of the "network quality" during the project life span, it would be interesting reading. Normally the word "quality" is a running joke in network projects during the first 12 months, or at least until operator's CEO starts dropping calls.
Why are the new project starts so difficult? Don't these organisations learn from their previous experiences? Do large organisations have a memory? Even in network builds with experience staff, it usually takes over a year to stabilise the situation. It generally happens when the operator has successfully accepted the first phase of the project. As all experienced project people know, the first phase of network projects are always filled with daily changes in project plans, chasing of artificial emergencies and firefighting with petrol.
Most rollout problems can be traced back to the very beginning when vendor's sales people are pressured to promise too much, too fast and sometimes in vague terms. Project management has no options but to agree to deliver the numbers and to meet the insane deadlines. Middle manages are forced to meet their moving targets regardless of the quality and frustrated engineers just try to keep up with the pace with shifting and vague goal posts. Operator's team keeps the pressure up by adding and changing the workload to meet their own targets. And obviously all parts of the organizations have their unique objective in addition to common ones.
So what to do to make projects run smoothly. Here is a list of things to consider: Use vendor's project startup team to help the project team to get things running.
Force the co-operation by writing it into the network contract. This is easier said that done, but if people in contract negotiations have a clear vision of how to thing get done, this could even work.
All parties need to keep the key people from contract negotiations to the project rollout. This would keep the contract knowledge in the project team.
Have a clear rollout process flow that everyone understands and follows. No exceptions or regional variation are allowed.
Place only very experienced people in key positions with the decision making power and budget to change things.
Organise a regular top management steering meetings to improve the project and process flows, and to clear any obstacles.
Implement a single working project database in a very beginning and stick with it.
Limit the required paperwork and have a well planned documentation control.
Keep a close eye on subcontractors' performance. Local companies have variable success rates and usually hired based on lowest quotes.
Monitor the atmosphere inside the project team.
Ensure a good IT and tool support.
Mobile infrastructure project consists of site acquisition, transmission planning, RF planning, civil works and construction teams. Local teams are supported by project management, sales and marketing, core network planning, co-location, logistics and legal teams, usually on a national level. Communication and the information flow between levels and teams always need improvements. It should be compulsory at least for key team members to attend project management courses before the beginning of the project. Unfortunately if vendors and operators have spent time and money to train their people for teamwork, projects, process control, and time management, it can rarely be seen on the field.
In the end it comes to the personalities of the key members, how they implement what they have learned. It only takes couple of people to complicate the project processes and slow down a rollout. Every project needs a strong leader, not a manager, to make sure thing keeps rolling.
- Petri Possi is an independent wireless network consultant. He has over ten years experience in a wireless industry working with network planning companies, infrastructure vendors and mobile operators. You can send him feedback through firstname.lastname@example.org
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