By Carol Davis
WIESBADEN, Germany — When agencies are already using a numbering system to track its projects, implementing a new multi-agency system with more numbers does not seem very innovative, however, for a group of project managers at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District and their customers -- additional numbers into the equation equals success.
For years, each agency tracked projects with a numbering system that for its internal use seemed effective. The problem -- the customer, the contractor and the district use different numbers for the same project.
According to George Bock, a district supervisory program manager, the various systems caused misunderstandings, additional emails and phone calls.
"Prior to implementing the new system, I answered dozens of emails or spent a lot of time on the phone talking about a project only to realize that because of the different numbers, we were discussing different projects," Bock said.
He said the back and forward discussion about the wrong projects resulted in lost working hours.
The customer, Manfred Rieck, Grafenwöhr's Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division chief, agrees that the old system was broken, and led to aggravation in coordinating projects with the district.
"Earlier last year, there was a lot of confusion when we came together to discuss specific projects," Rieck said. "We, at DPW, had a number for a project, the Corps had a different number for the same project and so did the Bauamt. This caused a lot of confusion."
The solution -- a new spread sheet containing a numbering system that can be used by all of the agencies involved. By using the new system, everyone was finally talking on the same sheet -- literally.
"I have to be honest, when George's team suggested using this spread sheet, I was reluctant," Rieck said. "Once it was in place and we all were using it, it really proved that it was a good tool to discuss our projects and address our issues to affect their resolutions."
Additionally, Rieck said that numbers were not the only issues we had.
"Another area we identified was communication in general," Rieck said. "Then George Bock came up with weekly phone conferences. During these conferences, we spoke very openly, and worked out a lot of our misunderstandings."
In a move to continue to improve communication with the customer, and to ensure issues were resolved quickly, Bock sent one of his project managers to collocate in Grafenwöhr.
According to Rieck, the area where the project manager is working has a lot of important issues, and having him on station ensures that issues get solved quickly.
"By having a project manager who is a local national and speaks the same language, co-located with the customer, they can communicate one-on-one and face-to-face with a district member as soon as a challenge arises," Bock said.
"It really helps that we have it here on site," Rieck said. "We can, on a very short notice, get together with him or have meetings with host nation authorities ... when needed we can arrange a site visit. This really helps considering the number of projects we have here in Grafenwöhr."
Bock said between the spread sheet, having a team member in the area, and using regular conference calls, the customer gets a service they haven't had before -- immediate attention.
"If an issue arises, the onsite PM can be at the site in minutes, not hours," Bock said.
With all the new processes in place, the customer rated the district 5 out of 5 on the 2011 customer service survey, a significant change from 2010.
Additionally, in November 2011, for exceptional performance in the execution of 20 environmental projects totally $4 million, the district commander presented the project delivery team and the Grafenwöhr environmental division with an achievement award.
Bock and his team plan to present the new numbering spread sheet to the German construction agencies attending the district's Bauamt conference Feb. 22-23 in Bad Dürkheim.
"Now that the system has proven itself useful with the customer, I hope we can modify it and used for other project delivery teams in other areas," Bock said. "It's all about the team … the district, the customer and the Bauamt … and we need to be on the same page."