Complications of Large End to End Deployments


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Most people think they know deployment, and they do, at least their part. I see it all the time and especially in larger companies. They all know what they should be doing and see what they think other departments should be doing. Look at how the carriers have driven profit out of the climber’s work. They see climbing towers as simple construction, maybe it is, simple construction where the training and gear cost a lot of money. Some people die on that job for that $15 to $20 an hour. Generally, there is an estimation of how long it takes, and that is the expected hourly rate then the over cost is predicted.

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That model is fading, but we need to look at deployment from end to end. When a small company does it, they can manage every aspect of the deployment, from the time the equipment comes in until it is installed in the field. This sounds easy, one site at a time. Yet they still make mistakes. It takes time for the team to align and gain experience. Also, when you start, there are always mistakes, mostly from ignorance, sometimes incompetence but most people catch on rather quickly.

Small companies can struggle, but if they can find a niche, they’re good at. Then they can survive. Although, the business models are always changing. I remember when RF engineering would draw top dollars. The field RF engineers in the US have replaced by offshoring or software programs. Things become updated, equipment improves, and next thing you know you have to learn a new skill to stay relevant. That’s for smaller companies, but what about larger projects?

Large Projects:

When it’s a bigger project being run by large companies, then things get way more complicated. Each department has their own agenda and way of doing things. Often times an executive dictates what tools, programs, and processes should be used. Usually, that person or group doesn’t know if it really works, but it looks good on paper. They create more challenges, especially when tools are not compatible. Things need to be tested, some processes won’t work, or they break, and yet others will not interface with another properly. Often, it’s a trial by fire.

The issue is that each manager has their department. While the manager is being held to an objective, it may not align with what the next department is doing. Here’s the deal, when working with a large deployment, nationwide, you need to be organized in some way. We all think we have a good plan laid out, which we do when we start. However, the obstacles begin to pile up. When they do, it’s good to have one person, a guru, or a team that helps all the departments communicate. It would help to have someone or a group oversee the project from a high level that can point out the flaws and nip them in the but.

This sounds great on paper, just get the guy from the last deployment. Then you have someone say, this is different, which it is, but try to be more specific. How is it like the last large project and what is different. I don’t mean to look at just the hardware, take a look at contractors and processes. That is the key. The hardware you will figure out, in fact, I would bet you have a bunch of smart people who already know what will need to be done.

The processes are what makes or breaks a company. Each department will have their own process. They don’t necessarily want to learn something new for each deployment, but it may come to that. It’s hard to align all process so that they communicate across all departments. Internally there needs to be proper alignment.

Then you have to work through contractors. You weed out the ones that are in over their heads and get the good ones. Unfortunately, that process will cost you money in a large project. Hopefully, you can make it back in the overall project or change orders. Most companies learn whom they can and can’t work with. It comes down to competency, trust, and cost. You may love a specific contractor, but if they are too expensive, then you will lose money, and that’s not good for anyone.

Internally, its back to processes and tools. While the field thinks of tools in the field, the tools in the back-office are very important. Let’s face it, the number one tool used by almost every company is Excel. With that said, you need some way to track progress, close out sites, pay contractors, and get paid by the customer. Most companies still rely on Excel, Word, and PowerPoint.

From what I see, Excel is the backbone to pricing, BOMs, Services, checklists, status updates, and more. They have tons of online tools, but that is where some problems start. Mainly because they do not always work together or talk to each other. So, you may have someone manually uploading or entering data into an online tool that can’t upload from or to a spreadsheet. I see it all the time. This is where mistakes happen, and it really slows down the project. Especially if it has to be done manually.

Remember the departments? Each department head will have to decide what works best for their group. They know what their group can do now, and they may have to train someone new for a new tool. This sounds easy, but they have to make a decision that could slow them down for an extended period of time. On the other hand, they may see the value in another tool in the long run and start to integrate it into their department.

If different departments have tools that don’t interface to work together, guess what, problems. When problems come up, here are the choices I see:

  • They can admit they have a problem and work towards a solution.
  • They can collaborate with other kings to fix the problems between two handoff points or kingdoms.
  • They can just blame someone else and move on.

They usually just blame someone else and move on. That’s easy, right? That’s why I often say blame me, now, how can we fix it. Unfortunately, most managers are so busy explaining why it’s not their fault that they won’t fix the problem. Sometimes they draw a line in the sand and take a strong stand instead of addressing actual problems. I’ve done it in the past it’s really hard to have an open mind when people attack your process, even if they mean well. We need to remain open-minded.Small Cell Cover 4

You see, the thing is that most companies are failing at a high level. Each individual knows what needs to be done, but they are hindered by a process or a tool. Many times, by the ideology that the process is bad, and no one will fix it because that’s the way it is. For most workers, they do what they’re told. I do. It’s hard to offer help to the unwilling. Most people have their own idea of how things should work, and they may or may not align with someone else’s opinion.

I see this all the time, and it takes a long time for some companies to fix this. Tower crews know what to do at the site. Do they plan ahead of time to make sure that have 98% of what they need? Most have to, and they still carry extra hardware just in case. It depends on how much experience they have with that project. How can you overcome that issue? You live and learn. After you do a few, you know what is expected. When you do the first 2 or 10, there is a learning curve.

If you’ve ever worked in or with a warehouse, even those guys know what should be in a kit after 25 sites or so. They know what to expect. I saw it on many carriers builds. You go to the warehouse, and the guy there knows almost as much as you do about the BOM.

Large projects are often in flux for the first few months. They have BOMs that are defined, but maybe they missed something that they learn the real-world needs. They think they know up front, but experience can be a painful teacher. Someone at the site can see what should be there. New systems are harder, but eventually, people figure it out.

What can you do? Well, that’s tough. Big companies make it impossible to oversee all the processes. Often, they don’t listen to someone who’s done it before or is working on the front line. I don’t know why but I see it time and time again.

For you, concentrate on your part of the job. Maybe offer advice, but don’t get offended if they don’t take it. They are good at doing their job, (at least you hope they are). They know their tools,  you probably don’t know what they deal with on a daily basis.

Maybe larger companies could have an end to end consultant look at all the processes. Or a team that knows process and deployments from an end to end perspective. Most try to do this with meetings of all the department managers. This usually does not work well. Each one will agree in the meeting, but when it gets hard, they do what they want to do or what their internal process will make it easiest to do. Then they will blame the other departments for not conforming. Trust me; I see it all the time.

On the other hand, if you listen to the people in the department, they have all kinds of complaints. You have to be open-minded. Are they bitching because they hate the tool or because it’s new? Maybe it doesn’t make sense, and their point is valid. It takes time to figure out.

Many process people try to learn and see the best way to do it, but they get caught up in recording the process. Chances are good they don’t know what to do to improve the system, or they were given guidance to make that particular system work even if it sucks. Then it’s nice if an independent group or person makes suggestions. Preferable productive ones.

Some questions to look at when looking at the project end to end, (E2E).

  • Are the orders coming in on time?
  • Are orders being processed on time?
  • Are the BOM kits being built properly? (you learn this very quickly)
  • Is the shipping process including all the parts? (incomplete BOMs can be an issue)
  • Are all the services being covered? (in the beginning, services can be missed)
  • Was the site survey or action plan put together properly? (in site work surveys are critical)
  • Is the BOM put together properly when it’s shipped to the site or at the installer’s location?
  • What equipment is missing? (look for a pattern or a lack of pattern)
  • Do the handoffs make sense? Are they clean and mistake free? (you would be surprised how often this doesn’t happen properly)
  • How many people have to touch and update the POs/BOMs/SOWs/CRs before the work gets started?
  • Are all safety standards being followed? Are you sure? How do you know?
  • Is the quality audit turning up consistent problems? Are they being chased down and corrected?
  • Are there erratic problems happening? If so, why?
  • Are you receiving and processing the POs/CRs before the work starts?
  • Are you cutting POs to the contractors in a timely manner? If you don’t, they may stop work!
  • Are you paying the contractors in a timely manner? Again, they may walk off the job due to a simple clerical error.

Listen, this is not all about the install itself. I am talking about the end to end process. Chances are good you know all the details about permitting, cutting the PO, building the BOM/SOW, scheduling, and so on. You know that and chances are you have an expert that covers that work. Most people know their job, but do they know the job of the person or department next to them? Maybe, maybe not.

Many problems can be worked out quickly, the big ones. Problems like missing equipment or poor execution can stop work and erode margin. We all make a commitment to get the job done. We all want to make money, but can we do it?

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Most times larger companies struggle to make money on services, they just aren’t that good at it unless it’s what they do for a living. Services are tricky!

So, I go back to the team effort. We all say team, but it rarely feels that way until you’re finished. Sometimes you need someone to look at the process end to end that has been there and done that. Then, you have to be willing to try to improve the process.

This sounds easy, doesn’t it? Just make it better. The reality is that when people are trained to do something one way, they resist change. (I’m guilty of this too, so I am not pointing fingers.) It could delay what you are doing now. It could set you back. You have to analyze your processes again. Will these move you forward in the long run or do you just keep things running the way they are? I think when you look at your current progress, you’ll find it easier to make the decision if you’re honest with yourself and open-minded. Most people aren’t are afraid to change the process. Sometimes people focus on the wrong objectives but still expect the same key result.

It’s not an easy decision, but when you see the problems, it’s best to have a plan to improve as you go. I am a fan of always improving the process. Again, this sounds great, but you can’t keep changing the process if it slows down or stops the project. You have to get something going before you know if it works or doesn’t. Maybe it’s good enough. Maybe it works great. Maybe it doesn’t work, and you need to fix part of it or start over. So, if you see a problem, try to fix it ASAP. Make small changes if you all agree on a process. You can’t keep changing everything, or you will never move ahead. You have to make improvements, work it into the process, then see if it’s improving the output. Give it time, but not too much time if the delays start building or you see a problem that won’t work itself out.

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Again, it helps to set the objectives and key results. (OKRs). I think to do this as a team is a good thing then break it down to each department, so they know what their specific OKRs will be. Learn at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OKR.

It pays to have someone look at it end to end. I don’t mean upper management in a big company. They may or may not care on that given day about your project. They want you to succeed, but they are looking at a larger picture. Probably one without you in it. It should be someone who is focused on that project and independent but, has the experience to understand what should be happening. Someone who can look at the situation and process the problem. Then, ask the right questions. Sometimes people get defensive or pissed; I deal with it all the time. Sometimes people want help but didn’t know whom to ask and are grateful to have the suggestion or someone to ask for advice. It takes a team to succeed, especially when deploying a large project.

The thing is, you have to question the way you’re doing things and look for improvements. Then weigh out the changes to see if they will improve the output or performance. When dealing with very large deployments, you need to weigh out the options. In my opinion, high-level managers are terrible at this. Why? Because they want to either move onto the next project, worry about one department, or put out the fires as they happen. I don’t see many of them seriously analyzing the root causes of any problems.

That’s why I wrote this article, to show you that it helps to have an independent eye to catch things and point them out. Even then, most managers don’t want to hear it, they know their processes better than anyone, and they know that change is painful. It’s easier to blame someone, either in their department or otherwise.

Take some time, look at where you are and where you want to go. Build a plan, set your OKRs, then execute. Measure your key results, repeat. Most department will have to fit the goal in their existing process for the sake of their department. This can be painful, but hopefully, they do it. They often don’t want to look at new processes or tools because change is so hard. Training their people on something new will create even more havoc. Especially when ramping up. However, if you can run both side-by-side, then doesn’t it make sense?

If you don’t try, you will never know. Then what happens? Nothing.

Hey, I am not a fan of learning something new because someone told me to, but you have to look at the greater good and make sure that your team has buy-in. It pays to talk it through ahead of time. We all plan, but when the project is rolling, we have to make improvements. Improve efficiencies, and measure what we’re doing.

What about you? Where can you make improvements?

Thank you for your time and learning! Let’s add value.

Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

See Ya!

I appreciate all of your support. Thank you so much!

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