The Aha Moment

It seems that during every project there comes a time when the project team hits an obstacle that necessitates a “what do we do now?” situation.  The equipment doesn’t fit, there are no drains there, the floor can’t handle the load, there is no way to service this space, the list goes on and on.   These are the “opportunities” that give project managers ulcers and have the potential to derail an otherwise well-designed project.

The story I am going to tell happened several years ago when I was a young(er) engineer at the beginning of my consulting career.  The project involved the renovation of a solid dosage form manufacturing suite for a major pharmaceutical company.  This was a substantial project and I was retained as the process consultant by the A&E firm that was lead on the project.  The renovation involved the addition of a fluid bed granulator, double-cone blender, mill and associated support equipment that would then feed an existing compression suite located immediately below the blender.

The project strategy was to select all of the design and construction professionals during the preliminary design phase and have them all participate in the weekly design and construct-ability reviews.  As one can imagine, these meetings grew to the point that the largest conference room at the site was challenged to seat all of the attendees.  Cost and schedule were hot-button issues and the project manager was a stickler for minimizing the tendency for the project to expand (scope creep). With that in mind, the efforts of the team were focused on the four rooms and the interconnecting hallway comprising the scope of work.

All was proceeding smoothly until the lead architect and the chief mechanical engineer announced that they had received the submittal drawings for the double-cone blender that was purchased months before by the client and that there were structural, ductwork and piping interferences that would impact both the cost and schedule of the project.  The ensuing discussion was very difficult with all of the design and construction professionals weighing in on the impact of this change and the cascading effect on the budget and schedule.   Doom and gloom would have been good adjectives to describe the tension.  Plan “A” was on life support.

There was very little impact on the process, so I took a more relaxed approach and decided that I would use the time to familiarize myself with other aspects of the project.  The architectural plans for the entire space were in front of me and I noticed that the large bay immediately across from the “doomed” double-cone blender room was not in service and the room beneath was identified as a “future compression suite”.  I had remembered passing by this room on multiple occasions and it was definitely outside the scope of the project.

The discussions continued for several minutes and team was nowhere near a solution.  It was then that I decided to enter the conversation with the suggestion that we expand the scope and relocate the double-cone blender and compression suite to the larger bay.

Silence.  You could hear a pin drop for the next 20 seconds as each professional mulled over the idea exchanged glances with each other and checked their notes.

Then the project manager broke the silence

“Okay, next item on the agenda.”

Plan “B” was born.

The takeaway – sometimes the most practical solution involves eliminating limitations.

Best wishes,



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