Interface management is a systematic methodology enlisted when working with multiple contractors, subcontractors, and clients. Implementing an interface management process on a project streamlines communication, identifies critical interfaces, and monitors ongoing work progress while mitigating risks. Interfaces are connection points between parties or elements. Within the context of Interface Management, all entities are working towards a common, agreed-upon goal, which is completion of the Project. As more individuals and contractors work together, there is an increasing chance for miscommunication, lack of communication, or the inability to stay within scope, budget and schedule. This introduces the need for Interface Management.
An interface is defined as a point of connect between entities working on a common project. This point can be:
These interfaces have the potential to negatively impact the cost and schedule of the project. Interface Management is the method of managing interfaces and mitigating these risks. As the number of different entities and scope of a project increases, so does the risk associated with interfaces. A properly implemented interface management process utilizing an interface management system helps ensure the proper communication and transparency between multiple interfacing sub-systems. Failure to properly manage interfaces contributes to the failure of large development projects. Improper interfacing can cause significant delays in commissioning and lead to excessive re-work. Interface Management is an important process that should be enforced to ensure that a project meets safety requirements, is on time, and is on budget.
Project team members are responsible for ensuring that their teams, or parties, are meeting all working deadlines set forth through the interface management system. Project team members have designated roles and responsibilities that require them to not only keep track of workers’ progress, but to report finalization of any short- or long-term projects that will complete the overall operation. As well, it is their duty to pose any questions and to ascertain workers’ understanding and commitments to work assignments.
Certain automated interface management tools may be required of project team members. But their primary roles include ensuring the work gets done, as well as progress reports as they pertain to the scope of operations, and last but not least, developing good working relationships with contractors. Project team members should have review and approval processes firmly in place at contract outset, and should be ready to produce work outcomes to clients or interface managers as requested.
First and foremost, an Interface Manager must have a strong grip on how to communicate, when to communicate, what to communicate, and who to communicate to. They can be the primary point of contact for the client(s) and contractors alike. An Interface Manager is largely responsible for monitoring operational progress, noting any timeline deviations and proactively helping to reconcile them in a timely fashion. Most Interface Managers attend regular interface meetings to discuss and analyze the progress of all interfaces toward work goals while producing monthly reports for clients, who expect exact and precise project deliveries and outcomes.
Often times, Interface Managers utilize weekly or general collaborative interface reports with monitoring tools that provide overall snapshots of work progress to clients, and/or more specific and detailed, at-a-glance reports that capture particular interface workings or outcomes. Many times these tools are provided by the client, are client-specific and are tailored to their informational needs, or exact operational data. Here it is easy to see how interface managers promote project transparency and monitor progress, as well as problems, because they are, after all, risk mitigators.
These automated reports can also reveal particular issues that the Interface Manager must help reconcile. When interfaces do not actively connect and go awry, it is the Interface Manager who must break things down and manage operations to the point of everything flowing smoothly. Interface Managers are often the designated entities who communicate with contractors regarding issues, who then must ensure problem resolution among subcontractors, and who document any and all progress.
Interface Management is paramount when considering the structure of the project or contract. Interface Management promotes project stability and its deliberate structure while identifying interfaces within operations, and it streamlines the makeup of each cog in the wheel to afford transparency through process control and communication between project managers, contractors, subcontractors, and support thereof. Interface Management lends itself well to clearly defined roles of each party which are established early on and which reflect goals and objectives of the project. It can also provide real-time evaluations of progress relative to formed structures of the overall contract. Automated monitoring and some result recording are part of Interface Management. With this, issues are more likely to be revealed and reconciled, and they are less likely to be repeated.
Action plans are outlined within the Interface Management master plan which is inherently related to existing communication in that any questions, changes, objections or problems are communicated in specific ways. This negates the chance for surprises, miscommunication, or an inability to meet contract goals and deadlines. By these clearly defined processes, roles and objectives that comprise Interface Management, client/owner updates are more easily provided on a regular basis. These updates are typically outlined as per client specifications and agreed upon by all parties prior to project implementation.
Interface Management is designed to reduce and even nullify disparities and conflicting authority demands encountered by individual contractors and their subcontractors who are working on large capital operations. For instance, without the benefit of Interface Management, Contractor B might normally be required to report to Client A, as is the case with Contractor C. However, Contractors B and C are not obligated to communicate with one another despite the fact that they’re working on the same project and working toward the same operational goals. In fact, they will assert that they are to speak only with Client A and not to each other, necessarily, regarding any issues or decisions, even if minor.
Enter Interface Management. Here Contractors B and C know full well prior to project start that they must keep one another abreast of progress, of any potential changes in their crews, any anticipated or current scenarios/issues that are delaying work, etc. Granted, they ultimately report to Client A, or perhaps one of the contractors has that responsibility (e.g. Contractor C), but Interface Management promotes the lines of communication that have already been drawn leaving no room for guesswork.
So Contractor B has an issue, discusses it with Contractor C, and if it is not resolved or additional authority is needed to move forward, then Contractor C is the designated entity to communicate with the designated Interface Manager, or the client if such responsibility has been denoted.
The above-mentioned example pertains to many more people than subcontractors A & B, and it is imperative that contractors keep the communication open between one another. So when the number of subcontractors is high, Interface Management streamlines specific communication protocols with actions that positively affect all project outcomes.
A successful Interface Manager can anticipate issues or scenarios that can or will impede progress, and have measures in place so as to avoid situations that could negatively impact the client’s projected completion goals and budgets. Any type of proactive management is always a plus, but it’s crucial when managing large numbers of contractors with one or more client at the helm, along with other stakeholders who are expecting regulated feedback. It’s all about controlling risk by actively monitoring dynamic operations.
So what proactive approaches can interface managers enlist? Let’s start with systems. Is there one in place that workers can use to challenge instructions that may not be evident or unclear? Is there a system that works to ensure proper communication among subcontractors and contractors between shifts? Do all of your contractors treat equipment repair work with the same urgency? How do the contractors handle crew illnesses or times when they might be short-staffed? Anticipating such problems, outlining them ahead of time, and developing reactive protocol ensures that all parties know exactly what is expected of them.
Proactive management by way of Interface Management is important for overall timeliness of project completion, but it’s also important when considering cost savings. If a contract can be completed within budget, everyone wins. But if a contract can be complete under budget, you may have life-long clients!
With that said, by identifying critical operational risks early on, potential cost savings are immense. This is in line with proactive Interface Management since much of it supported by technological tools that become necessary due to many involved entities. Automated reports, audit trails and interface agreement plans all comprise Interface Management. In fact, experts say that 80% of Interface Management takes place even before operations begin.
By developing these Interface Management technologies and processes early on, as well as anticipating scenarios that will slow down work or negatively affect operational timelines, real cost savings can (and will!) be realized.
You can find resources that will help you research the processes and benefits of Interface Management here.