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Data Center Projects: Project Management
Data Center Project is also known as :
Internalize Data Centers,
Data Center Project Management Services,
Data Center Project Management,
Virtual Data Center,
Data Center Knowledge,
Data Center Virtualization,
Modular Data Center,
Data Center Cooling,
Data Center Virtualization,
Data Center Costs,
Massive Datacenter Project,
State Data Center Project,
Data Center Floor,
Data Center Infrastructure.
In data center design/build projects, flaws in project management and coordination are a
common ' but unnecessary ' cause of delays, expense, and frustration. The ideal is for
project management activities to be structured and standardized like interlocking building
blocks, so all parties can communicate with a common language, avoid responsibility gaps
and duplication of effort, and achieve an efficient process with a predictable outcome. This
paper presents a framework for project management roles and relationships that is
understandable, comprehensive, and adaptable to any size project.
In a project to build or upgrade data center physical infrastructure, a structured and standardized process
provides the essential foundation for efficient project execution and a successfully deployed system. A
model for such a standardized process is described in APC White Paper #140, "Data Center Projects:
Standardized Process." A major element of this standardized project process is project management, which
guides the project through its various phases and coordinates the work of all parties to the project.
Even if a project is being led by an experienced consulting firm, there will be other parties to the project ' the
end user, various hardware or service providers, a general contractor ' who have a role in the management
of project activity. The responsibilities and interrelationships among these various contributors must be
coordinated and documented in order to avoid dropped handoffs and ambiguous responsibility. Such
problems are not necessarily due to flaws in the activity of the parties involved, but rather to the lack of an
overarching, shared process guiding all parties as a management team, clarifying accountability and
As data center build and upgrade projects move away from art and more toward science, project
management must be re-examined using the same principles as the rest of the process. Just as the steps
of the project work should be structured and standardized to simplify and streamline the process, it is equally
important that project management activities be structured and standardized. The benefits of a welldocumented,
standardized, and mutually understood project management model are similar to the benefits
obtained from the rest of any standardized process model:
A common language. When all parties to project management are operating from the same
model, using the same terminology to refer to same things, many problems caused by
miscommunication and different viewpoints are eliminated.
Transparent terminology. With management roles having names that clearly represent what they
do, another cause of miscommunication is eliminated.
Clear delineation of responsibilities. A mutual understanding of who is doing what clarifies
relationships and avoids duplication and conflict.
Complete coverage of necessary activities. A carefully designed model ensures that all
management responsibilities are accounted for, and nothing "falls through the cracks."
This paper presents a model for management roles and the relationships among the project management
activities of the end-user (the customer) and the various suppliers of products and services for the project. It
does not attempt to describe project management techniques ' rather, it describes a framework for the
structure of a standardized model and terminology for project management in data center design/build
projects. This model can be adapted according to the preferences of the user/customer and the specific
requirements of the particular project.
Configuring Project Management Roles
In the standardized model of the project process, project management is a broad category of oversight
activity that occurs throughout the course of the project to provide communication, planning, coordination,
and problem resolution (Figure 1).
As with any business project, data center project management provides dedicated oversight to address
project-critical activities such as
- Scope of responsibilities
- Continuity (handoffs)
- System changes
- Process defects
- Status reporting
General techniques, training, and tools for project management are well documented in business and
industry literature, and are beyond the scope of this paper. This paper focuses on the particular project
management roles needed for data center projects, and how those management responsibilities can be
divided up and accounted for, in order to meet the needs of a specific project. Determining which
management roles are needed for the project, and who will perform them, is part of configuring the process
for the project at hand. The proper configuration of the process is as important to the success of the
project as the configuration of the physical equipment of the system.
When does "project management" start?
The configuration and delegation of project management activity is a critical element of process design that
must be considered and determined up front, well before the time comes to execute it. Depending upon the
size, scope, and clarity of the project initiative at the outset, assigned and dedicated management may not
begin until after the initial fact-finding activities of the Prepare phase, which identifies and clarifies the
endeavor as a "project" (Figure 2). Note that the milestone defining the end of this first phase is Commit to
Project, which typically marks the beginning of whatever tracking and database activities will be used to
support the project, and in some cases may be the point at which formal "project management" starts.
Projects of greater scope or with more customized engineering may require that project management activity
begin earlier ' during the Prepare phase ' whereas for smaller data center expansion projects, project
management may not need to start until later, after the purchase order is executed at the end of the Design
phase. The size, complexity, and criticality of the project will determine when "project management" needs
to become a structured, dedicated role.
Regardless of how and when project management is configured, there will always be some project
management activity in the customer organization from the very beginning, if only to make the configuration
decisions and possibly negotiate contracts for outsourced management. This ongoing management role is
shown as "customer-side project management" in Figure 7, later in this paper.
Subordinate management roles
The general process map of Figure 1 shows project management as a single bar across the top, implying
that it is one job. It can be one job, and in smaller projects it might be configured that way. More often it is
configured as more than one job, or an oversight job with subordinate jobs under it. For example,
"installation management" can be defined as a separate role spanning the Acquire and Implement phases,
overseeing on-site activity related to delivery and setup of the physical system (Figure 3). Management
roles such as this should be considered modular elements of overall management, remaining subordinate to
the overall end-to-end project management role.
Theoretically, management responsibility could be subdivided further by assigning separate management to
each of the four phases, or even to combinations of steps within a phase (not generally recommended, but
it could be appropriate in special circumstances). More typically, management responsibility is subdivided
by the organization(s) providing hardware and services ' for example, APC or sub-contractors ' not by
steps in the process model.
At the most granular level, note that step management is already built into the process, as the "owner" that is
assigned to each step (see "Anatomy of a Step" in APC White Paper #140, "Data Center Projects:
Regardless of how project management responsibilities are configured, the objective of each management
role is the same: seamless coverage within its scope of responsibility, integration with other management
roles, and a dedicated point-of-contact at all times. A dedicated point of contact is especially critical when
the ultimate responsibility lies with delegated sub-roles or third party providers. Such a dedicated point-ofcontact,
whose job it is to field, direct, and coordinate communication, should be considered an essential
role in every project. For example, in APC's implementation of the standardized project process (used to
conduct the sale and execution of a customer project ' see later section Project Management Detail)
the "project commitment manager" is the dedicated point-of-contact for the project. This management role
monitors and facilitates fulfillment of all commitments made to the customer ' delivery dates, appointments,
and other promises ' during the course of the project, with authority to do "whatever it takes" to clear
roadblocks and solve coordination problems.
Documentation and tracking
Regardless of how project management roles are configured for the project, an essential project
management responsibility is documentation and tracking of project activity. Current project information
must be easily accessible at all times to authorized project team members and service partners. A common
and effective method is an online Web site. This interactive project record should not only provide up-todate
information, but it should also accept feedback, comments, requests, and problem statements, and
route the information appropriately. The project database should be able to provide updates and reports,
and log ad hoc information such as contractors' vacation schedules, alternate phone numbers, and
Coordination of Multiple Suppliers
Most data center projects will have more than one supplier of hardware or services contributing to the work
of the project. The customer may engage separate equipment vendors or service providers for power,
cooling, racks, security, fire suppression, electrical work, mechanical work, and perhaps a general contractor
if building construction is required. Each supplier of hardware or services will have potential interaction or
dependencies with the other suppliers to the project. For example, fire suppression installation depends
upon piping and wiring that must be installed first, both of which may be handled by a different supplier.
While each of these suppliers will have its own "project manager" to conduct the work it contributes to the
project, there is an additional project role that spans all suppliers: coordination. Coordination provides an
interface among suppliers with whom there are equipment or time dependencies. It is a role that can be
difficult to assign when there are many suppliers to a project.
If dependencies among suppliers are not coordinated, delays and expense can result from supplier site
visits that are scheduled too soon for the handoff, or from one supplier unnecessarily waiting for something
from another. Coordinating the work of all suppliers is a critical part of project management that can be
overlooked in planning, but is essential to the efficient and reliable progress of the project.
Minimizing the number of suppliers ' for example, by bundling some services and equipment under a single
vendor ' shifts some of the coordination burden to the intermediate vendor and reduces the risk of faulty
communication between suppliers (Figure 4). While it may not be possible to have everything handled by a
single vendor, reducing the number of vendors can significantly decrease the coordination burden,
especially when all possible interdependencies are considered (Figure 5).
Using Services for Project Management
Qualified service providers may be included in the project management configuration, to supply some or all
project management activities. Whether, how much, and to whom the organization decides to delegate
project management duties depends upon the nature of the project and the preferences of the organization.
There are three general models for engaging external service providers in project management
- Do-it-yourself. All project management is done internally, from start to finish.
- Partial outsource. Handle some management duties internally, outsource some to one or more
providers. A typical example is outsourcing the "installation management" portion (see Figure 3).
- Complete outsource. Hire out all management responsibilities to a service provider, with internal
oversight only. (Even with complete outsourcing, there must always be someone within the user
organization who, if not actually doing project management, is monitoring who is.)
Resources, skills, budget, and preference will determine how much of the project's management is handled
in-house and to what extent management is outsourced to a service provider.
Statements of Work
Regardless of the scope of involvement, any portion of project
management that is outsourced to a service provider must have a
"statement of work" that clearly defines the work to be done, including
deliverables, assumptions, scope of responsibility, and work details. A
robust statement of work helps all stakeholders quickly understand
benefits, outputs, cycle time, and pricing. The customer should be able
to assemble a project management configuration that meets the project
requirements using such modular statements of work that can be
"plugged in" to an overall management plan.
In choosing partners for collaboration in the project process (to provide
elements of the process as services), decisions regarding whether and
whom to engage will be primarily guided by the availability of qualified expertise in project process activity. If
that challenge can be met, the considerations in choosing service providers are similar to those generally
stated for any IT outsourcing:
- Optimize resources. The main consideration in outsourcing is the prospect of freeing up
scarce IT resources to focus on core competencies and strategic business activity. With a
competent service provider, project process activities are in the hands of someone for whom
project process is the core competency. The result, if the provider is qualified, will be lower
cost, faster results, and fewer defects.
- Minimize vendor interfaces. A current partner, if qualified in the area of project process,
provides the advantage of an existing (and presumably trusted) relationship, which means
little or no incremental resources needed to establish or maintain an additional provider
- Minimize handoffs. The process will be more reliable if the number of handoffs between
providers is minimized
- Demand statements of work. Detailed and accurate statements of work ' in the context of
a clearly articulated overall process ' clarify in advance what the vendor will provide, enable
understandable and predictable work results, and minimize wasted time.
Project Management Detail
The project process described so far in this paper is a generic framework for the structure of a standardized
project process, which has been developed and generalized from APC's experience with project process.
When APC becomes involved in a customer's data center or
computer room project ' as a supplier of hardware and
services ' it follows a detailed process like this generic one,
to collaborate with the customer in ensuring that nothing is
omitted and everything occurs at the right time. This section
details the components of the "project management" portion
of the APC project process, to illustrate how management
roles are divided among project stakeholders in a typical
project. (In Figure 4, earlier, APC would be the vendor
supplying a bundled package of project elements.)
The project management portion of the standardized process was introduced earlier in Figure 1 (repeated
here) as a single bar spanning all phases. In practice, the responsibilities that comprise "project
management" can be delegated, combined, split, subordinated, or outsourced in a variety of ways among
the end user, the primary equipment supplier (APC in
this case) or a third-party service provider.
Figure 6 shows the breakdown of project
management activity in the process that APC uses
when it is engaged in a customer project as a supplier
of hardware and services. While specific to the way
APC conducts the process, these roles are
representative of the activity that takes place in any
data center project. Each project management bar is defined following the figure.
Customer-Side Project Management
Customer-side project management is what the customer (the end-user or "owner") does to manage and
track the project. For a small project it may be hands-on control of the entire process; for large projects it
may be oversight of delegated or outsourced responsibilities. At a minimum, this role includes basic
- Coordinate with vendors
- Negotiate contracts
- Release payments
Whatever level of involvement it assumes, this role is always present in the customer organization.
Project Commitment Management
Project commitment management is a management role that any vendor should have in place for handling
customer projects. This role has "swat team" authority to troubleshoot problems and take the necessary
action to solve them. The responsibilities of this role focus on activities that ensure the project runs
smoothly and efficiently:
- Communicate with the customer regarding the status of all commitments made
- Coordinate internal tasks to ensure that all commitments are fulfilled and time dependencies
are correctly managed
- Coordinate with other suppliers to ensure that time and equipment dependencies are
- Initiate corrective action against any identified delays, shortages, ambiguities, or other
- Serve as the customer's single point of contact with this vendor
Ideally, commitment and scheduling information is visible to all project stakeholders (including the customer)
using a convenient access method such as a Web-based tracking site, which the project commitment
manager updates and manages.
Engineered Project Management
Engineered project management is for any project having elements beyond what can be handled by
standardized system architecture or by the steps and management roles of the standard project process.
Projects that need this service are those having one or more of the following:
- Custom engineering of the physical system
- Custom process ' most commonly, the management of third-party suppliers (for example,
managing the specification, acquisition, and installation of customized switchgear or piping
- Any other nonstandard project requirements
The details of this management service are determined on a custom basis, depending upon the project.
Planning management is a combination of oversight and work that occurs during the Preparation and
Design phases to establish the viability of the idea, define the scope and constraints of the project, and
launch the project. Planning management spans the twophase
PLAN half of the process, up to the point where a
purchase order is executed, which marks the start of the
BUILD half of the process. The planning activity covered by
this role is described in APC White Paper #142, "Data
Center Projects: System Planning"
Installation management covers the on-site activity that receives and installs the physical equipment, from
navigating doorways and elevators to starting up the system and training the equipment operators. For a
small project, the customer may wish to handle this in-house. For larger projects, it may be desirable to
outsource this responsibility to a service provider ' either the equipment supplier (APC in this case) or a
third-party source. Having this service provided by the equipment supplier (1) ensures that the equipment
will be installed according to the supplier's specification and (2) provides the simplicity of a direct interface
with the equipment supplier's project coordinator for scheduling and commitment tracking.
As with all roles in a project, it is essential that all project management roles be not only well defined, but
explicitly assigned, with complete clarity at all times regarding who is doing what. Every management block
in the process diagram of Figure 6 must be explicitly assigned to a person or party who will be responsible
for executing it. Whether managed internally or outsourced to a service provider, it is crucial that every
element of project management be clearly accounted for by creating a responsibility list such shown in
Table 1. An explicit and agreed-upon list of assignees for every role in project management provides
protection from surprises, delays, and the unwelcome remark "I though someone ELSE was doing that."
The critical value of process in a data center build or upgrade project extends to the project management
roles that support and direct the project's activity. The responsibilities and interrelationships of project
management roles cannot be left to assumption or chance, but
must be explicit, assigned, and tracked.
The project management model described in this paper is a
framework to show essential characteristics that must be
considered in any implementation of a standardized project
process. For the particular organization conducting the project,
and for any particular project within that organization, the
configuration and delegation of project management roles will
vary to meet the requirements of the project.
The project management model described in this paper is the
one developed by APC to meet the requirements of effective
project execution for their customers, who may choose to do
some or all project management themselves, or hire services to
perform selected portions. A clear and complete definition of
management roles enables those roles to be captured as
statements of work and offered as service modules, for customers who wish to delegate project
management responsibilities. Other organizations may have their own description of similar management
roles, with different terminology and responsibility grouping, but the goals are the same: clearly defined
roles, consistent terminology, and explicit responsibility.
Well articulated management roles should be standard operating procedure for any user-directed project,
and demanded of any service provider. A standardized, documented, and understandable methodology
assures a lean, predictable process that speeds deployment, facilitates communication, reduces cost, drives
out defects, and eliminates waste.
About the Authors
Neil Rasmussen is the Chief Technical Officer of APC. He establishes the technology direction for the
world's largest R&D budget devoted to power, cooling, and rack infrastructure for critical networks. Neil is
currently leading the effort at APC to develop high-efficiency, modular, scalable data center infrastructure
solutions and is the principal architect of the APC InfraStruXure system.
Prior to founding APC in 1981, Neil received his Bachelors and Masters degrees from MIT in electrical
engineering where he did his thesis on the analysis of a 200MW power supply for a tokamak fusion reactor.
From 1979 to 1981, he worked at MIT Lincoln Laboratories on flywheel energy storage systems and solar
electric power systems.
Suzanne Niles is a Senior Research Analyst with the APC Data Center Science Center, where she
develops white papers and presentations on technical and strategic topics that support the APC mission.
She studied mathematics at Wellesley College before receiving her Bachelor's degree in computer science
from MIT, with a thesis on handwritten character recognition.
From 1971 to 1981 Suzanne worked on the development team that created Express, a pioneering
multidimensional data management system (now part of Oracle). She has been educating diverse
audiences for over 30 years using a variety of media from software manuals to photography and children's