Project Management for Solar Installers

Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Training

What is project management?

All things require managing in some way and the more complex or lengthy a project or process, the more important it is to follow correct project management guidelines.

Project management is basically the initiating, planning, executing, controlling and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet certain criteria at a specified time. 

The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all of the project goals within the given constraints> Money and time probably being the most important of those.

The RACI chart, what is it?

There are many methods of project management but this blog deals with the RACI system which is outlined below: 

  • R = Responsible - this team member does the work to complete the task
  • A = Accountable - this person delegates work, last one to review the task or deliverable 
  • C = Consulted - consulted parties, stakeholders , how are they affected
  • I = Informed - these team member kept in the loop on project progress

The important points include:

  • Only one person can be accountable
  • In some projects you can be both accountable and responsible for delivery
  • Those consulted offer opinion and give feedback
  • Those informed do not need every detail of the project’s every step

Now there are many project management programmes out there with varying degrees of sophistication, but at the end of the day they are all simply glorified lists. 

In other words, processes and procedures are documented.

The Importance of PM

Compared to domestic installs, commercial solar projects take a lot longer. A domestic system, in many cases, can be completed in a day but many commercial solar systems take weeks, if not months. There is invariably more people involved, there is more money involved, more complexities and therefore more things to go wrong!


Collect data, always

As project management involves documentation, a natural part of this is the collection of data which allows more detailed analysis of the job, potentially leading to improvements overall.

Continuous improvement is the key and the more data collected and analysed, the more improvements.

What should be managed?

Let’s assume the job has been won so all the approvals have gone through and the job is ready to go. We look at materials so the questions we have ask include: 

  • Who orders materials?
  • Has it been approved?
  • Who approves it?
  • When is it going to site, all in one go, two or more separate deliveries?
  • Who is receiving the goods?
  • What documentation is required?
  • Where are the goods to be stored, on site? 
  • Has the location been confirmed?


Materials to site and storage

For example, let's look at delivery to the site. What if someone who is responsible for organising the delivery does not consult with the site foreman and materials arrive at site and there are limited personnel to unload or store? 


Who should be managed?

Obviously the organising of personnel is crucial to any project so the following have to be addressed:

  • Have workers been organised?
  • Sparkies and Trade Assistants?
  • When are they coming to site and when are they needed?
  • Has this information been effectively communicated?

Following the previous example,materials arrived on site and are ready to be installed and it's a Tuesday but the TA’s are coming Thursday, because this is what they were told to do. There has been a lack of clear communication between site foreman, PM and/or office admin.

Organising equipment

What about equipment hire?

  • Are you using a scissor lift or panel lifter?
  • When is the equipment coming to site?
  • How long will it be at site?
  • Who is the main contact at the hire equipment company you will be dealing with?

Task Responsibility

Installation task responsibility is very important. You don’t particularly want an A grade electrician at a considerable hourly rate doing things that an apprentice or Trade Assistant is more than capable of performing.

So questions have to be asked such as:

  • Feet and rail, who is responsible?
  • What documentation is available?
  • DC cable and isolators, who is installing?
  • Are serial numbers being recorded?
  • Is the site supervisor also head sparky?
  • What are all the exact roles and responsibilities of everyone on site?


The list goes on

Rubbish removal is a large part of any commercial solar project. The amount of cardboard, waste cable, panel pallets, cable drums, is huge and this must all be accounted for.

  • Who is performing this task?
  • What are they actually removing?
  • When is this task being performed?
  • Does the contractor involved need to go through an induction process?
  • Do they have all the necessary permits?

All larger projects require Milestone reports that should include all project details and be submitted to the appropriate parties at the appropriate times. Including such things as when is the system going to be commissioned, whether the inspector has been organised, and also the final hand over date.

Whether you document these tasks or not, they do occur. 

If you don’t have a systematic approach to these projects, invariably, there will be problems.


Conclusion

As an installer takes on larger projects they must take into account the increased need for comprehensive documentation in the form of checklists.  The classic “She’ll be right” may have been acceptable for smaller domestic projects but not for commercial solar jobs.

The more data that is collected from these projects the more improvements can be made next time.

Good luck on your next project.


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