The Project Notebook

Projects to Watch: Chinese Hotel Built in Two Days

This won’t be an ongoing project!  A super-efficient Chinese crew built a 15 story “green” hotel in 2 days (some say 6 — the difference is the work was completed in 48 elapsed hours, so this is six 8-hour days).  Another remarkable fact: no stationary cranes were used.  Like the 4 hour house built in San Diego in the 80s, the basement and foundation-related work was completed prior to starting the clock.  But no matter how you frame it, this is a remarkable feat of project management and collaboration. Watch time lapse construction in HD (full screen mode):

Projects to Watch: A Man, A Plan, A Canal


On a recent trip to the San Diego airport, the shuttle made a brief diversion to a downtown hotel to pick up guests from a cruise ship that had just been through the Panama Canal. Now each of my online students needs to do a brief essay on an historical project, and this is a popular one, given that one project team succeeded where another had failed. So it peaked my interest to hear something about the current state of the canal.

What many do not realize is that the current state of shipbuilding is constrained by the canal. Most ships do not exceed the size of a vessel that can pass through the locks. This size has actually been assigned a name, Panamax. The super tanker, along with our Nimitz class aircraft carriers, exceed this size and must therefore pass Cape Horn at the Southern tip of South America if they want to pass from Atlantic to Pacific. This is a far longer (around 8,000 nautical miles longer) trip than the roughly 15-16 hours it takes to pass through the canal end-to-end.

Talk of expanding the canals had been around for year, however these recent cruise ship guests indicated the construction was now actually visible to those on deck. The project was originally proposed by former Panama President Martin Torrijos in 2006. The official project start date is recorded as September 3, 2007.

I also had not given much thought as to how the canals generated income — the early history doesn’t speak to that. Small ocean-able private ships (e.g. around 50 foot) may pay a little more than $1,000 US, while cruise ships may pay $100,000+. These tolls and increased by approximately 3.5% per year and must be pre-paid. The cruise ship guests speculated that the large number of ships moored off the canal entrance may have been due to the wait for the fee payment to clear. Another limiting factor is how many ships can pass per day due to the operation of the locks. Most statistics on the canal are given in tons of cargo, but estimates are that 40-50 can pass through in a day.

The final days of the project are expected to be in 2015. The result will be new wealth for Panamanians. The construction jobs, post construction jobs, and tolls are expected to reduce poverty in this small country by 30%. Critics pointed out that the canal plans did not include the social planning necessary, however this planning is now underway as well. Only time will tell if this project succeeds or fails, but the early indicators are positive — this is a project to watch.

Projects to Watch: Steel Grass Farm


It been 10 years since I last visited Kauai, but I recently had an opportunity to spend two days in Honolulu and a week in Princeville. In many ways, nothing changed in the last 10 years. Hanalei Bay still has its one lane bridge which blocks construction equipment from entering, along with progress. Except for more resorts at Poi’pu and a small road widening project between the Lihue Airport and Kapa’a, everything still had a very familiar look.

Coming out of the airport, I passed by the racks with tourist attractions and one word caught my eye — Chocolate Farm! This was something new! A follow up call led me to a brief phone conversation with Tony Lydgate, the owner of Steel Grass Farm in Kapa’a. I arranged to take a three hour “branch to bar” tour of the farm a couple days later. Little did I know this would become a highlight of my trip, not to mention a “diamond in the rough” project waiting to happen.

One of the issues of isolated island life is all the food and goods have to be imported, even though a large percentage of the island is devoted to agriculture. Another issue is employment — many kama’aina (locals) hold two or even three jobs to support their families. Tony has a vision to change this.

Chocolate (cacao) trees are known as 20-60 trees. They grow in climates within 20 degrees of the equator and where the temperature doesn’t go below 60-degrees F. This makes Hawaii the only location in the US which can support large scale chocolate tree growing. Tony and his family envision a day when Kauai will sustain a chocolate cooperative.

As he plants more trees, Tony encourages others to plant on their properties. Each tree only produces a small number of pods (perhaps 30 or 40 for more mature trees), each holding perhaps 3-4 dozen beans which when peeled, become the chocolate nibs. It takes about 500 beans to make one pound of chocolate (all hand processed). A chocolate cooperative would provide sustainable agriculture and renewable revenue for the tree growers. Rather than produce the actual chocolate, the cooperative might go so far as to prepare the nibs and sell them to off island companies to manufacture into chocolate.

The last hour of the tour is devoted to a blind chocolate tasting. Our guides also provided us with some politically correct places from which to buy chocolate. These countries provide a living and fair wage for the workers who process the beans. Rather than by a regular chocolate bar which might contain chocolate from many sources, we were advised to look for single source products such as might come from South or Central America. The most expensive chocolate we tasted was a Dole® Waialua Estate™ Cacao, a rare bean which grows in the volcanic soil of the north shore of Oahu.

As sustainable and cooperative agriculture grows on Kauai, I see many possible projects which will require careful management to optimize business results. Check out Steel Grass Farm on the web for further information. I’ll probably be banned from these future projects, however, as its likely I’d devour all the product!

Projects to Watch: The Greening of Chicago

Perhaps President Obama’s association with the city has something to do with it — suddenly the mention of “green” projects also brings up Chicago. The April 2009 PM Network magazine has a full page “side bar” highlighting the city accomplishments, including:

– tax breaks and grants for the greening of building roof tops
– The Chicago Climate Action Plan proposal to reduce greenhouse gases to 25% below 1990 levels
– Millenium Park, possibly the world’s largest green roof
– additional green construction projects
– redevelopment of a former steel plant site into a park

Perhaps coincidentally, the May 2009 issue of National Geographic Magazine also includes an article entitled “Up on the Roof” and the first featured photo is the green roof top of Chicago’s City Hall and Chicago is declared North America’s leading green roof city.

With increasing evidence of global warning and other environmental concerns, the green projects of Chicago are worth both watching and reproducing.

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© 2010-2012 Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP, CCP