Under the Magnifying Glass
By Shawn Conley
How a project manager can help plan and manage a new building project
By Shawn Conley
Project management is the process of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing out work that is not part of the everyday practice of a business. Large organizations often employ or hire project managers (PMs), and have a team formed around this manager that can include department managers, directors, or labourers and consumers who may use the product of the project. This could apply to everything from creating a set of tweezers to building a nuclear power plant. This is a process that we should be applying when building our farms.
The way we tend to build today is by talking to a friend to get some references on who we should work with. The next step is to go to the recommended builder, put together a floor plan that is the least cost to build, and maybe get a second price on that design. Then, once we’ve found a site or a location on our farm, we sign a contract with the builder and take our floor plan to the recommended equipment supplier so they can fit the ventilation and equipment into the barn we designed. Many times the building is started before the equipment companies are even contacted. If the equipment supplier is lucky, the producer may have consulted with a ventilation engineer beforehand to optimize the layout. And let’s hope that engineer has experience with poultry and has continued to pursue further ventilation education over the years. Now, this equipment supplier may or may not have any actual training themselves, and if they do, it’s just as likely to be sales training, as opposed to poultry husbandry training.
Salespeople are in a tough position — they have to balance achieving their sales targets with the long-term production needs of the farmer. As a former sales representative myself, I faced the same challenges. What are the chances that any one equipment company has all of the best equipment? And if you choose to piecemeal the job, how do you know for sure what is the best equipment for your operation?
The quote by Alexander Graham Bell, “The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus,” is a perfect analogy for the PM. A PM can be the magnifying glass that aims all the beams of information into creating the optimal production environment for the birds. An ideal PM would have experience or training in all aspects of live production, and an expansive knowledge base of the range of equipment and builders available. Let’s look at what goes into constructing a new barn or farm, and what the advantages of working with a PM can be.
Finding the right site and the right location on the site is extremely important. This aspect of construction alone can justify the cost of hiring a PM. Site engineers can sometimes be ambitious about the excavation that needs to be done to accommodate a structure. A hundred extra loads of fill or moving materials two or three times can add up quickly. Having someone with experience to oversee this can save a lot of cost and headaches. It’s very unlikely that a site engineer will take things like poultry biosecurity into consideration. Do they know the best distance between poultry barns, and the best orientation with regard to prevailing winds or sun? The same applies to the next step.
Builders will construct the barn that fits the parameters you provide, whether that is the top of the line, or the lowest cost structure. Many times this compromises the biosecurity and the functionality of the finished barn. Many people don’t realize all the options available because they haven’t seen buildings in Europe, the United States, or the rest of the world. Saving money on the structure doesn’t necessarily mean saving money on equipment or maximizing the performance of the birds. The primary aspects affected are ventilation and heating.
Certain building dimensions don’t lend themselves to certain types of ventilation and heating. Going wide, for example, is not ideal for tunnel ventilation; it can result in requiring two rows of heaters, and can produce significantly different conditions from one side to the other if cross ventilating. When we put a control room inside the barn footprint, we create dead spots in the ventilation, especially when located on the inlet side. Are we able to attain a suitable air speed with the fewest fans? Are we avoiding all possible obstructions to the ventilation, such as gas and water pipes? These are small details that can greatly affect the air and litter conditions.
Tightly tied into the building dimensions is the equipment layout. It affects ventilation, and the building affects how the equipment can be installed. Sometimes it is possible to get more equipment per bird into a barn, while maintaining or reducing cost. With some new heater technologies, it’s possible to run a single row of heaters down the middle of the barn and achieve more than adequate temperatures at the wall with more even coverage.
Outside of equipment layout, one of the benefits of having an objective PM is that they can help you choose the best of each type of equipment, and help to find and apply the latest technology without having to consider sales targets. The only contemplation for an independent PM is finding what will give you the best results on cost and performance. They can consider the cost-benefit to upgrading certain options. They’ll also consider how the equipment works together. This could involve ensuring compatibility of all the elements of a single barn, or in the example of a multi-stage operation, ensuring the transitions from one barn and equipment to the next are smooth. Everyone knows control systems, data collection, and communication can be difficult to decipher, so it can help greatly to have an expert in your corner. They can also provide follow up service and management tips after the buildings are in operation.
COORDINATION, RESOURCES and PRICE NEGOTIATIONS
From research organizations like universities to a variety of equipment suppliers and contractors, as well as other poultry companies and producers, PMs have many sources to draw on. They may be able to bring in builders from another area when the local builders are too busy. They are always learning as they are teaching, which is extremely valuable. Many athletes who become coaches suddenly have a bunch of epiphanies about how the game works, and the same applies in poultry production.
Part of the reason many companies have PMs is because they have come to the conclusion that it is difficult to do your everyday job and add the task of managing a large project on top of it without sacrificing on the quality of one or the other. It’s quite clear that having a dedicated manager to work on your project temporarily will alleviate this problem.
Price negotiation is something else a PM can assist with. They have ongoing access to pricing and know what the standards are in the industry. A grower who buys a feed system every 20 years has no measuring stick for what the cost of equipment and installation should be.
Most producers only get one or two opportunities to build, which means there is limited or no experience when the opportunity presents itself. If you look at building a barn or a farm as navigating though the wilderness, it’s a lot safer to have a guide! I’ve been lucky enough to work with excellent guides and coaches myself, and have seen first-hand how a PM can plan and manage a project. Good PMs will pay for themselves several times over by providing the required expertise to save on building and production costs, while helping you optimize bird performance. They can help you attain all the goals you’ve set out for your farm.
Shawn Conley is a project manager with Hendrix Genetics and operations manager of Weeden Environments. He can be reached by email: Shawn.firstname.lastname@example.org