Expert Interview With Tetra Tech's Alain Grenier, Project Management Expert
Facilitating communication and ensuring timely, efficient project execution
Alain Grenier has nearly 40 years of project management experience and has been with Tetra Tech for nine years. He began his career as a network planner and procurement agent in a renowned telecommunications company. He dealt with thousands of power network-related procurement projects involving the supply of equipment, lines, and poles. Over the years, Mr. Grenier’s project management expertise grew through his participation in numerous projects varying in nature and scale—from small material and supply provisioning projects to large, multi-city efforts involving human resources, budget, and scheduling management. Today he manages Tetra Tech’s large scale public utility infrastructure project group in Quebéc, Canada. He was recently involved in the Highway 30 project and is currently working on the Turcot interchange project, two major transportation infrastructure projects in Montreal. Mr. Grenier is a Québec Professional Engineer and certified by PMI. He studied electrical engineering at the Montreal University Polytechnique Engineering School.
Why did you choose to specialize in project management?
I’m not sure if I chose project management or if project management chose me. When I first started, most engineers were dreaming of design and drawing. I remember arriving at my first job at Bell Canada where I was the only one among a group of about ten to be assigned a management position, whereas the others were directed toward design. I suppose the talent scout recognized management potential in me! I found myself in charge of a team of two to manage procurement for entire networks. I continued to be involved in management, and my projects increased both in size and complexity over time. The teams with which I worked also grew in size, involved more trades, and covered more territory. Eventually, my teams covered multiple provinces.
Tetra Tech CEO Dan Batrack calls project managers “the foundation of our company.” How do you see that in your project manager role?
My team and I provide hands-on management of the entire project—from integration to follow-up at every level. We cover a wide range of activities, including communications, project progress and deliverables, quality control, record-keeping, audit coordination, schedule and budget management, and the identification of payable items. We also intervene as experts, see to the production of technical reports, and make sure that the project progresses.
As leader of the large-scale project management group in Quebéc, my role mainly consists of maintaining harmonious relationships between the stakeholders. I must ensure that everyone listens to and understands one another. I get involved with the various teams and individuals. I coordinate communications between our team of experts and the other project stakeholders.
Naturally, experience helps smooth some situations. However, intuition plays an important role—combining experience and good sense with a bit of feeling. Believe me, I regretted not taking this it into consideration in the past! Trust is also very important to me. In fact, that is what helped me most in project management over the years. I am not talking about blind trust, but knowing how to be open to proposals and giving new or different ideas a chance.
How do you address the challenges of project management to provide a quality product for the client?
Project team members come from various backgrounds, and each member tackles work differently. The difficulty with project management resides in getting the various stakeholders to reach a consensus. The stakeholders’ actions must be coordinated, while creating an environment that will encourage communication. To achieve this, our team must show that we listen to each stakeholder, that we understand their points of view, and that we already have worked out strategies before any meeting is held.
Being able to get people to mobilize and find solutions together is also an asset. However, teams often tend to rely on predetermined frameworks to achieve this. Some problems do not have an immediately apparent solution, so we bring together the whole team—engineers, suppliers, and contractors—around the table to find a viable solution. In addition to facilitating communication, the project manager must be open to new solutions and confirm their capacity to address the problem. Developing new ways to address project challenges and daring to try new options is not easy, but it is certainly a critical step toward success in project management.
To encourage this exchange of solutions in a positive atmosphere, the project manager must also take on the role of facilitator or mediator between the various parties involved. In addition, he must remain the expert if he is to maintain his credibility with the stakeholders. He must take all of the techniques, innovations, and changes into consideration, while taking care not to neglect any idea or concept that may arise. This is quite a challenge given the number of trades and fields involved and the level of complexity that may arise in a single project!
Is there a difference between the management of large scale projects and “regular” projects?
To me, there is very little difference between the two. The problems, challenges, and techniques necessary to solve issues are practically the same. The notions of deliverables, budgets, and execution as promised are present in both cases. Management and coordination skills are just as essential in both cases. Only the scale is different. Based on the scale of the project, one must know how to allocate time, assign resources, and take action without neglecting any aspect of the project. In my opinion, there lies the main difference. A large-scale project involves a greater number of experts from various fields. Therefore, more opinions are expressed and bringing them together can be more difficult, as is communication between teams. That is the role of the project manager