Project Controls in Pharmaceuticals Construction - Friday in the Field

Bob Svihla
I sat down with Senior Marketing Manager Mike LePostollec to discuss my work in the Pharmaceuticals Sector and in providing project controls services. Coming from a diverse professional background, I’ve had the opportunity to work on some remarkable projects and have seen the industry evolve through first-hand experience.

Mike LePostollec: As a senior project controls manager, you have been focused on our Pharmaceuticals Sector for some time now. Did you always want to follow this path?

My career has evolved over time, I didn’t start out in project controls. I studied architecture and began my career working in design, but after about five years my interests turned more toward the construction side of the industry. That was in 2005, when I joined Faithful+Gould as a member of the cost estimating group, where I stayed for more than 6 years. In 2011, Roger Scott, who now leads Faithful+Gould’s Bio/Pharma Sector within the Americas region, presented an opportunity for me to join the project controls group and work on GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK’s) new U.S. headquarters project at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. That project proved to be an outstanding experience. I’ve been working in Project Controls ever since.

ML: What made it such a great experience?

Personally, that project was pivotal in my career growth, in addition to being a great success for both Faithful+ Gould and GSK. Faithful+Gould managed the entire program as GSK’s owner’s representative. It wasn’t just project controls or cost estimating or project management, it was everything, a full suite of our services and the epitome of what you think of as total program management.

For me personally, this was an excellent introductory project to get my hands dirty. Project controls, by definition, is controlling cost, risk and schedule on a project, and to be effective managers are required to coordinate various teams and components. The fact that Faithful+Gould was fully managing the program helped to facilitate that coordination. I was able to provide services I had experience in, while adding new services to my skillset.

ML: It sounds like your diverse background came in handy. Have you found that often in your work?  

I have. Getting to work in different capacities has been a huge part to my development and the value I am able to provide our clients. My work in architecture has given me a solid foundation in understanding the basic principles of design and engineering. This translates well into keen understanding of change order management and review, which is an important part of my job. Thanks to my experience in architecture, I have the knowledge to fill in the gaps where things might be missing.

A lot of my colleagues at Faithful+Gould have come from varied backgrounds like mine, with expertise in things like architecture and engineering, and are now working in project controls, project management or cost estimating. Providing a full suite of services is a cornerstone of our business and the diverse makeup of our people is in line with that philosophy. In the 12 years that I have been with Faithful+Gould, there have been countless instances where our teams have been able to step in on a project and provide our clients with solutions to issues that fall outside of our traditional services. Being able to bring that to the table is value added for the client.

Pharmaceuticals projects are a different animal. We’re building state-of-the-art facilities where industry leading medicines are being developed, so there is a high degree of scrutiny at every stage, particularly in regards to health and safety...

ML: How do you tailor your project controls approach specifically for pharma projects, as opposed to projects in other industries?

Pharmaceuticals projects are a different animal. We’re building state-of-the-art facilities where industry leading medicines are being developed, so there is a high degree of scrutiny at every stage, particularly in regards to health and safety, from design and engineering, to site selection and construction, to cost and schedule. Design and construction standards are simply higher for lab spaces and equipment, and they drive higher costs and longer schedules. Don’t get me wrong, these high standards are necessary and important for the success of the project. But the strict requirements of the work present unique challenges to the schedule and the cost, which we are responsible for monitoring.

That is the situation with my current project. We are working with one of our key pharmaceuticals clients on large-scale expansions on two of its campuses that involves centrally consolidating staff and business operations, formerly spread across various campuses. We are providing project controls services, while the client maintains a separate project management team. Those project managers have an extensive stage-gate approval process and it is our responsibility to identify budget and forecast risks as early as possible so they can formulate a plan to minimize or mitigate these risks well in advance and present solutions to their senior management teams.

ML: How is that project going?

Quite well. I’ve been working with this client and the project teams for over two and a half years on a series of projects for their overall expansion and consolidation program. The project managers deal with numerous stakeholders, so we really are their eyes and ears for project controls, specifically in regards to cost. They’re relying on us for accurate information and we have a responsibility to give them an excellent product. What’s great is that over time we have been able to develop our relationships and build their confidence so that they can rely on us without hesitation and focus on their other duties. That trust has paid off, both for the client and for our team, as demonstrated by the fact that Faithful+Gould was recently re-selected to continue our project controls engagement through 2020.

ML: It’s such an asset when a client can kind of have a trusted, go-to provider, regardless of industry.

Exactly. Given the extent of the work, our clients trust in our capabilities is crucial. On these projects, they are looking to relocate groups across campuses, creating a human element that leaves little room for error in the schedule. As different sites close and staff relocate their families, the new spaces need to be ready for occupancy. There’s just no other option, and we have to make sure that we deliver our part and a quality product.

ML: From your client’s standpoint, what’s driving all this movement?

It’s really a matter of keeping up with the times and what’s going on in the industry, in order to produce the highest quality products for their customers. From a construction standpoint, the way to do that is to create open and flexible spaces. This promotes collaboration and more effective research and development, thus quicker product approvals and quicker product to market, all while reducing the overall footprint, without sacrificing resources.

These new, vibrant spaces allow scientists to work right next to one another, helping bolster collaboration in a new way.

ML: That’s not unlike what we have been doing in our own offices at Faithful+Gould.

Yes, that’s been a running theme in office construction across many industries. What’s relatively new, and specific to the pharmaceuticals industry is that labs are now being designed to be open and flexible. That’s a key element of my current project. We’re working to create lab space that is more easily reconfigurable so that scientists can work in various capacities. In Pharmaceuticals, this comes in handy because you have scientists who primarily work on different teams that would typically have minimal interaction. These new, vibrant spaces allow scientists to work right next to one another, helping bolster collaboration in a new way.

ML: So, would you say open plan labs are the new open plan office spaces?

In a way, yes. Just as open plan offices feature ergonomic solutions and equipment to facilitate collaboration and productivity, and improve the working experience for staff, these open labs are equipped with the latest developments in lab equipment and “plug and play” technologies that take lab flexibility to a new level.

Of course, lab space construction is more complex than office space and not necessarily as flexible, where configurations can more easily be rearranged. But it does provide a certain level of flexibility that can be reconfigured in order to maximize collaboration for the next project or latest product development.

ML: Do you see open plan labs becoming more common in the future?

I think this will be a trend in lab construction that will continue to grow and be further developed. Ten years ago, the idea of a flexible lab was a business approach that had interest but little traction when it came to actual construction. Today, more and more pharmaceutical companies are moving to open lab space that allows them to reconfigure in the future in a much easier way.

As pharma clients continue to look for ways to distinguish themselves from their competition and get innovative products to market quicker, we’re going to see more creative solutions and further ways labs can be reconfigured, renovated and expanded to remain cost effective, while running more efficiently.

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