Ali Shahsavari began his career as a Scheduling and Controls Manager in 2005 at MAPNA Group. In 2013, he became a Project Controls Manager at Kiewit – one of the largest construction and engineering organizations in North America. He is a certified PMP® (Project Management Professional) and a PSP (Planner Scheduler Professional).
During his career, Ali had the chance to work on a number of large projects in the oil and gas industry, which include the Petra Nova Carbon Capture Project in Texas, GREC (Grand River Energy Center) Power Plant in Oklahoma, TransCanada Tula-Villa de Reyes (Gas Compression & Metering Stations) and the TERMINAL DE FLUIDOS PROGRESO in Mexico.
In this interview, he speaks about his experience as a Scheduling Manager and as a Project Controls Manager, his role in the project controls team, the challenges that he has encountered and dealt with while working on projects and what drives him to be his best self in his day-to-day career.
PMTips: What are your responsibilities as a Project Controls Manager and what is your role in the project controls team?
Ali Shahsavari: As a District Project Controls Manager in Kiewit/TIC, I’m in charge of all Project Controls efforts in Southern District.
A PCM’s (Project Controls Manager) roles and responsibilities differs depending on the state of the project. Ideally, before the project team mobilize to the jobsite, we work with the project team to help setup the Project Controls tools for the job.
Quantities (like concrete, pipe, cable, etc.) drive our business, and accurately tracking our most up to date quantities, along with using Kiewit’s EVM system, will allow us to provide deliverables to management that will allow them to make informed data driven decisions.
PMTips: How was it the first time you started working as a Project Controls Manager at Kiewit? Do you have an interesting story from that time that you would like to share?
Ali Shahsavari: At first, it was really challenging. My initial background was Scheduling Management, which mostly hinges around time management. With the added required skill sets like Business Management, Estimating, Quantity Management, Cost, etc. I had to learn a lot of different tools and techniques to get my head wrapped around Project Controls Management.
I have tons of stories about all the trips I made between Houston, TX and Kansas City, KS. Some night, I had to work until 9 pm to get Project Controls deliverables generated for month-end reports. Good old days!
PMTips: What would you say is different in your field of work from that of project managers working in the office? Furthermore, are there any similarities?
Ali Shahsavari: Project managers working in the office often are looking at a higher-level view, and get heavily involved in financials, contract, Engineering, Procurement and so forth. As a Project Controls Manager, we sometimes will need to dig down in the weeds to give our project managers clarity and answers to some of the questions they may have.
PMTips: Considering the large scale of the projects you are working on, there must be unique and very particular challenges you have dealt with. How do you deal with any arising challenges that happen during the entire project’s lifecycle?
Ali Shahsavari: Most of our challenges and risks are mitigated through extensive pre-planning sessions.
However, one of the most constant struggles in a project is CHANGE. You might have a plan of action, but that plan can be thrown out the window with a major change of scope during the project’s lifecycle. In dealing with situations like these, you must always remember to break down the change, following the idea of divide and conquer.
Our Kiewit integrated project controls system makes us able to quickly react to changes diligently.
PMTips: Among all the projects you have worked on, is there any one that you believe was an invaluable experience for you or were they all equally important for your career?
Ali Shahsavari: One of my projects always stands out among the ones I’ve been on. The Petra Nova Carbon Capture plant that was the first one built in the US and biggest one in the world. It was a green project that would help the environment by elimination of CO2 emissions in a coal power plant.
We made money, kept people safe, helped keep the environment clean and we were proud of the quality of work delivered.
PMTips: Could you describe your typical workweek? Are there any unexpected situations arising, difficulties that you must tackle?
Ali Shahsavari: As a District Project Controls Manager, managing PCM’s on active jobs is the most challenging and time-consuming part of my job. This includes hiring new ones, training them, assigning them to new jobs, etc. There are always all sorts of challenges in managing people. It’s definitely different than managing a project.
PMTips: Even for someone with your level of experience, you must have ambitions, something that you are looking forward to in your career. What drives you to do what you do?
Ali Shahsavari: I care about people more than anything. I have 11 direct and indirect reports. Seeing them walking in the office every day with smile on their faces, motivated to do more than they’re capable of, drives me in my day to day career to be my best self.
Also, I like the numbers, and I like publishing the visuals that give everyone on or off the project a sense of how the project is doing. Also, I always heard that quantities drive our business, but being in this role has really helped me understand the big picture, and I think this is one thing that drives me as well – understanding how the organization works as a whole.
PMTips: You are PMP® and PSP Certified. How relevant are those certifications for you as a Project Controls Manager?
Ali Shahsavari: To me, certificates are mostly frameworks that organize and activate your knowledge to understand a complex concept like Project Controls Management.
There’s no certificate that can give you the tools and techniques to solve all the real-world Project Management problems. However, they help us have extensive understanding of why we’re doing what we’re doing rather than how it’s done.
PMTips: Is this how you planned for your career to advance or was it a ‘one thing leads to another’ situation for you?
Ali Shahsavari: Every step I’ve taken in my career path has been planned with a forward-looking thought process. Although, I’m curious about different knowledge areas as well.
PMTips: You have quite a busy professional life, with you conducting numerous trainings, having acquired a number of certifications and working as a Project Controls Manager at Kiewit. How do you manage to take some time for yourself? What does a Project Controls Manager usually do in his free time?
Ali Shahsavari: Although it’s sometimes tough to have work-life balance in this position, I always do my best to make it happen.
I swim an hour every day after work and that makes me feel relaxed. Scuba diving and skydiving are my main hobbies along with taking my car to race track on weekends.
Been to 24 countries and counting, traveling around the world is another thing that gives me the opportunity to unplug from work.
PMTips: What advice would you give to all the young people and professionals that wish to advance in their career and be as successful as you in the future?
Ali Shahsavari: Be flexible. Research the questions you have, but do not be afraid to reach out to someone to get the answer. Willingness to learn will go a long way.
Always have inspirational challenges that drive you to be your best.