Projects are Life: Rafik Ishaya, Fullerton Engineering

Rafik Ishaya is an expert project manager. He has spent 19 years at Fullerton Engineering and 25 total working in critical infrastructure industries. That kind of expertise is hard to come by. Sitting down and learning from Rafik was a real treat.

The message that stuck with us after our conversation is: the key to successful project management is data integrity.

About Rafik Ishaya: Rafik is a Vice President at Fullerton Engineering, and was previously the Director of Operations there, working to lead the development of new projects. Before leading operations at Fullerton Engineering, Rafik focused on project management for critical infrastructure projects in telecommunications and utilities.

Q&A with Rafik

How many projects does a project manager at Fullerton Engineering manage at one time?

Project managers wear multiple hats, so, the number of projects may not reflect workload. The direct answer is that it depends — sometimes we have a high volume of projects per project manager, sometimes it’s a smaller number of large projects.

“Project managers wear multiple hats.”

— Rafik Ishaya, Vice President Fullerton Engineering

What’s the biggest challenge telecommunications project managers face?

The biggest challenge in telecommunications is that things change a lot and quickly because it’s a quickly evolving industry. Each project manager is also working on multiple projects, so when you assign a project manager a new project, they’re already working on other projects at the same time.

“The key to success is good documentation, data control, scheduling, and closeout.”

— Rafik Ishaya, Vice President Fullerton Engineering

Project in telecommunications means implementing new technology. When carriers roll out new technology that means a new project for us at Fullerton Engineering. That’s a full country or global rollout. Carriers start the rollout with high-density cities, then deploy in smaller and rural areas. When you have the same client with projects in different areas, it becomes a program. Each program is made up of projects, which can include up to 200 sites per region. We have more project types than ever before. So, the faster you can access your project data, the faster and more efficiently you can deliver those projects. If your company doesn’t manage all projects in-house, you’re going to be working with vendors, so you need to be able to manage both your team and vendor teams, effectively.

“One project manager can work on six projects at a time, which could mean 600 to 800 sites in that project.”

—Rafik Ishaya, Vice President Fullerton Engineering

What is the role of communication in project management?

Communication doesn’t just mean picking up the phone and making a call. It involves everything from document control to what system you use to manage projects.

If you have everything systematized, reporting is easy, and communicating the right information becomes easier. If you want to find something from yesterday, two years ago, ten years ago, you’re able to do that easily because you’ve been consistent in your data capture. Having this kind of system is important whether you’re working with one person or 30 people. When everyone is working in the same system, the data is always accurate and you become more efficient.

What advice would you give to a new project manager; somebody just entering telecom project management?

They should ask lots of questions. Communicating is important. Telecom project managers need to be able to walk into any company and learn how they work. That comes through effective communication.

What do you anticipate will be the short-term and long-term challenges for telecommunications project managers over the next five to 10 years?

The telecommunications industry is hiring more and more college graduates who are untrained. These are going to be the next project managers and engineers. Creating a system for them to have consistent training and seamless passing of institutional knowledge is important.

Systems are the key to data integrity

Achieve more, faster, with better outcomes by using the right systems to ensure data integrity. If you don’t have a good system in place to track projects, you’re not going to be able to keep up. There’s increasing demand connectivity, which means more projects.  Companies are going to need to close out projects faster, and most importantly, manage all of that project data effectively and efficiently.

“It’s going to come down to data control, training, and organization,” concludes Ishaya.