Early Program Management: A Recipe for Success

Early Program Management: A Recipe for Success

You’ve probably seen cooking shows that challenge chefs to create a delicious dish using limited ingredients and tools in only an hour. While some contestants serve up appealing, tasty fare, often the judges are presented with lopsided cakes, undercooked potatoes, or soggy crusts. This can make entertaining television, but it’s easy to recognize that creating an Instagram-worthy dish is much easier when a chef also has input into planning the meal and selecting the ingredients.

In the same way that a great meal starts long before the stove is hot, the success of a water facility or infrastructure program depends heavily on work done during the early stages of a program, long before any designs are prepared or concrete poured. This is when attention to strategy and long-term objectives can have the greatest impact on a program’s success. It’s also why hiring a program manager may be the most important decision you can make.

Shape a program for funding eligibility

Chances are, you don’t have time to keep up on the latest grant funding sources, application timing, and requirements. This is one of the first places a program manager can help by positioning your program to secure critical grant money and loans. In one case, Woodard & Curran’s early program management and positioning work with the South Sacramento County Agriculture and Habitat Lands Program in Sacramento, California helped bring in $280 million in grant money through the California Water Commission’s Water Storage Investment Program (WSIP). Recognizing the program’s broader regional impact, our team worked closely with the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District to shape its program to match the grant’s eligibility requirements. Using hydraulic modeling and technical analysis we demonstrated how the water storage program benefits the public and improves the Delta ecosystem, key objectives of WSIP. Leveraging this broadened perspective and the team’s engineering expertise allowed the district to fund 75% of its program through this single grant.

Explore strategic collaboration

A program manager can provide the vision required to keep a program moving forward or to help make sure it gets off the ground at all. When the Del Puerto Water District needed a new source of water for farmers on the west side of California’s San Joaquin Valley, it had to find a way to deliver the water while avoiding the costly construction of extensive pipeline systems and new treatment facilities. As program manager, Woodard & Curran proposed connecting existing municipally owned treatment facilities to the federally owned Delta-Mendota canal. From there, recycled water could be delivered for agricultural use and also provide water to nearby federal wildlife refuges. This collaborative approach considered the vastly differing goals of recycled water producers, agricultural water users, environmental resource agencies, the water district, two cities, regulatory agencies, and water management agencies to devise a program that brought all of their interests together to develop a new water supply. 

The first-of-its-kind program provides a reliable water source and an estimated direct annual economic benefit of approximately $30 million, contributing nearly $70 million per year to the region's economy. 

Gain community support

Involving a community early and rolling out fast-track projects to show quick results can bolster local enthusiasm and long-term support for a capital improvement program. For example, residents and businesses in San Jose, California were facing 10 years of neighborhood and traffic disruption from implementation of the Coyote Watershed Flood Protection Program. As program manager, Woodard & Curran helped the Santa Clara Valley Water District plan the program to roll out projects within the first year that demonstrated meaningful and immediate results, such as a quick flood wall project to protect a mobile home park that regularly flooded. We also developed a permanent outdoor classroom where local school children observe native plants and animals and learn about stream stewardship through tours and interactive lessons. 

Woodard & Curran’s program team also steered an Aesthetic Guidelines Committee made up of local, state, and federal stakeholders who collaborated at the beginning of the Coyote Watershed Program to establish standards for how trails, bridges, fencing, signs, concrete treatments, landscaping, and other components would look. These visual standards were applied to projects such as the Lower Silver Creek and Coyote Creek pedestrian bridges.

A not-so-secret sauce

A capital program is more than the water, wastewater, or stormwater facilities being built. City and district leaders who engage a program manager early-on to help plan, define governance, gain support, or find funding are better prepared to serve up a well-supported, successful program that meets the agency’s overall objectives.

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Practice Leader
Wastewater Treatment Design

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