Five Not-So-Easy Pieces

Strategic Security
Five Not-So-Easy Pieces

​Alignment is in. Many cities, municipalities, corporations, and school systems are taking steps to align their physical security systems so that security programs across locations will be fully integrated.

The benefits of such a move are numerous. Uniformity across systems makes it easier for end users, and converged systems are easier to manage from operation centers. Moreover, having only one system makes maintenance and upgrades easier, and this can help provide long-term stability.

But achieving alignment is no easy feat. Navigating a physical security installation across several facilities can be a difficult undertaking; often, such a project includes wrangling a mish-mash of individual products to get them to function under one cohesive system. Alternatively, some take the approach of completely redesigning the physical security system so that it reflects current best practice design standards. Both paths can be difficult. 

In addition, the potential pitfalls of attempting a unification project are numerous. What is the installation environment in each facility? Which key players need to be involved at each facility, and at what level of involvement? What type of network infrastructure must be in place to integrate the systems?

In hopes of avoiding pitfalls, many organizations will hire project managers and consultants to spearhead alignment projects. This type of management, however, is usually complex and unpredictable work. Thus, one of the most useful attributes a security practitioner can have is experience in project management.

Although there is no one roadmap for successful project completion, and despite all the caveats, most projects can be broken down into five stages. The main purpose of this article is to walk the reader through these stages, which experts sometimes refer to as "process groups." The five process groups are initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. For our purposes, the second process, planning, can be considered the design process, and the third process, executing, can be considered the installation process.

Although these stages will remain consistent, the role and scope of a project manager's responsibilities will change from project to project. And, there may be many project managers on a single project: one for the design team, one representing the owner, one who serves as an installation project manager in the field, and others. Each will have different responsibilities.  

Primarily, this article is written from the point of view of the project manager who is outside of the org­anization and is hired by an owner to design and manage a project that will be installed by a third-party contractor, either through a public bid or the solicitation of proposals. Typically, this type of manager would be a consultant who works on a project-by-project basis with different teams and organizations, for the procurement and installation of a multi-facility physical security system.

However, the concepts and best practice guidance offered here could be applied to almost anyone involved with the management or supervision of physical security projects, whether that person is inside or outside the organization.​


As a project kicks off, the act of project management is often the act of discovery. The project may be ill-defined, just a blurry picture of the needs and goals of the project's owner. But an ill-defined project cannot be effectively managed, so it is often the project manager's task to focus the project with the owner into a clear and actionable roadmap.

For the project manager, one of the main goals of the initiating process is to get up to speed with the requirements, history, and expectations of the project. This includes understanding who the project stakeholders are and determining the project's requirements, constraints, and assumptions. 

Physical security projects can be sponsored by a range of departments in an organization, including security, facilities, IT, finance, and general management. But these departments may have different levels of familiarity with physical security systems, so the project manager must gain an understanding of how well the owner's team knows physical security. This understanding should then inform the project manager's general approach, including the process of assembling the design team.

This understanding can be gained during the meetings that take place during the initiating process. For example, the design or project management teams may be akin to experts—they will design and demonstrate how the systems work and function together and explain design best practices. In another project, the design team may merely be documenting the project for an owner who already has a strong grasp and understanding of physical security best practices and the needs of each facility.

Another key task of the initiating process is to learn the requirements and goals of the project. What is the general scope? What physical protection systems will be affected? Will this be a replacement project, or will it integrate with existing systems? Is there a deadline for installation completion? If grant money is involved, is there a deadline for spending funds? Each answer is part of the roadmap.

Once the initially hazy picture has come into focus, the project manager may take the next steps. These include developing a rough estimate of how many days will need to be spent in the field documenting existing conditions and systems, and how many designers should be hired to create design documents. Other decisions involve who will sit on the project stakeholder's team, whether the owner will require manufacturer demonstrations, and what a reasonable cost for the project looks like.

During this stage, the project manager may discover that the existing team of stakeholders is inadequate. In this case, the project manager should try to ensure that all decision makers are included, and that, if applicable, teams not directly associated with security are also represented, or at a minimum made aware of the project. Other stakeholders, for example, could include facility directors, senior management, service providers, IT teams, and grant funding representatives. If the project is for a municipal, city, or public organization, the owner may prefer to involve law enforcement in the early stages and throughout the process.

By the end of this first stage, all stakeholders should understand their roles within the project, what will be expected of them, and the type of work that will be performed on their systems or the facilities they manage. Accomplishing this early is important. It is never a good idea to inform an IT director of an IP video surveillance project a week before the network electronics are scheduled to be installed.​


The greatest indicator of a well-executed project is a well-executed design process. The overall objective of this process is to create a complete set of project documents that a third-party contractor or integrator can then use to create a proposal or bid.

These documents, typically referred to collectively as the project manual, will typically include plan drawings, wiring diagrams, and riser and elevation drawings. They also include specifications explaining the scope, the installation standards, the configurations of various systems, and other pertinent information. Front-end documents in the manual often describe the nature of the project and any general requirements that the bidding contractor must adhere to.

 To create a thorough project manual, it is important for the project manager to assemble a qualified design team. Physical security projects can be derailed by subpar designs that do not consider each facet of each system's requirements. The design team must be able to accurately document the correct configuration requirements among systems; all installation best practices and requirements; the code requirements and testing parameters; and the closeout tasks such as training.

Once the design team is assembled, the project manager begins the process of creating progressively more detailed designs and reviewing them periodically with the owner. A good guide is to review the design documents at 50 percent completion, 75 percent, 98 percent, and 100 percent. At each review, it should be conveyed to the owner what was refined, changed, omitted, or added from the last review.

The overall cost and the installation schedule should also be reviewed at those junctures. Most likely, the project will have a specific budget and installation schedule that the design team must adhere to. At each design milestone, the project manager must ensure that the owner understands the budget and schedule. Any major design change should be reviewed with the owner.

If the project does not have a predetermined budget, the project manager should have a usable estimated cost range after project initiation. At the halfway point, an estimate within a few percentage points of the actual cost should be completed and reviewed with the owner. It is also important the owner understands how any future requests will affect the budget and installation schedule.

Ideally, the project should leave 10 percent of the total budget in contingency to cover unforeseen costs. For example, for a project with a budget of $1 million, the design team should allocate up to $900,000 and leave $100,000 for contingencies. Aside from this practice, some projects also contain a management contingency designed to cover changes in project scope directed by management. However, this contingency may or may not be shared with the project manager, and it may not be included in the total project budget.

When it comes time to estimate individual costs, the environment and condition of existing facilities should be kept in mind. Areas likely to add surprise costs to the project should be reviewed. Take ceilings, for example. If the facility has open ceilings, will the low-voltage cabling need to be run in conduit? If so, how much cost will that add? Or, consider data closets. Is there adequate wall space to mount patch panels, switches, and servers? Is there wall space to mount security panels? Other areas that should be reviewed for cost impact include power requirements, configuration fees for integrating systems, and software fees for updating out-of-date systems, among other items.

Taken together, the overall goal of the planning and design process is to create a project manual that is fair to both the owner's needs for attaining the project goals, as well as the contractor's needs to correctly price the project.

Many potential headaches that could occur during the installation process can be mitigated by giving the contractor a realistic schedule for procurement and installation of the systems, and by ensuring that the project comes in at or under budget. This is done by informing the owner early and often of the realistic requirements that the scope of the project will require. All cost-saving measures should be considered during the design process when at all possible.

Throughout the design process, the project manager and design team should constantly ask themselves, "If I were a contractor, would I be able to properly price this project based on the project manual documents without adding change orders in the field?" Many projects are soured by an incomplete project manual that puts the contractor in the disadvantaged position of having to constantly submit change orders to correct their fee. ​


If the goals of the planning process were accomplished—including properly and completely documenting the physical security systems, their installation requirements, and all responsibilities required by the installation contractor—then the executing process should run relatively smoothly.

During the executing process, the contractor who was awarded the project proceeds with installing and testing the systems. Sometimes the project manager and design team stay on to manage the schedule and invoices, review the installation and test results, and generally ensure that that the project is being installed to the quality standards documented in the project manual on behalf of the owner.

The relationships among designers, consultants, project managers, and contractors should be built on teamwork and based on the shared goal of providing the owner with a well-executed project and physical security system. The best projects are those where a mutual respect and a spirit of genuine collaboration are exhibited by all parties and where the project manager has the best interest of all parties in mind.

 Although, careful initial documentation of exactly what is expected of the installation will help avoid oversights and miscommunications, it is still prudent, and often mandatory, for the project manager to review and approve the work being completed. During this process, the manager's best strategy for ensuring that the project is executed well is to stay vigilant in correcting all possible holdups.

If the overall budget fails to capture all installation costs, change orders can occur during the installation process, after the project has been awarded to a contractor. A change order is a claim to a change in scope that usually comes with an associated cost. It is used by the contractor to seek fees for the change. Change orders can be owner directed or project directed, and they can be legitimate or illegitimate.

Here's an example of a legitimate, owner-directed change order. After a project manual went out to bid and the project was awarded to a contractor, the owner requested to add access control hardware to a door. This hardware was not included in the design, so the contractor was not allowed to give a cost associated with it. Seeking a fee to now include that door in the installation was a legitimate change order.

Here's an example of a legitimate project-directed change order. The contractor discovered that 100 feet of conduit was needed to mount a video surveillance camera in an open-ceiling mechanical space. The project manual did not clearly document that the contractor would need conduit at this location, so the contractor sought to submit a change order for the cost of procuring and installing the conduit.

Illegitimate change orders occur when a contractor seeks fees for a task or product that was clearly documented in the project manual and, therefore, should have been included in the proposal or bid. It should be noted that legitimate or illegitimate status will not determine if the change order will be accepted by the project. Change order acceptance or rejection is determined by the project manager, owner, and other applicable stakeholders.

One benchmark of success for the project is the number and scope of change orders. In other words, how close was the executed project to the agreed upon budget and original design?​

Monitoring and Controlling

If the project manager's responsibility is to review and sign off on the installation, it is best to do so early and often. The goal is to correct minor issues before they grow into major issues.

For example, let's assume a contractor completes a 200-door access control project across 20 different facilities, but does not properly secure the cabling above the ceiling grid as designed. The longer the project manager waits to get on site and review the work, the more difficult it will be to fix this mistake. If the cabling contractor is a subcontractor of the prime contractor and is finished with the scope of work, by the time the project manager is on site to review the work, it may be impossible to correct these mistakes.

The project manager should be on site to review, at a minimum, the first few devices that are installed to ensure that the installation is clean and to specification. Indeed, many contractors prefer this method of installation kickoff because it will ensure that the installation is on the right track.

Common installation mistakes found on physical security projects can include sloppy or exposed cabling to devices; installation of sensors, cameras, and other devices that are not plumb or properly secured; low-voltage cabling strung across the ceiling grid and not on cabling support; failure to firestop applicable penetrations; and poor cable management and cable terminations in the data closets and control panels, among other things.

All site visits, communications between owner and contractor, issuances of work that need to be fixed, and approvals of work done correctly should always be formally documented and distributed to the entire team in field reports and punch lists. In turn, the contractor must document any corrections or installation requirements that are completed.

Requests for information from the field, product submittals, invoice submittals, and general project housekeeping should be reviewed and answered by the project manager in a timely matter to ensure that the project is not delayed due to lack of direction for the contractor or owner. 

Sometimes, the biggest roadblocks to completing a project on schedule are the tasks that must be completed by the owner. It is important that the project manager also manage this side of the project. He or she should inform the owner early and often when tasks will be due and should sometimes advise them on how they can be best completed. These tasks may include providing IP addresses for cameras, printing and issuing badges for new access control systems in time for system cutovers, providing configuration on network electronics if required, and configuring and relaying information related to VLANs, among other things.

Often, contractors are only allowed to invoice for work completed or for devices that were purchased and delivered to the facility. If the project manager is tasked with reviewing invoices, it should be easy to approve or reject fees based on work completed because the project manager has periodically seen and reviewed the work in person.

Most projects will require that the project hold a retainer against the contractor's fee until the project is 100 percent complete. This retainer is held until the end of the project, after all the installation and miscellaneous responsibilities of the contractor have been met. Each project may have specific requirements in terms of payment and proof of work for payment that should be reviewed and adhered to by all parties.  ​


The closing process can be initiated when 10 percent of the project is left to complete. Common tasks to be completed during the closeout process include administering training, delivering operation and maintenance manuals, final testing of systems, reviewing the system test results, reviewing cabling test results, and handing over the systems to the owner.

It is a good idea to start closeout tasks when the project is around 75 percent complete. However, getting the owner and relevant stakeholders together for training and close-out meetings can be a difficult task depending on their schedules. If the project is being completed in a school district, for example, training may need to wait for a professional development day, so it is best to book training as soon as the trainer is available.

Depending on the owner's level of expertise, it may also be beneficial to include additional training in the project manual two to six months after the project is handed over to the owner. This will allow the owner to schedule refresher training if desired.

Once the project manager and design team accept the final installation; all closeout deliverables are finalized; and all final fees, contingencies, and invoices are paid; the project is handed over to the owner and the project is considered complete.

Successful project completion requires improvisation, teamwork, thoroughness, and foresight. All are skills that are developed over time and through hands-on experience on projects of different sizes and types. The best project managers are those who learn from their mistakes, document their lessons learned, and share those insights with the project management and security management communities. 

Nicholas D'Agostino, PSP, PMP, is a senior manager of system design for D'Agostino & Associates, a technology consulting firm. He has spearheaded multiple city-wide physical security upgrade projects throughout the Northeast. He can be reached at D'Agostino is a member of ASIS International.