Feniosky Peña–Mora
Civil and Environmental Engineering Department
MIT 77 Massachusetts  Avenue
Room  1-253,  Cambridge,  MA,  02139
Phone: (617) 253-7142
Fax: (617) 253-6324
Professional Info  Awards  Teaching 


The $3.2 Trillion per year Architecture/Engineering/Construction industry is heading towards a major change by moving from a local industry to a global one. The industry as a whole is undertaking more complex work, to be developed and managed by individuals in different places of the world, each with their own different perspective. While this has made the projects more dynamic and flexible, it has also increased the number of conflicts that need to be negotiated for effective and efficient project development and management. To address these issues, my research is using the application of information technologies in the development and management of large-scale infrastructure projects. Specifically, my research has three objectives: 1) to use information technologies to bridge the gap between geographically, professionally, and time distributed teams working on large-scale infrastructure systems; 2) to dynamically manage the process by which large-scale infrastructure projects are developed; and 3) to proactively manage and control negotiations of product and/or process changes occurring during the life cycle of large-scale infrastructure systems. In these areas, the main contribution of my work has been the introduction of innovative methodologies used for the development and management of large-scale infrastructure projects. By reducing conflicts and increasing the effectiveness of teams working on the development of large-scale infrastructure projects, these methodologies have been successful in reducing the development time, increasing the quality and reducing the costs of large-scale infrastructure projects.

I currently head the Da Vinci research initiative at the Intelligent Engineering Systems Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Under the Da Vinci initiative, my work is divided into three main areas:

Collaborative environments: Research in this area focuses on understanding and improving communication and interactions during the development of large-scale infrastructure systems. The work has included modeling the interaction process and identifying the various signals utilized for group communications. My research has shown how the control of the floor in which an interaction occurs affects the power dynamics within a group. Repressive floor control policies have been shown to stifle innovation and creativity in a group. Furthermore, ineffective floor policies lead to frustration, anxiety and conflicts within a group. In addition, my research has demonstrated how appropriate floor control models provide an effective framework for interacting during the development of large-scale infrastructure projects. As a key contribution, the work has identified the inter-relationships between three main drivers for interaction: the technology for communication in the development of large-scale infrastructure projects; the organizational process set up by the team working together on those projects; and the ability of the physical environment to support an effective interaction when the digital space merges with the physical space in geographically and time dispersed teams. In this area, I have developed two main systems with two associated pending patents (CAIRO - Collaborative Agent and Interaction control and synchROnization system and MICE - Mobile Interactive Collaboration Environment), both of which focus on supporting interactions for geographically, professionally, and time dispersed teams. These two systems and associated patents are being commercialized by a start-up called inMeeting under license from MIT.

Dynamic Project Management: In this area, my focus has been on the construction process of large-scale infrastructure projects that inherently involve complex interactions among different variables. These variables include, but are not limited to, physical attributes, logistics, resource availability, budget restrictions, and management techniques. My research has found that unbalanced interactions among those variables can cause inefficiencies and uncertainties in the project execution, thereby deteriorating planned construction sequences and increasing the project duration and costs. As a solution to this problem, my research has produced a dynamic planning and control methodology that proactively helps project mangers decide how to absorb the impact of the uncertainties and complexities of these issues into the project schedule and costs. This research has resulted in a patent pending reliability buffering methodology as well as a computer software called DPM (Dynamic Planning and Control Methodology). The pending patent and the DPM system are being commercialized by a construction consulting firm called InteCap Inc under license from MIT.

Negotiation Environments: The main objective of this research thrust has been to develop a collaborative negotiation methodology that integrates game theory with the theories of facilitation and mediation, and combines this outcome with system dynamics to capture the interactions of the different positions of a negotiation. Game theory is being used to represent the quantitative aspects of the interdependencies of the negotiation process. Facilitation and mediation theories are being used to represent the qualitative aspects of effective negotiation, and help guide the negotiations toward long-life results. System dynamics techniques are used to model the interaction among the different context variables involved in negotiations for large-scale infrastructure projects. Negotiations within that environment tend to be collaborative-competitive, domain-dependent, and strategy-influenced. In addition, these negotiations are framed within, and influenced by, the context of the delivery systems used to contract the services of the players involved in the development of large-scale infrastructure projects. This research has resulted in a system called CONVINCER that was used in the Tren Urbano Project in Puerto Rico. To minimize the impacts of conflicts between the designer and the contractor, CONVINCER is currently in the process of being used together with DPM in the Route 3 North construction project, which is the first major privately finance design-build-operate-transfer highway contract in Massachusetts.

My peers initially recognized the value of my work with the 1995 Best Paper Award in the Journal of Computing in Civil Engineering. As important recognition of my current and future research directions, I was awarded an NSF CAREER Award and White House PECASE Award in 1998. In addition, different areas of the above mentioned three components have been applied to several important large-scale infrastructure projects including the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel project in Boston, Route 3 North project in Massachusetts, and the Tren Urbano project in Puerto Rico, as well as projects undertaken by Kajima Corporation in Japan. The application of my research to the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel project was able to help the management team to increase collaboration and status uniformity that have been essential to increase effectiveness of the project team. Based on some estimates and interviews conducted with the project team, the work provided timesaving and associated costs of over 30% on project management tasks needed in selected contracts. As a result, the results of my work were adapted and implemented beyond the test contract to other contracts in the project. In addition, my work highlighted the inter-relationship of organizational issues with technology implementation needed for effective collaboration. As forecasted by my research, issues such as trust, support, complexity, personnel capability, control strategies were pivotal during the project implementation phase.

In the Route 3 North project, the DPM model has been able to forecast some of the project impacts due to the complexity, reliability, and sensitivity of the task being performed in design, which resulted in a delay of 6 months on the first 5 months of work. The DPM model is now being used to address such issues, and help the contractor recover the time lost. In the Tren Urbano project, my work in collaborative negotiations identified organizational, procedural and contractual mismatch on the project that impacted the cost and schedule of the project. My research forecasted delays and impacts well in advance of when they were identified by traditional means of project management. The work in Kajima Corporation has provided Kajima with increased collaboration among project personnel in different projects across Japan. Some of the collaboration technologies developed in my research work have resulted in a 25% reduction of time to identify new problems, or recurring problems, that would affect the quality and cost of the project.

In education, I have aimed to prepare a new cadre of professionals who see change in large-scale infrastructure systems as a natural event in a dynamic design and development process. Towards that vision, I have developed an integrated research laboratory and classroom alliance directed at improving the skills of students and their understanding of the effect of geographic, professional and time dispersion in large-scale infrastructure systems. This alliance was supported, augmented and complemented by the involvement of industry sponsors, as well as professors and students from other institutions spread all over the world. This classroom alliance puts, at the forefront, the issue that education is beyond printed material and more about experience. One question that is frequently asked is "Is it the same to have MIT material than to have the MIT experience?" My classroom alliance demonstrated that the MIT experience is very important, and indeed can be spread to other places through distance education, but careful attention needs to be put on emphasizing MIT beliefs and the MIT educational perspective by crafting exercises that make the distance experience more campus-aware. This principle affected not only the type of delivery of education, but also the infrastructure used in this environment. In addition, the pedagogical underpinnings need to emphasize meta-cognition and reflection along project-based learning, collaborative learning and distance learning. Particularly, the democratization of the classroom was shown to be important so as to avoid creating "second-class citizens" along the electronic (e.g., geographic, professional and temporal) divide.

Continuing with the same idea of an alliance of education and research, I have also been involved heavily with providing opportunities to undergraduates to be involved in research by participating in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program and Minority Mentoring Program at MIT. I see them as the future of our profession by taping into the diversity of views held by them.

To extend my educational endeavors from the traditional MIT academic environment to the industry, I have participated for several years in MIT and non-MIT industry-focused programs such as System and Design Management program, Business Channel Broadcasting program, Master of Engineering Information Technology program, and Professional Institute program. In addition, I am in the process of publishing three electronically enhanced books on Globally and Time Dispersed Teams, System and Project Management, and Conflict Resolution Strategies for Large-Scale Infrastructure Projects that aim at undergraduate and graduate students as well as practitioners.

Professionally, I am actively involved in the organization of international conferences and workshops that promote advances in my field. I currently serve on the editorial board of three journals in my field, and also regularly serve as a member of NSF review panels for the Engineering, Computer, and Education Directorates. I have also been invited to be the keynote speaker on various conferences in my area. In 2001, I gave the Caterpillar Lecture at the University of Iowa on globally dispersed teams. I have also been invited as a presenter at the by-invitation-only 2001 NAE (National Academy of Engineering) Symposium on Frontiers of Engineering to share my views on the development and management of large-scale infrastructure projects. Moreover, I have provided consulting services for both Industry and Government at the national and international level.

My work in collaboration, negotiation and dynamic project management is making a unique contribution in changing the paradigm on how the A/E/C industry approaches the development and management of large-scale infrastructure projects at a global scale, with all the constraints associated with the protection of the natural, social, and political ecosystem. I envision the possibility of my methodology becoming the industry standard on such projects. I am confident that I will use the knowledge gained from my research to lead the evolution of strategies to manage collaboration on large-scale infrastructure projects, as well as other more time-sensitive projects involving civil engineering on unstable or hostile environments; such as international disaster relief or military rescue missions in which timely and effective collaboration is an absolute necessity for saving lives and improving the success of those rescue missions.

In my view, this combination of research and educational initiatives has provided, and will continue to provide, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering with a unique leadership position in the development and management of large-scale infrastructure projects.


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