How to successfully project engineer a radio system – Part 2

The who, what, where? phase — getting your new radio system approved.
By Susan Ronning, P.E.

who_what_whereRadio system projects don’t just happen. They can take months, maybe years of planning and preparation. These projects tend to draw controversy, too, as replacement costs are significant and the impacts deep.

In simple terms, the first step in project engineering is to define the problem and develop goals to resolve them. Then, identify the tasks necessary to achieve those goals. Lastly, do the work! Before any tasks can be developed or the work can start, the project must first be approved, and that means addressing the “who?”, “what?” and “where?” questions.

The project proposal is the essential document that answers these questions; it gives decision makers the information they need to determine that a project is necessary, valid and achievable, and, once signed, provides the authorization to move forward. Successful project proposals include: a clear and concise project statement,a well-defined project organization and authority structure and estimated project costs

A clear and concise project statement

This is the key to a successful project. It sets the scope, which drives the project resource and cost requirements. A project statement succinctly combines a problem definition, the project goals and the benefits of achieving those goals.

Here’s an example


Existing radio system is an aged, proprietary trunked radio system for which replacement parts are no longer available


1. Replace two-way radio system with a trunked, standards-based digital technology, where parts and service will be available through 2025 or later.

2. Provide unified communications to all departments within the agency

3. Provide continued interoperations with specific outside public-safety fire and police agencies

4. Provide reliable wide-area, outdoor two-way radio coverage within defined service area territory

5. Provide reliable two-way radio coverage within specified buildings

A well-defined project organization and authority structure

There are three key groups that make up the organization of any project: the sponsor, the stakeholders, and a project manager.

The project sponsor is the owner of the project from conception to implementation. They have ultimate authority for the project and are responsible for the success or failure of the project. Ideally, sponsors should be in an executive-level management position, capable of making decisions and setting budgets. Public safety radio project sponsors are usually the chief of the fire or police departments, or the chief technology officer.

Stakeholders are the various departments, agencies or entities affected or impacted by the project; they can be both inside or outside the organization. The project sponsor must work closely with them to maintain their buy-in. To do this, it’s important to gain early clarity on the amount and type of input from each stakeholder. For public safety radio systems, stakeholders generally include a representative from each department affected (fire, police, dispatch, public works, etc.) and outside agencies that will be impacted, like adjacent fire departments or state police agencies. Stakeholders can make or break the project.

The project manager is responsible for delivering the project outcome. They coordinate everyone involved in delivering the project but do not have the authority to effectively address the roadblocks a project will (undoubtedly) encounter. The project sponsor must actively support and involve the project manager as they could well be leading the project alone, or be leading a project management team, depending on the scope and skill-set requirements of the project.

An organizational structure with clear lines of authority will help to deliver a successful project.

Estimated project costs

Developing a cost estimate can be a daunting task, as it includes both labor and non-labor costs associated with developing, planning and implementing the project.
These estimates are directly related to project scope as defined in the project statement and must be realistic and reasonable. If the project’s cost estimate is too high, the proposal will never get approved. If it’s too low, the project will not meet requirements.

Additionally, if there are budget and/or resource limitations, this process allows the project to be presented in phases — an approach that increases the overall chance of success. Phasing also means the concept, project team and vendor can be tested on a smaller scale before attempting a large system implementation. Optional goals can be added or removed based on budget capabilities or limitations.

Look out for part 3 of this blog series next week: Analysis and assessment — designing your new radio system.

Susan Ronning, P.E., has experience as a vendor, consultant and customer, and has been involved in all aspects and phases of a project, from inception to final acceptance. She holds a BSEE and MBA and is an active member of the IEEE, APCO, and the Civil Air Patrol. Ms. Ronning is a Senior Systems Engineer for Tait Communications.


  1. […] posts in this series: Part 1 – Overview Part 2 – The who, what, where? phase — getting your new radio system approved Part 3 – Designing your new radio […]

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