March 27, 2006 Program Summary
Summary by Adele Sommers

The 2005 PolyHouse Project:
An Inside Look at a 10-Week Total Transformation

Speaker Roya Javadpour, members of the student team, and the homeownerOur mesmerizing March 27th event was a joint meeting with the San Luis Obispo region of the Project Management Institute (PMI) at which Dr. Roya Javadpour (at left in the photo), a professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at Cal Poly, shared the inspiring PolyHouse story.

Roya's spring 2005 graduate-level Technological Project Management students completely renovated the badly deteriorated home — and the life — of a disabled county resident in just 10 short weeks. The homeowner appears second to right in the photo, flanked by a few members of 30-person student team. The insights and lessons we learned can apply to projects we undertake in many disciplines.

Roya's presentation gave several attendees goose bumps, and you could hear a pin drop in between the audible gasps as the story unfolded. No remodeling show on television could rival this amazing narrative. This was a heartwarming tale of how the class presented the completely rebuilt and refurnished home back to the owner in a highly compelling project management account.

Learn the details and see the photo gallery, below!

Cal Poly hammer


Photo of exterior, before renovation

At the homeowner's request, the unsafe and dilapidated ramp used previously for wheelchair access (above) was replaced with steps (right), which aided him in regaining his mobility.
Photo of exterior, after renovation

Every square foot of this leaking, uninsulated home was rebuilt, recovered, or at a minimum, repainted, inside and out — in just two weekends. That effort included replacing the roof; siding; windows; landscaping; and all interior surfaces, including floors, ceilings, and walls. The students also replaced all of the wiring, appliances, lighting, cabinets, fixtures, and furnishings.

How Does the PolyHouse Program Work?

Roya's PolyHouse idea originated in 2004. Since its conception, her program has sought a very rare kind of client for each spring project — a person, family, or group that owns a home but is not financially or physically able to keep it up, due to illness, disabilities, or other circumstances. Projects that cannot be considered, for example, include homes rented out by absentee landlords, or any structure beset by problems such as mold that cannot be resolved easily and would pose health risks to students.

Before the spring quarter starts, Roya contacts many local social service agencies in a quest for potential clients. Of the few candidates capable of meeting the eligibility criteria, only one or two typically weigh in as finalists in the search, especially when the do-ability criteria are considered:

  • Too difficult of a project cannot be completed in the allocated timeframe
  • Too simple of a project will not challenge the students' planning skills

Once the finalists emerge, Roya tours the homes (now, with the help of a licensed contractor who can give sound advice) to determine which one will be selected. The homeowner(s) must agree to the project and must be willing to stay completely off-site during the two-week reconstruction period.

Roya explained that when the quarter begins, she has the students use tradeoff criteria to make the final decision (if there is more than one candidate from which to choose) using the photos, videos, and other information she has collected during the initial fact-finding. She revealed that the students ultimately choose the scope of the project. Whether it's large or small, the main criterion is that they must finish what they start, given that some significant fine-tuning may occur during the six-week planning process.

Another important criterion is that students must end the project with high morale, which sets the tone for the necessary teamwork, precise communication, and coordination they will need throughout the project.

Students break into teams to plan everything from design to fundraising to materials acquisition to logistics to safety. According to Roya, the home renovation project is only part of the deal — students also must master project management theory, practice, tools, and techniques; take regular exams; evaluate each other at the end; and provide a personal reflection piece (see samples below).

And miraculously, despite performing long hours of rigorous and demanding physical work for which very few students are previously trained — including demolition, roofing, flooring, and landscaping — “not a single person has ever needed more than a Band-Aid,” Roya said — to the astonishment of the audience.

Taking It Down to the Studs — 2005 Demolition Photos

Roya discussed how the class accomplished in fewer than 10 weeks (with only two weekends of work time allocated) what it normally would take several months for experienced professionals to complete. They also did so almost entirely with student labor and starting off with zero funding. The images below were taken as the students demolished the leaking ceiling and roof, ripped out the uninsulated walls with their unpatched holes and drafty windows, and removed the substandard kitchen. In a matter of hours, every room in the home was torn down to the studs.

We learned exactly how the students, who were primarily industrial engineering and business majors, rather than construction or architecture majors, were able to:

Stripping interior down to the studs* Organize themselves into teams for fundraising, project planning, scheduling, safety, risk assessment, construction, roofing, flooring, landscaping, and more

* Assess the cost and time tradeoffs of accomplishing a complete transformation of a badly deteriorated home in just a few weeks; their initial planning process developed contingency plans in case funding or other constraints ended up preventing them from carrying out all of the goals on the wish list

* Create a work breakdown structure and prepare a variety of project plans and schedules

Removing old roof shingles* Raise $32,000 in cash, materials, and in-kind donations during their six-week planning phase, the time within which all funding must be committed and collected

* Obtain all of the necessary resources, donations, funds, expert advice, permits, materials, furnishings, appliances, and landscaping materials

* Complete the building renovation from top to bottom, inside and out, in a mission impossible-style sequence of events

At the end of six-week planning phase, students needed to make a final assessment of whether they could proceed with everything they initially had hoped to accomplish.

Sun shining through rafters after roof removedStudents were required to plan all equipment and tools to be used, even down to the brand name. They were able to borrow many of the tools, but did end up buying or renting others. Benevolent professional contractors donated advice as well as guidance, and some were also able to lend tools.

Local businesses and individuals donated a variety of materials and appliances, including granite countertops — a special and rather unexpected touch slated for the beautifully remodeled kitchen.

Serendipity played a large role in the final planning. For example, the day before the planning phase was to end, members of the class decided to distribute flyers at the SLO Farmer's Market. They were rewarded with even more donations that day, and found another contractor who was willing to help guide them in the project!

Old kitchen being removedSince the students were largely untrained in many of the skills required, they were either going to have to find someone to tutor and guide them on-site (such as a roofing contractor who donated materials and expert guidance), or train themselves. For example, they used “how-to” videos to teach themselves how to tile the bathroom, Roya explained.

And despite the long and grueling hours, where teams remained on site from very early in the morning to almost midnight during the four work days, Roya asked them to provide daily status reports at the end of each work day. Although Roya herself did not perform any of the physical work on the project, she was on site every hour that the students were there, providing moral support, guidance, and supervision.

The Amazing Conclusion — 2005 “After” Photos

The students' own reflections, as well as a few of the “after” photos, tell the most powerful story. (See more photos here.) Here are some of the students' reminiscences:

Homeowner returning through the newly landscaped yard“I feel like I have received a blessing instead of giving one. The feeling that experienced when Doc [the client] returned to the newly renovated house was amazing. It was that rare feeling that really made me understand the cliché that: we will create happiness in our lives by looking for ways to create happiness for others.”

“I must say that now that I have taken this class I really feel like I can take on any responsibility. I know I can handle the stress, the time constraints and the interpersonal relationships that are required of a successful project manager. This class has been the single best experience of my educational career, I will remember it for the rest of my life, and probably tell my kids and grandkids about it.”

“I enjoyed being a part of this class and having the opportunity to learn in a hands-on situation. Not only will I remember all the project management lessons that I’ve learned, but I will takeaway the pride and satisfaction that I was part of project that had a pronounced effect on another person’s life.”

Remodeled kitchen with new cabinets and appliances“Poly House has been one of the best projects I’ve worked on at Cal Poly so far. This project has taught me not only project management skills but also allowed me to believe that I can do anything that I put my heart into.”

“As my story comes to an end, I just want to express how valuable this experience has been. I learned a lot not only about project management, but myself and how to function with a team. Executing a group project of this scope is something that most college students do not get a chance to do in the classroom. With all the tools gained and fun that I had, I feel fortunate to have this be my final class as a Cal Poly student.”

“I was not a proponent of this project at first because I thought the leverage of 30 students helping one man did not make sense. But from what I learned and what I have become from Poly House, I can say that I benefited more from this project than Doc.”

Modular closet unit installed in bedroom“I am utterly amazed at how well the project turned out. I honestly didn’t think we could take on that large of a scope and still turn out professional quality with largely untrained labor. I am very proud of the work that we have done. I have new respect for what people can accomplish with proper leadership, organization and motivation.”

“My attitude transgressed over the quarter from feelings of general burden to feelings of gratitude and thankfulness for all of Cal Poly has had to offer me. The more I worked the better friends I became with my fellow classmates, and the more ownership I felt for the entire project. I will take all of the memories and experiences with me when I graduate and will honestly hold this project as the capstone of my resume.”

Newly updated bathroom fixtures“One of the most important things I learned is that no matter how hard something looks it can be done. I learned that when you put mini-goals along the way and set up where you want to be day by day the project looks less intimidating. So whenever I am faced with a challenge I know I will succeed as long as I put the work into it. Lastly I learned a lot about myself. I now know that I am capable of putting long hours of hard work and still go home and wake up the next morning with a smile on my face. This shows that if I am doing something I enjoy no matter how hard it is I will stay dedicated and enjoy what I do.”

“We all learned a lot from this project. I can say that no other class has challenged and involved me as much as this one did. In the end the words of Dr. Javadpour, 'nothing worthwhile comes easy' were reaffirmed.”

Beautiful new furnished living and dining area“Before long the class found itself in the execution stage of the project life cycle. It was here that we as a class gathered in front of Doc Stoltey’s dilapidated home and began some massive deconstruction. With much faith resting on the hard work of planning prior we continued with cheery attitudes to tear down every wall, ceiling, window, roof, and wiring in sight. I now look back and am amazed we did not go into a panic attack having stripped this home to its bones. So if you plan appropriately and truly put forth every effort and consideration, you should be left with nothing but confidence when all that remains is the execution. If you have any reserves or fears, reevaluate your planning, there is a good chance your discernments are rooted in an unconsidered factor.”

Dining room table complete with place settings"This project tells me two important things. It makes me know more about myself whether I am suitable for a project manager job and has taught me to not being afraid to take risks on the things that I have carefully planned.”

“I think we all truly enjoyed the project and we all learned a lot about ourselves. It was a great experience and I would do it all over again if given the opportunity. I will forever remember this project and the people that made it possible.”

“Despite the recognition and media attention, I was glad that the class didn’t get a big heads. The class never forgot that the point of this whole project was to learn project management and give back to the community. After having completed a project such as this one I feel that I have truly learned what project management is really about and what it takes to become a successful project manager. The memories and friendships forged from this class and project will not soon be forgotten.”

“I recognized God’s hand in the whole quarter from providing donors and helpers to keeping us all safe. There are too many things to list, but what it boils down to is that people made it all happen. Projects are about people. Building relationships, communicating effectively, and giving recognition are the elements I learned the most about and know are the most valuable.”

To Learn More About the PolyHouse Project...

Photographs provided by the PolyHouse Web site

The 2005 PolyHouse Project: An Inside Look
at a 10-Week Total Transformation
Date: Monday evening, March 27, 2006

Dr. Roya Javadpour, professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at Cal Poly. Originally from Iran, Dr. Javadpour traveled to the U.S. in 1994 to earn two master's degrees and a doctorate in industrial engineering at Louisiana State University. Before coming to Cal Poly in 2003, she was a supply chain management consultant at i2 Technologies. She also mentors students in community service projects as an advisor for honor societies Alpha Pi Mu and Mortar Board. Roya was also one of twenty people recently honored for their community service in the Top 20 Under 40 contest sponsored by the San Luis Obispo Tribune.


“The PolyHouse Project: An Inside Look at a 10-Week Total Transformation told the story that began a few years ago when Professor Roya Javadpour redesigned a Cal Poly graduate project management course to serve disadvantaged individuals.

In this course, students gain project management skills by planning and completing a home renovation for someone in need, enlisting funds and in-kind donations from the community. The course content follows the project life cycle from start to finish. The service project the students chose to complete in the spring quarter of 2005 resulted in, according to Dr. Javadpour, a journey filled with trials and triumphs far grander than they could imagine.


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