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Abbot Point Coal Terminal, Australia
Every major project is unique, encompassing different sponsor and stakeholder environments, different objectives and external influences.
Major projects can present major challenges as well as opportunities. Get it right and a project will be remembered for running smoothly, creating great outcomes and delivering more than what was promised. If the project does not go according to plan then it can be much harder to deliver and the impact on programme, cost and quality can be significant.
Success is determined by many factors, and it is important to understand how different elements of a project may be influenced throughout a project’s life cycle. Some issues may be directly controlled, others can be influenced but may not be totally predictable, while others remain unknown until such time as they occur or impact upon the project.
Delivering great projects
Start as you mean to go on
Strong teams deliver project excellence
A strategy to deliver
Matching engineering to objectives
The sum of the parts
In simple terms, success is usually linked to getting the basic aspects of project management right. However, in the rush to achieve project delivery and operational objectives, basics can often be overlooked.
In reviewing project drivers and lessons learned from successful major projects, a “best practice approach” identifies a number of common issues and themes including how delivery organisations should be structured and how they should operate in order to deliver client objectives.
“When we review the successful elements of recent major projects, a number of key issues and themes typically come to the fore,” says John Mason, Programme & Project Delivery Leader.
“In almost every instance, we find the same set of drivers pointing to how delivery organisations should be structured and how they should operate in order to successfully deliver client objectives,” adds Mason.
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Complex projects require clear governance arrangements, strong leadership and a tangible and easily understood culture that focuses on the core project drivers such as safety. Culture and drivers are fundamental to how people will interact and view the project and need to be clearly established at the outset. A safety first mentality should always be a prerequisite and high expectations communicated to all involved with the project, no matter how peripheral.
Every major project commences with the aim of delivering excellence. On the one hand, clients will be influenced by their specific needs and on the other by the prevailing circumstances. But the requirements of any client, however they are communicated, will be directly linked to the outturn cost and schedule for the major project. While not always feasible, these requirements should be established and frozen wherever possible at an early stage of the project.
The interface between the team(s) tasked with the delivery of a major project and the client, and the obligations placed on the delivery team by the client, will be key to project success and should be clearly defined and managed from an early stage.
A robust, client-level change control process should also be put in place to manage subsequent changes in project requirements in order to fully assess their implications before the changes are adopted and to minimise the potentially disruptive impact of the changes on ongoing project delivery.
“The client’s role and the size of the client’s team over the life of the project should be established during the early developmental phases of the project,” says Mason. “This planning process needs to include the level of control that the client will want, or need, to exert over delivery related matters, in order to avoid ambiguity, the possibility of duplicated effort and to minimise the likelihood of multiple layers of supervision.”
Strong teams deliver project excellence
The successful delivery of a major project and the effectiveness of team integration have as much to do with the individuals working on a major project as the companies that stand behind them, although both are clearly important. The continuity of senior personnel should therefore be a project objective, particularly when assigning client staff and when procuring project managers or supply chain partners.
Good communication is a critical element in any major project with studies showing that a breakdown in communications can be a major contributing factor in project failure.
Communication and reporting within the major project delivery team, and between the delivery team and the client, should be structured to facilitate open and accessible exchanges in order to assist with project integration.
This is even more important where a conventional (non-integrated, non-alliance type) delivery model is adopted and where there is a more formal divide between the client’s team, the team tasked with delivery and the supply chain.
“A project culture should be established from the outset through a process that facilitates partnering and collaboration, with experience showing that shared objectives can greatly enhance the ability of a project team to achieve the desired client outcomes,” says Mason.
The multi-year nature of a major project also provides the opportunity to establish a framework for succession planning, continuous improvement and training. Where such a framework is set up, it should align with national and regional government initiatives and should be established at an early stage in the life of the project, in order to make sure that the potential benefits can be fully derived.
Clear project objectives should be established from the outset. Delivery strategies can then be developed to support these objectives.
When delivering a major project, alignment of objectives and organisations is one of the most important strategies to be addressed. The alignment should start with client objectives and those of all the key stakeholders and their particular project needs.
The project procurement strategy should also form part of the project delivery strategy and should underpin the achievement of client goals while being flexible enough to address emerging project and market trends and requirements.
Early contractor and supply chain involvement in the development of a project design can reduce risk and enhance constructability, and deliver cost and schedule benefits. Significant benefits can also be derived from engineering the new or enhanced infrastructure as an operational system, not as a series of discrete delivery projects through which operational arrangements are retrofitted.
Interface and risk management are crucial parts of delivery and need to be managed at levels that deliver value to the process. This is not always at the main works contractor level since enabling or advancing individual work products can provide a good opportunity for identifying and removing risks to the main contract(s) through the early removal of complex interfaces.
Scope definition and engineering requirements within a major project should be defined as early as possible and any changes proactively managed throughout the life of the project to ensure that an accurate understanding of project performance and outcomes is maintained at all times. It is likely that the more remote the client is from this process, the greater the risk will be of scope creep and budget escalation.
The scope of any new or enhancement works must be clearly defined against an understanding of the condition of any existing assets which may be impacted by the project. This is particularly important in live operating environments where access to undertake works is at a premium and the consequences of non-performance severe.
Where possible, cost containment should be practiced from the outset. A design-to-budget philosophy is often appropriate, with consideration being given to design freezes at the appropriate stages of design evolution. Unproven technical innovation should be avoided as far as possible, with use of proven, in-service technology being maximised wherever possible to meet project objectives.
Interfaces between the various stages of design (i.e. between planning, preliminary and detailed design) can introduce inefficiencies and ambiguity if not communicated and managed effectively, with negative effects on cost and schedule. This can be a major consideration when adopting a design and build approach.
Major projects throw up a diverse set of challenges to everyone involved in their successful delivery. Opportunities and challenges are unique to an individual project but so too is the scope for developing a “best for project” philosophy across delivery teams and locations.
Today, there is increasing evidence of the benefits that an integrated approach to delivery can bring, not only in shared objectives but also in the promotion of a positive project culture where skills are utilised most effectively and knowledge transfer and the sharing of best practice can be optimised to the benefit of all concerned.
Clear project controls (schedule, cost, quality and risk) are fundamental to the successful delivery of projects in all sectors, but with large scale public sector undertakings there also need to be a strong organisational and governance focus.
Portfolio and programme management are also common in the public sector but have their own dynamics and, while good project management skills lie at their core, they are different undertakings from mainstream project delivery, being underpinned by different drivers and requiring different skills to ensure that they are undertaken effectively.
Within the resources sector, Engineering Procurement and Construction Management (EPCM) solutions are closely linked to excellence in project controls and procedures, construction management, supply chain and logistics management (including remote working, lean and offsite construction) and the management of risk in all its forms.
Within operationally complex environments, such as rail, advanced engineering management is crucial to delivering successful project outcomes including systems integration, safety verification and configuration management.
“Major projects are complex and exciting undertakings, I guess that’s what makes it so challenging and rewarding to be involved in their delivery,” says Mason.
Read the full 360º magazine on Major Projects.
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