As a global engineering and infrastructure advisory company, it goes without saying that we see a multitude of projects. From major infrastructure or community-based investments, to cutting-edge design and construction, this is our world. Delivering a project on time, within budget and to the required quality is crucial as projects come under increasing scrutiny from investors, shareholders and the community at large. Critical to the success of this delivery is effective programme and project management.
In their basic form, project management skills are used in so many areas of our daily lives from organising a holiday, or an office drinks event, to ‒ at the other end of the scale ‒ managing a major sporting event or infrastructure project. Project management is the key ingredient that can make any project or event happen on time and on budget without compromising exceptional quality and safety.
Project management on any scale must maintain a high standard to effectively achieve the three sacred pillars of time, cost, and quality. Without this high standard, we wouldn’t go to sporting events because they just wouldn’t work, or we wouldn’t be able to move freely around our cities because transport projects would take years longer to complete than they should.
The outcome of a project manager’s work is ultimately to improve the quality of people’s lives. We help deliver schools, hospitals, transport networks, communication networks, electricity supply, water supply, and even improve the quality of life of our defence force. But, like many industries, we are facing disruption and challenge. In cities with booming social and economic infrastructure markets ‒ such as Sydney, Melbourne, and Auckland ‒ we are seeing a huge volume of projects occurring, which is exposing a significant shortage of project management professionals.
This skills shortage feeds directly into one of the biggest challenges we face in the profession – consistency of capability. Unlike, say, accountancy or law or medicine, project management is not a profession that is protected by law, which means the profession isn’t regulated and as a result the quality of project managers can be highly variable. In medicine, we know a doctor has a certain level of rigorous education; they are constantly assessed throughout their careers and, if they do something wrong, they can be struck off and are unable to practice.
With project management on the other hand, without checks and balances in place, anyone can call themselves a project manager, and they can do so without any relevant qualifications. I liken it to a home cook versus a professionally-trained chef. You don’t see home cooks working in a Michelin Star restaurant, so why should we accept it on large capital projects? In some cases, it’s fine if the cook is working under a professionally accredited and certified chef – these home cooks may be enthusiastic and capable, but they have much to learn if they are to become the top of their craft and realise the best possible outcomes for their clients.
I’m not advocating the need for the profession to be regulated. What I am advocating is a future where clients – on capital projects of a certain size and complexity ‒ can demand that the people working on those projects have industry recognised certification, and that project management is treated as a profession rather than merely a skill set.
For instance, certifications coming from reputable professional bodies such as the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) are playing an important role in raising skill levels and overall quality of professionals and practices. Crucial to the future success of our industry, bodies like AIPM provide independence, training, assessment, and certification of project management professionals. When you see an accredited (formal recognition by an authoritative body) or certified (written assurance by a third party of the conformity of services to specified requirements) Major Project Director from AIPM, you know they have passed a rigorous process that assesses their ability to deliver projects of a certain size. You know they are ‘chefs’ at the top of their game.
Aurecon has recently elevated its relationship with AIPM to an Organisation Partner. Through AIPM’s education and certification programmes, Aurecon employees in Australia will have greater access to learning and development opportunities. The company currently has 150 accredited project managers, which is anticipated to grow to 250 accredited project managers thanks to this new partnership. You can never have too many ‘chefs’ in the project management kitchen, and the positive impact this will have on results for our clients and quality of life in our communities will be immense.
In addition, this strategic partnership gives Aurecon representation on both AIPM’s Advisory Group and Industry Leaders Group. The Advisory Group is designed to assist AIPM in bringing an industry view at practitioner level and in refining their programmes, offerings, and strategy. The Industry Leaders Group, of which I am privileged to have been offered the Inaugural Chair, seeks to do the same, but at an executive level. This multilevel approach is key. While the work being done at a practitioner level is vitally important, the industry will change and adapt very slowly unless senior leaders and executives buy in as well. In order to really understand what organisations are thinking, and then to influence those organisations, engagement at the executive level is crucial.
Certified project managers are trained and educated to handle even the most complex projects without leaving room for error. We can only hope that our clientele will eventually realise the importance of requiring professionals to have a recognised high level of accreditation. If there is a greater demand, we can certainly develop a higher standard across Australia.
Stuart is Aurecon’s Global Lead for Program Advisory. His 20-year career has centred around providing delivery and advisory services to assist large, complex infrastructure owners and developers evaluate, manage and deliver major capital projects and portfolios of sustaining capital projects for ongoing operations as well as Asset Management.
This article is an adaptation of LinkedIn Pulse by Stuart Cassie titled, “You can never have too many ‘chefs’ in the project management kitchen”.