25 (120) 2016
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Succeeding in major projects by learning from past experience

by Gavin Dobbing, deputy head, major procurements and contracts at Amec Foster Wheeler
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Europe has been building transport networks, implementing communications systems, developing natural resources and revolutionising the way that essential services are delivered to the public for hundreds of years.

Throughout the history of such projects, the public’s intense interest when things go wrong is matched only by its boredom with success. However, the rapid development of project management over the last few decades shows that the people responsible for defining, developing and executing major projects have a keen interest in making successes repeatable.

A pool of international project managers, engineers, lawyers and financial experts can be called on who have the skills, experience and knowledge to have a transformative effect on projects.

Several project and programme management initiatives are spreading across Europe. The best-know four are:

  • Managing Successful Programmes (MSP)

  • PRojects IN Controlled Environments 2 (PRINCE 2)

  • Collaborative business relationship management framework (ISO 11000)

  • Information Technology Information Library (ITIL).

Companies such as Amec Foster Wheeler have consolidated their decades of experience in construction, natural resources, energy and infrastructure into detailed project management methodologies. It is these that define the management systems they apply in their work every day.

Professional institutions, such as the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply and the International Project Management Association (of which the UK organisation – the Association for Project Management is the largest in Europe), spread knowledge of good practices and encourage continuous professional development.

Expert committees have drafted standard forms of contract that reflect appropriate and fair risk and reward balance, and that incorporate project management concepts into contract administration (such as the Institution of Chemical Engineers, Institution of Civil Engineers and the Fédération Internationale des Ingénieurs Conseils / International Federation of Consulting Engineers).

Structured approaches to creating and assessing business cases for major investments have been developed by governments (such as the five-case model: strategic – fit in our portfolio and alignment with policy/strategy; economic – value for money; commercial – project, procurement and contract structure; financial – source of funding and affordability; and, management – monitoring, control and oversight). These are useful because they drive the project developer to consider the full breadth of factors that impact on a major project. In addition to supporting sound decisions on whether to invest in a project early on, a well-formed business case exposes the time-quality-cost envelope within which the project must be managed to remain viable.

With so much material already in the public domain, supported by training material and formal qualifications, it is valid to ask why a company or government department might need the support of a project or programme management consultant. Why aren’t project and programme management just skills that senior personnel learn and develop as needed?

My answer to this is that major projects are relatively unusual and take a long time to complete. Even a senior manager in a large department may get first-hand experience only once or twice in their career. In contrast, major project professionals will have worked on many.

We have experience of the typical challenges that occur and will know how established processes can be applied to best effect. We have overcome the inevitable intercultural issues and misunderstandings and are used to working with exceptionally large volumes of complex information. Know-how from first-hand experience enables the project team to understand and address stakeholder concerns before they are raised, indicates the best way to apply good practice on a specific project and provides foresight of technical and commercial issues. We can help find the best relationship framework for the project, balancing the need for good scope definition and cost control with the need for team-work to efficiently and effectively address issues. Major project professionals reduce project cost and avoid delays; on a project where the peak spend rate can be millions of euros per day, the benefits that we can deliver can be measured in the hundreds of millions of euros.

Major projects in Europe inevitably include international suppliers because of their scale and complexity. International collaboration is the most effective way to quickly and flexibly bring international experience into the buying organisation. Access to first-hand experience allows successful ideas from other projects to be repeated and mistakes to be avoided. UK major projects professionals can provide training, advice and support to buying teams, delivering value through the life of the project that far exceeds its cost.

Gavin Dobbing has spent his entire career supporting the efficient and effective development and execution of public and energy projects. He would welcome any conversation about the practice of programme and project management. You can contact him at gavin.dobbing@amecfw.com or find him on linked-in https://uk.linkedin.com/in/gavin-dobbing-12962a3.


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