Managing the mega

Few regions in the world have witnessed the abundance of mega projects in such a short space of time. But with clear deadlines allowing for no excuses, the challenge of managing these grand undertakings has never come with more pressure

ANALYSIS, Projects, Mega projects

Mega project management has never been so essential to the ambitions of the region. With marquee events and dramatic infrastructure requiring intricate construction on an enormous scale, experts are in demand.

But the craft of mega project management has seen changes over the years. Whether it has been the turbulent financial landscape or the ever increasing influence of technology, Wael Allan, CEO of Arcadis, says like any professional discipline, “project management has continued to evolve over time to meet the specific needs of clients”.

“The global recession forced project management professionals to innovate in order to deliver services more cost effectively,” he explains.

“A strong focus on standardisation of systems and process, enabled by technologies has supported knowledge share, collaboration and project control.

“This evolution has allowed project management professionals to increase focus on risk and opportunity management underpinned by lessons learned.”

Gary Crossman, partner, Experient FZ LLC, picks up the issue of technological development, which continues to “provide ever more efficient computer-based systems for project managers”.

And, of course, nobody can escape the influence of financial pressures.

Hudson Fountain, project management director Turner & Townsend, argues the market has only just begun to pick up after five years of recession so it’s a case of being “lean and efficient”.

“Clients are seeking techniques that deliver their projects more effectively, efficiently and with improved predictability of time, cost and quality,” he continues.

“There has also been greater uptake of clients investing in collaborative platforms to exchange project data, which has enabled greater integration and coordination front-end on large multinational stakeholder projects.”

He also adds that a decade ago if your project had sustainability intent such as a BREEAM rating or high LEED classification it was an exception to the rule.

“Today, this is fundamentally different,” he asserts.

Hans Hoppe, project controls manager, Parsons, says that “keeping in mind that good systems are best used as an augment to good people and process, never a replacement”, there are several systems that are having a positive impact.

For document, records and information management, Aconex has become a frontrunner, while the default tool for contract management is Oracle Contract Manager.

“However, we expect Primavera Unifier to replace Contract Manager over the long term,” Hoppe asserts.

“There are some very good systems that have emerged over the past several years that add significant value,” he continues.

“However, any system can be a severe detriment to project performance if the correct sponsorship and processes aren’t in place first.”

But for Steve Irvine, executive director-PM Services, KEO-PMCM International, while “in some respects program and project management has changed for the better, in some respects is has not”.

“An improvement we have seen is a recognition that B follows A and C follows B through to Z,” he explains.

“The role of the PM is to provide the road map and steer the projects to success. So in this basic fundamental, project management has not changed.”

While progress is being made, there is still a belief that more can be done. Allan would like to see increased use of electronic documents as well as the adoption of building information modelling (BIM).

“(This) would allow project management professionals to increase their impact on client businesses,” he argues.

“All too often, clients consider the design and construction process outside of a broader framework that takes into account the need to operationalise and maintain the completed facility.”

Fountain concurs, stating that “rigorous contracts here in the Middle East still require detailed, earned value evidence of performance and deliverables produced”.

“With money still tight, I don’t see things changing soon, so more simplified systems allowing greater trust will need to progressively evolve over time.”

Crossman takes up the point on BIM citing the large number of projects anticipated to be generated as a result of Expo 2020, to make a case for it becoming more widely available.

“Benefits are significant as the system will span the whole concept-to-occupation timespan, linking the various stages with minimal loss of data and a high degree of transparency to determine early potential conflicts and any likely problems,” he states.

Hoppe says Parsons would like to see a concerted effort among system vendors to help ASTM create standard data exchange protocols (similar to ASTM E2807 - 11), while Luay Khoury president/CEO, Projacs, calls for “a more collaborative approach to project management systems by all stakeholders”.

“This will require a change in culture as well as clear mandates by clients,” he adds.

As the BIM argument rolls on, it is secondary to the need to complete mega projects in an effective manner – by no means and easy task. Fountain explains that as ever, “major projects and programmes require an integrated team approach”.

“They provide a great fillip to the industry and to the careers of many project managers,” he continues.

Mega projects often require a different type of approach to support the management of their delivery, according to Allan.

“In all circumstances, alignment to a shared vision supported by a defined set of benefits holds the key,” he says.

“The adoption of a programmatic approach, aligned to a benefits framework, and enabled by consistent shared standards, systems and processes allows clients to optimise their organisations’ delivery with a focus on shared benefits.”

Project managers are then better able to define and manage their projects whilst making a full contribution to delivery of the overall vision.

“Operating in this environment requires project managers to have developed skills in areas such as stakeholder management and the ability to identify and agree on interfaces between individual projects within the programme of work,” he adds.

Irvine reveals that one of the better kept ‘secrets’ of project management is to break them down to “bite-size chunks”.

“Scale is then just a question of structure and systems to gather and disseminate information,” he enthuses.

“There is happily a combination of skills required for success – the younger, probably more ‘tech savvy’ talent is needed to seek out better, more effective and efficient means of gathering, storing, presenting and disseminating information quickly and accurately – and the more mature, probably more pragmatic approach of the experienced player who can assimilate the options and guide appropriate solutions.”

Clients are looking at project management at different levels within the organisational hierarchy, according to Khoury.

“Programme managers are being called on to manage the project from a macro level, while different project managers are taking care of individual projects,” he says.

“On some projects, and due to technical know-how requirements, project managers are also tasked with the on-site supervision services while on other projects, design consultants are handling the project management services.”

Flexibility is key for Crossman, who adds that “efficient levels of ‘suitable’ resource are one way this can be addressed”.

“Constant control of time, quality and cost on behalf of the client should still remain the priority of all PM’s, as well as conducting their business in a fair and equitable manner to protect the reputation of the client as well as themselves.”

While the challenge of successfully completing these projects is ominous enough, winning the tenders is where it all begins. No business is going to reveal its prized winning secrets, but there are some insights that can be expressed.

Crossman explains that there is no one way to win business and that “every PM firm has its own approach”.

“But it must include the right level and type of resource for any particular project,” he says adding that providing “value for money for the client” is also a key factor.

Khoury agrees, adding “there is no one single or secret formula”.

“We study each opportunity on its own merits and decide on a bidding strategy that best positions us to win the project while gaining client’s trust and providing them with the best value for their investment.”

According to Allan, clients are increasingly recognising that the level of complexity associated with mega projects “requires strategic leadership at the outset to support vision capture”.

“This enables the delivery organisation to be aligned to realise business benefits,” he continues.

“In these circumstances it is the consultant with the ability to deliver the right balance of track record and experience, the right people supported by the right approach and methodology enabled by the right tools and processes that offer them the greatest probability of success.

“It is often the capability and how it is organised to deliver the client’s vision that is the key differentiator, other than, of course, price.”

For Irvine, taking the time to understand the “driving vision and challenges of the client and the project and to structure a specific, bespoke approach to the project delivery”, is paramount.

“You need to demonstrate a capability through a comprehension of the challenges and demonstrable experience in the specifics of the program, including appropriate systems and personnel,” he adds.

“Now is certainly the time to be winning your mega project tenders, with obvious key dates in the diary.”

But there are short- and medium-term issues to consider for project management businesses.

Irvine starts by stating that “notwithstanding any predictions on oil prices, the region is growing at a pace”.

“Investors and their representatives are becoming more sophisticated in their expectations and demands,” he continues, adding that effective project management of these complex developments “is a requirement, not a luxury”.

With the growth in construction activity in the Middle East, Arcadis’ requests from clients for project management is part of a broader and more comprehensive service offering, says Allan.

“In many cases clients are procuring services that are designed to manage both complexity and risk to delivery,” he continues.

“Those businesses that are able to offer project management services that effectively address these types of delivery challenges are seeing a growth in demand for this capability.”

Crossman says the outlook for 2015 is very good, stating there are many new projects on the horizon, “in the hospitality field in particular, with the forecast requirement of tens of thousands of new hotel rooms to meet the demand for the Expo 2020”.

Hoppe argues that as the size and complexity of construction projects increase in the region, most clients are turning to program management to ensure delivery stays on track.

“As projects become more complex, so does the scope and role of the project manager and with a multitude of projects currently seeking good program managers and many more to come, 2015 looks bright for project management,” he states.

However, Fountain asserts that the market will continue to be competitive and, despite the aforementioned opportunities, “the impact of the recent oil price drop is still uncertain and may take a while to work through”. But as he concludes, “major public projects such as Expo 2020 and Qatar 2022 will boost the market, as will other major publicised developments”.

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