12.01.2016 : Bruce Marks

The secret to delivering a better than average project

If you want an outstanding result for your project, you will need to do something extra. Here are three activities categorised as Value Improving Practices (VIPs) that will definitely make a difference.

If you want an outstanding result for your project you will need to do something extra. By just following the norms, your project could be late and over budget as this is the current standard.

Here are three activities that will definitely make a difference. They are typically categorised as Value Improving Practices (VIPs).

1. Top of my list is Active Risk Management

The key word in the subject is active. Risk to meeting the project objectives needs to be conducted at the project outset and be regularly updated (typically monthly) as the project progresses.

Here are two good stories that demonstrate the benefit of active risk management.

In one project, the greatest risk identified at the start of the execution phase was the availability of a large crane pictured above to lift several tall (50m) distillation columns as part of the construction of an oil refinery expansion. An engineer suggested that we buy a crane, which is typically in the scope of the construction contractor, to mitigate this risk. After some debate and funding analysis, it was decided to buy a 450 tonne crawler crane and sell it at the end of the project.

The risk was now an opportunity in that we now had this large crane, so what could we do with it.  Ultimately, we built the plant in 60 to 100 tonne modules and lifted them into place with the large crane. The net result was that the plant was constructed in a safer manner (less elevated work), with good quality (easier access), inside the planned schedule (more work at grade) and we sold the crane at the end of the project. The modified execution strategy only arose because we stopped and undertook a robust risk management process at day one.

On another project in Africa, an extreme risk was the threat of industrial action by the local unions. Our mitigation was to insert in the special conditions of all construction contracts the right for the owner to take over any dispute that threatened the project’s ability to achieve its objectives. Needless to say the event occurred and the clause was invoked. The dispute regarding the origin of the expatriate welders was professionally negotiated and the event had minimal impact on the overall cost and schedule.

2. The next activity on my list is designing in 3D

Very few people today can translate two dimensional drawings into three dimensional images, consequently 3D models to visualise how something is constructed, operated and maintained safely and efficiently can be extremely valuable.  For example, on a motorway project having to close two lanes on the  motorway to change a light bulb is poor design. Similarly, having nowhere to pull off to unload a mower to mow the grass adjacent to the motorway flyover means a lane has to be closed to undertake this risky activity.

When the appropriate people review a 3D model these simple design issues are apparent and are easily addressed without cost.

The time to add maximum value through reviews of 3D models is early in the design phase so the challenge is to get the appropriate construction, operations and maintenance people made available so that they can easily visualise and comment on the end product. This might appear to be obvious but it is always very difficult to achieve.

3. The final activity is lessons learned

This is a difficult activity to successfully manage as a significant number of the root causes of lessons (up to 50%) are incorrectly identified.

Nevertheless, it is worth pursuing as the collective experience and wisdom of most organisations is valuable and far greater than anyone can envisage.

A simple example of this is when a new chemical plant was late because it took three months to get the electronic interface for material data transfer between the designer and the construction contractor to work successfully.

As a result of this lesson, the next project surveyed the construction market for common tools and systems and mandated the project systems in the invitation to bid. The interface between the design software and the manufacturing software was running smoothly by the time the construction contractor was selected and the transfer of data was flawless.  This is an example of a simple but very effective change to capture the previous experience.

There are other VIPs but in my experience, if you address these three issues you will make a significant difference to the outcome of your project.

About the Author

Bruce Marks

Chief Engineer - Industrial Project Delivery

Bruce is a highly experienced and skilled project director who has delivered tremendous value for clients, particularly on large projects. As Chief Engineer – Industrial Project Delivery, he has successfully led complex, fast-track projects of over US$500m in value.

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Rima Kaio · 12/01/2016 10:58:06 p.m.
Thanks for the useful pointers Bruce, definitely worth keeping in mind. To your first point, it reminded me of a project which involved multiple large structural piers. The options included either to purchase a large enough drilling rig and use monopiles, which are straight-forward to both design and build, or to use the contractor's existing plant. This latter option required a more complicated design (multiple piles with pile caps), coordination with adjacent structures and utilities, and of course took longer to construct. In such cases, a clear recommendation should be made (and it was) to go with the former option. Unfortunately that was not to be.