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Professor outlines steps to successful projects

Derek Neary
Professor outlines steps to successful projects

Collaboration is crucial in making projects successful, just like it is a key for a hockey team to win the Stanley Cup. Addressing close to 400 people at the Edmonton Infrastructure Productivity Forum 2016, held at the Edmonton Expo Centre on Feb. 5, keynote speaker George Jergeas repeated his sports analogy, emphasizing that cooperation and agility are key.

"Everybody must be empowered at their level, from top to bottom, and to make decisions – on the spot, very quickly, like a hockey player," said Jergeas, a professor of project management at the University of Calgary. "We need to integrate and work hard on the collaborative relationship as a team, a hockey team."

Construction used to be more of a collaborative process but a "protectionism" mentality has emerged and impeded progress, said discussion panel member Andrew Laughlin, acting GM of Integrated Infrastructure Services with the City of Edmonton.

"It has really taken us in a direction where we’re so concerned about that litigious side that we get (at) the root of how do we work collaboratively on delivering infrastructure that we need for Albertans," he said.

"I think we’ve become so reliant on (lawyers’) advice that we forget about the bigger picture, which is: What are we trying to accomplish?"

In regards to lawyers, Andrew Sharman, Assistant Deputy Minister of Health and Government Facilities with the Government of Alberta, added, "keep us legal, but let us manage the risks." Proper planning is also critical to success, Jergeas said.  "The scope is your biggest challenge. The owner needs to know what they want, as simple as that," he said.

While labour productivity is sometimes thought to be the source of delays, it’s usually a management issue, he asserted. The proper tools and materials have to be put in the hands of contractors and sub-contractors in a timely fashion, he said. Further relating to management – having a "project sponsor," someone who outranks a project manager – would be helpful to negotiate with internal and external players when issues arise, Jergeas advised.

As well, he said having the construction process mirror a thorough engineering process can result in fewer change orders to projects, and he recommended that 80 per cent of engineering work be done prior to mobilizing to site. Attempting to fast-track projects and have construction overlap with design often leads to construction being blamed for faults and delays at the end, he warned.

"Timely changes, that I accept. Untimely changes (are) killing us," Jergeas said. "The more changes you have during construction, it’s a costly (factor). This is why contractors like to talk about impact cost."

More accurately setting the initial cost of a project needs to be addressed too, Laughlin suggested. There has to be a culture change administratively, he said, adding that projects shouldn’t be squeezed into a budget cycle.

"Let’s understand what the scope is and rationalize it to a point where we’re comfortable saying to our political officials, ‘This is what we need to deliver what you want,’" said Laughlin.

Matt Brassard, a partner with engineering consulting firm Urban Systems, agreed. He said defining the scope and a budget before a project is presented to the public is essential. Another aspect of the process that needs examination is the inclination to select the lowest bidder in all circumstances, Jergeas said.

"And that needs a little bit more leadership to deal with it," particularly relating to major, complex initiatives, he said. "The lowest compliant bidder will not get you get you innovation and creativity."

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