Communication and collaboration bring big benefits
Project Management Managers of major infrastructure projects can lose sight of the bigger picture in a narrow focus on budgets and deadlines.
The chancellor's announcement of more funding for infrastructure in his autumn statement will focus attention on project governance, to ensure all the economic and social benefits are gained as well as simply meeting budgets and deadlines, says Phil Hardy Bishop, UK infrastructure director, Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.
"The important thing at the moment is ensuring your project is set up with good governance so the management professional can ensure the business case returns the benefits you want to achieve," he says. "This is really important because the benefits may be much wider than just the financial - they may go into benefits to the overall economy, benefits to taxation if you are a public authority, and social benefits. For example, in prison projects you would be thinking about such things as reoffending rates and social outcomes."
Every big plan has social and economic benefits as its aim, but these can get lost under the inevitable stresses created as the project is implemented. "Most people will judge simply on whether the project is on time and under budget but it is ensuring that all the other outcomes are provided when budgets or specifications are changed that is important," Hardy Bishop points out. "The important thing is that all members of the team are trying to achieve benefits for the client."
It is not always obvious what the benefits are, making communication between contractors and clients crucially important.
"The example I love to quote is of a contractor working on supermarkets who got the piling done so quickly they managed to turn the building over to the client four weeks early. The client was livid - it was awful for them because they had no staff trained, they had no stock, they had no marketing materials ready but they had to take it over. Part of the governance process is to tell the client you are going to be finished early to enable them to speed up their processes."
Collaboration software is changing the face of project management rapidly, making it much easier to keep everyone in the loop. The next step is the automation of the process of disseminating changes through a complex project.
"Building Information Modelling (BIM) will change that collaborative environment so that changes to one set of drawings are fed through to all the other drawings fairly quickly without the need for numbers of draughtsmen. There is a lot of power in that," Hardy Bishop explains.
Collaboration can also facilitate the creation of teams that can stay together over a series of projects, fostering understanding and potentially cutting costs by reducing misunderstandings, Hardy Bishop says.