Lessons from planners

Lessons from planners of large infrastructure projects 

Planning a large infrastructure project can often be a long and complex process. Effective planning and management are vital to ensuring long-term value is achieved and risks are mitigated.

To find out more about the value of major project planning, Gary Webster (a partner with KPMG in Canada’s Infrastructure practice) sat down with the leaders of two major projects now underway or being planned for the Province of British Columbia.

Susan Yurkovich is an Executive Vice President at BC Hydro where she is responsible for the Site C Clean Energy Project, and Mike Proudfoot is the CEO of the Transportation Investment Corporation (TI Corp) responsible for the implementation of the Port Mann/Highway 1 Improvement Project.

Gary Webster (GW): What do you see as the top challenge facing managers of major infrastructure projects today?

Susan Yurkovich (SY): I think the most significant – and in some cases most underappreciated – aspect of the planning and delivery of a large infrastructure project is related to managing all of the interrelated stakeholders and their interests. This includes First Nations, communities, regulators, customers and other stakeholders. Particularly in complex projects such as a new hydro development, project managers need to start consulting early to understand who the various stakeholders are going to be, what their issues are, and how you are going to engage with them.

Mike Proudfoot (MP): I absolutely agree with Susan; the main challenge often boils down to stakeholder relationships and managing their competing needs in a way that keeps everyone involved and motivated. Staying connected with each of the stakeholders throughout the planning and delivery cycle is always a challenge, especially in projects with long development and delivery timelines. The trick is not only in meeting the initial needs of the stakeholders, but also building an open and collaborative relationship where all parties feel they can speak openly about their role, challenges and pressures throughout the development and planning cycles.

GW: Has this influenced how you have built your project team?

MP: Certainly. Our team must include a wider range of project specialists and consultants than ever before. For example, we work with environmental consultants, First Nations advisors, engineering firms, business and financial advisors and public consultation specialists, just to name a few. Project managers must recognize the wide range of skills and capabilities that are now critical to the success of megaproject delivery.

SY: I’d echo Mike’s comments. In addition to external stakeholders, project managers are also required to develop clear governance and decision-making processes right at the start of the planning phase, while remaining flexible to adapt to changing circumstances. For the Site C project, we determined early on that a project of this size requires international hydro development expertise and review. For that reason, we recruited an international Technical Advisory Board to advise on the technical aspects of the project. In addition, we have established processes for internal specialists and stakeholders to participate in the project’s development, as well as third party external review. These reviews are documented and provide a platform to move forward from our decisions with the confidence that we have made the best choices for the project and have involved stakeholders input.

GW: How are you approaching risk management as part of the planning process?

SY: Again, it’s all about starting early. We started with a strong and proven risk framework approach which identified key project risks in each stage of project development, and then identified who best to manage and mitigate those risks. This allowed us to incorporate principles of safety-by-design, and engineering-by-design, which means that where possible, we seek opportunities to ‘design out’ safety or technical risks of the project. On a regular basis, we go back and revisit the risk framework to keep it updated and develop mitigation options for review by the project’s leadership team.

MP: For us, it really comes back to understanding what the risks are and then aligning those risks back to the appropriate party. Obviously, construction and design risks that relate to bridges and interchanges lies squarely with the design-builder. But the Province has retained the risks related to things like securing environmental approval certificates and property acquisition. It really comes down to being very deliberate about how those risks are evaluated and aligned.

GW: Based on your experience in megaproject planning, what advice would you offer other project managers now embarking on similar projects in other jurisdictions?

MP: If I were to pick just one thing, I would say communication. On the one hand, we’ve gone through great lengths to communicate all of the work that we are doing, much of which goes unseen by the public and some of the stakeholders. For example, we’ve been working to bring salmon stocks back to the rivers that pass through our development, which is an important environmental benefit of the project that most commuters travelling down the highway would never see or know unless we communicated it to them. We’ve also focused on ensuring transparent and clear communications about the impact that our development will have on every-day issues such as traffic flow and road closures. These are the issues that could easily derail a project unless they are clearly communicated.

SY: I agree. Communicating and engaging with stakeholders as early in the process as possible is critical. Clearly, consultation is key to ensuring that all risks and challenges are understood and mitigated. I would also recommend spending time on developing a governance process with internal stakeholders. Finally, stay motivated. Large infrastructure projects can take years, or even decades, to plan and deliver. Keeping the project team motivated and firing on all cylinders every day can make all the difference in projects of this size and complexity.

By Gary Webster, KPMG in Canada

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INSIGHT: Megaprojects

INSIGHT: Megaprojects
From managing risk and meeting timelines to selecting the right technology and investment partners, megaproject delivery offers important lessons and approaches that will resonate with almost any infrastructure stakeholder.

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