PROJECT MANAGEMENT In The Frame – A toolkit for everyday management

When the last of 55 giant wind turbines started turning at Meridian Energy’s Te Apiti windfarm in November last year, it marked the successful culmination of year’s worth of project management challenges.
What is now the southern hemisphere’s largest windfarm was also the first in New Zealand to use megawatt-class machines whose sheer scale (35-metre long blades on 70-metre high towers each carrying 51-tonne housing for electrical equipment) inevitably generated the odd logistical problem given their destination was fairly remote and hilly site.
A project snapshot includes 450 loads of equipment (several so big as to need temporary road closure), specially imported 400-tonne crane, several boatloads of cement, some fickle Kiwi weather which nearly tripled the area’s normal rainfall during the construction period – washing away access bridges in the process – and groundbreaking new technology to ensure Te Apiti’s output into the main power grid met quality requirements.
It did add up to few balls in the air in terms of coordinating resources, agrees David Green who is project delivery manager for Meridian Energy’s Wind Team and responsible for the design/build phase of Te Apiti.
“The civil engineering aspects have their own complexity. Plus you’re working in remote area on complex terrain – most windfarms are built on the flat. There are things like cement supplies to coordinate – because of the volume of concrete in any one pour you had to have it literally delivered on the day so we were pulling in ships of cement from Golden Bay. And you’re in an exposed environment – which we’ll have again down south [Meridian’s planned White Hill windfarm near Mossburn] probably plus snow.”
Having management tools that are specifically designed to handle this level of complexity is definite plus – for any manager to have, says Green. It’s all to do with having both framework and focus.
“It is key skill for all managers because of the all-embracing disciplines within the project management code of practice and body of knowledge. It’s very structured approach for delivering results because it touches on every area important to your business.
“Depending on what you’re doing, some are more critical than others but if you’ve touched on all the key points in the [project management] body of knowledge – whether costs, scope, risks, stakeholders et cetera – you can be pretty confident that you have project that is well-balanced.”
All too often people are appointed to project management positions with no real training in the discipline, says Green. His civil engineering background meant he’d undertaken major project work in the United Kingdom before sitting in on some project management courses in New Zealand.
“I found that while this is what I’d been doing, I’d never had formal structure in how I did it.”
He now encourages all his team to look at project management in an overall sense – from procurement to communications, stakeholders, risk, finance, quality or human resource issues – and ensures all civil engineering graduates in the team receive formal project management training.
One of the ways organisations benefit from project management-based techniques is that the processes are clear and accountable because they’re all spelled out – providing clear audit trail from start to finish, says Green.
Topping his list of the skills needed for successful project management is communications, along with robust strategy for procurement and planning timelines that are “as best as they can be”.
The company’s ongoing communications with stakeholders in the local community through the initial planning/consents phase, through design/build and into what is now the operational phase have been an important aspect of the project management.
Getting stakeholder buy-in is very much part of Meridian’s long-term strategy in terms of ‘clean’ power generation and attention to this has helped hasten the consents process at White Hill, says Green. Good communications with consultants and proposed contractors are also vital and receive correspondingly high dollops of attention from Green. “You need to be working together as team.”
Although there were no formal partnerships with contractors or suppliers, Green says it is about instilling an alliance concept so everyone is pulling together toward the same end.
He’d like to see project management tools and techniques become more integrated into general management but reckons there’s still some way to go before that idea gains wide acceptance.

Thought for food
Project management skills really came into focus when their lack was highlighted – particularly in the IT industry. But all business owners/managers can benefit by having framework to scope and test business initiatives, says Wendy McDonald.
As manager for Food Hawke’s Bay, she puts her project management training to work on couple of fronts – both in building/managing her cluster group (a regional export-building initiative), and in helping individual companies scope out their own projects.
“For instance, I recently helped one small company write an application for Technology NZ funding – scoping the project, defining objectives, identifying milestones and so on – and the owner said that even if they didn’t get the funding, going through that whole process had been really valuable.”
Like Green, she describes the project management tools as framework within which people can focus on each relevant business variable.
“It gives people the language to articulate the project’s scope and helps them get their heads around what it is they are trying to achieve. For example, what are the deliverables and how are we going to measure and report on progress?
“It provides natural framework for identifying what needs to be done, when and how it needs to be done, and gives you process for managing that.”
In terms of organisational benefits, she cites increased efficiency, savings in time and money and process transparency.
“It makes you think through lot of basic stuff – like who’s the sponsor here, do I have delegated authority to do what needs to be done? Focusing on those sorts of issues must help with the robustness of anything you do in business.”
She sees project managers as business facilitators.
“Their job is to use the resources that are available to make things happen so I guess the role is one of facilitation and communication. Being able to build relationships and get buy-in to the process is quite central to that.”
Other essential skills are to do with defining project parameters, says McDonald.
“Understanding the objective at the outset is vital. What do we want to achieve? What are the critical success factors? For everyone to feel satisfied this has been successful project, what does it have to look like, how are we going to monitor that and report on variations? Who are the end users and how are they going to interpret it?
“In the technology space, you can do this fantastic project, have it written up by scientists then go deliver it to clients who don’t understand what it means. You need framework to think about all those things.”

Life is project
Think “project” and what you see is something that has beginning and end. But for most organisations, projects have become permanent part of an ever-shifting landscape.
It’s not just to do with launching new product, testing new market or creating new service. In the drive for continuous improvements, just about everything is permanently up for tweak here, tuck there or twitch somewhere else.
David Tompkins, who is general manager service delivery for Vector, says his company has hundreds if not thousands of projects on the go at any one time.
“My group is responsible for day-to-day management of gas and electrical network operations as well as providing project management services to our bonds business, so yeah, we certainly have lot on the go.
“Because we’re network company, we have very lar

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