/ / Project Lessons from the Experts at Conference: Zero [2013]

Project Lessons from the Experts at Conference: Zero [2013]

Andrew presenting the case study about Halley Bay's weather station at Conference:Zero
Andrew presenting the case study about Halley Bay’s weather station at Conference:Zero

Andrew Hubbard has been editor of Project Magazine since taking the helm in 2012. The magazine is over 38 years old and started life as a newsletter called Bulletin.

Today it’s got a circulation of over 22,000 each month, mainly to APM members but it’s also available to anyone who has an interest in project management, so it isn’t purely a membership magazine.

Andrew spoke at Conference: Zero in October 2013, a virtual conference jointly hosted by APM and Pentacle, the Virtual Business School led by Professor Eddie Obeng.

Andrew’s presentation focused on the main lessons about doing projects better that he’d learned during his time as the editor. And as he’s spent the last year and a bit interviewing major players in project management from around the world he’s gathered some good insights into achieving project success.

2012, Andrew said, was a pivotal year for project management – in the UK we had the digital switchover, the Olympics, the construction of the Shard, and lots of other exciting projects, and in his role at the magazine he can interview those involved and help bring their experiences to a wider audience.

“The profession has come of age,” he said, which has become a bit of a clichéd phrase now, but it is true that we are in a period of fast change for project management. “The challenge after 2012 was how momentum could be maintained or accelerated in project management.”

Andrew explained the APM’s vision of a world where every project succeeds. “Some see this vision as an impossible dream,” he said, and there has been debate about this vision in the pages of Project and elsewhere. But Andrew’s convinced that we can do it.

The important thing, he said, was to use the experiences of excellence and innovation from others to make our own projects succeed, and by starting small with our own projects we could all work towards a world where every project succeeds.

Lessons from the experts

There were no construction-related deaths on the Olympic park, and overall the projects have been considered a huge success. “This is the kind of thing we want to shout about in our magazine,” said Andrew, even though someone emailed him last year with ‘Games fatigue’ and asked him if people could stop hearing about the Olympic project management effort.

One of the initiatives was infrastructure build and Network Rail’s programme followed a 2-4-1 approach. Andrew said this was 2 years of planning, 4 years of construction and 1 year of testing.

This gave the executives the resolve to hold off when people wanted to put shovels in the ground straight away and start the implementation immediately. That infrastructure project used stage gates to manage the process and to move the project forward.

Andrew said that the chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority had said that the Olympics were actually “boring project management.” He said it was about “doing the basics, but doing them well.”

This lesson from the Olympics projects, according to Andrew, is to put the time in at the front end. By this he meant spending adequate time planning and researching best practices. There are lots of case studies and good practice guidelines on the Olympic learning legacy website, so project managers in all sectors can look at these.

People and pragmatism

Andrew also talked about the work of Dr Martin Barnes, ex-President of APM and creator of the iron triangle (of time, cost and quality). “He is a pioneer,” Andrew said, describing their interview. “He’s very passionate about his work”.

Dr Barnes reported during the interview with Andrew that the triangle didn’t happen as a result of an epiphany moment. “It was just common sense,” he said.

Andrew said that he shared some practical experience including the need to get better at managing projects and to do them in more sectors of human activity. “We are better than we were before but we can go on getting better,” was one of the quotes from the interview.

Andrew has also spoken to Steven Plate, construction director of One World Trade in New York. The project budget for that infrastructure initiative was £9.5bn and covers a transport hub, the national memorial and other office blocks as well as the iconic new One World Trade building itself.

It was completed a year and a half before the original deadline, and when Andrew completed the interview in September last year 55% of the office space was already leased. Another major achievement was that throughout the construction the subway services were completely unaffected.

Andrew said that Steven was keen to stress that he had everyone on the team focused. “Getting every member of the team engaged about what you are trying to achieve is key,” he said. “Getting people involved in a project like this that people are passionate about, helps them see the end game.”

They aren’t turning up to work just between the hours of 9 and 5 but Andrew also said that Steven reported that emotions do need to be set to one side.

Survey: Who in the audience has read Project Magazine? Obviously it's very popular!
Survey: Who in the audience has read Project Magazine? Obviously it’s very popular!

His advice was to break up the project into manageable components. He also pointed out that metrics are very important, and these two things together helped to keep the project from becoming unwieldy.

He recommended that project managers don’t wait for monthly updates to check how things are doing as by then it’s too late to resolve any issues.

Creative thinking delivers results

The final case study that Andrew talked about was his interview with the team who built the Halley Bay weather station. They wanted to create a station with a longer lifespan than most stations – most of them get covered by snow or attacked by penguins.

Creative thinking turned up the idea of building this new weather station on stilts.

There are only 4 weeks where it is possible to deliver equipment to the construction site on land over the ice so the team came up with the idea of flying in their supplies. This was more expensive than land delivery but they doubled the time in which they could receive supplies and kit, and this saved costs in the long run.

“The adoption of lessons learned and good practice is crucial to moving us forward,” Andrew concluded. “Practitioners have helped to move the profession forward over the past years and I don’t believe the APM’s vision of a world where every project succeeds to be beyond what we can achieve.”

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