Introduction to Constructability and Constuctability Programmes

Introduction to Constructability and Constuctability Programmes

By Corne Thirion

Introduction

Constructability is a project management technique for reviewing the whole construction process before commencing with project implementation. Constructability reviews will reduce or prevent design errors, delays, and over expenditure by identifying potential obstacles to construction.

A constructability programme refers to integrating engineering design, and executive knowledge and experience to better achieve project objectives. The main obstacles to its implementation include partial comprehension of construction requirements by designers, and resistance of owners to constructability due to extra cost. An effective constructability programme will begin during the planning phase and will continue to the end of construction.

Many of the problems related to constructability are due to a lack of communication among the owner’s engineers or designers and the construction companies before starting the project. Architects, engineers and designers are not normally experts in construction methods.  By integrating constructability in the design process in the early stages of the project, construction disputes will be reduced, and as a result, project delivery will be more secure.

This article focuses on the benefits of constructability, and implementation of a constructability programme in companies, at both corporate and project level.

Constructability in perspective

The Construction Industry Institute (CII) released guidelines for constructability in 1986, in which constructability is defined as optimum use of construction knowledge and experience in planning, design, provisions and implementation to achieve project overall objectives (O’Connor, 2006). Various studies have been done to explain constructability and to resolve the obstacles to its implementation in the interim years.

Improving constructability during project execution will thus improve the achievement of project objectives in the areas of cost, schedule, quality, safety, risk management, and the impact on the environment.  After completion of the project, the facility should also meet requirements in areas of reliability, maintainability and operability.

The definition of constructability implies that constructability should be considered from the planning (feasibility) phase of a project.  Considering constructability during project development is only possible if it is owner driven, because the construction company is normally not yet on board.

Constructability during project development and implementation improves cost performance by 6,1% and schedule performance by 7,1%, according to the latest benchmarking done by CII (CII, 2019). In terms of value addition from constructability reviews, the cost benefit ratio is in the range of 1:10, additional cost of constructability: project benefit.

Figures 1 illustrates the benefit on project schedule and cost to the owner of applying constructability practices, in comparison to other practices.

Constructability_Fig1

Figure 1:  Owner benefit of practice use(Garcia, 2009)

Figures 2 illustrates the benefit on project schedule and cost to the contractor of applying constructability practice.  The perceived impact and benefits for contractors are much more significant than for owners.

Constructability_Fig2

Figure 2: Contractor benefit of practice use  (Garcia, 2009)   

Implementation of a constructability programme in an organisation

Implementation roadmap

A company should ideally implement both corporate- and project constructability programmes. The CII developed an implementation roadmap, consisting of six stages as shown in Figure 3, which can be used by owners, designers and construction contractors.

The implementation covers constructability at a corporate level (the first two stages, with some overlap into the third stage), as well as at a project level (stages three to six).  Stage six deals with the evaluation of the performance of the constructability programme which may result in changes being required at the corporate or the project level.

Each of these six stages of the implementation of a constructability programme is described in detail in the following sections.  The bulleted lists above each of the stages in Figure 3 summarise the main elements of that stage.

Constructability_Fig3

Figure 3:  Constructability Implementation roadmap (Adapted from O’Connor, 2006)

Commit to implementing constructability

The existence of a formal constructability programme at corporate level, supported by a strategy and managed by an empowered sponsor, ensures that the infrastructure exists to support constructability programmes at project level.

All levels in the organisation should be aligned and have a good understanding of the model, objectives, methods and concepts of constructability. The alignment will be a top down approach and senior leaders should set the pace.

A self-assessment to determine the current in-house construction abilities and practices will be done and the outcome will be used to benchmark the current status (maturity) of constructability in the company. It will also help to define the programme objectives and improvement areas. The elimination of barriers that inhibit the implementation programme is of utmost importance. Barriers must be identified and eliminated by appropriate initiatives and programmes.

The benefits of a constructability programme should be assessed and goals (based on benefits of the programme) defined which focus the programme’s implementation effort. Company targets, to be achieved at project level, can be summarised at corporate level to track progress and performance. Qualitative targets include improvements in team relationships, site layouts, budget- and schedule accuracy, as well as safety. Quantitative targets are reduction of overall project cost (say 7%), schedule improvement (say 8%) and a constructability cost benefit ratio of 1:10.

The last element is about the corporate profile of constructability, and involves the development of a Constructability Policy. The policy is signed by the president/CEO of the organisation and includes elements such as level of commitment by management, name of corporate executive sponsor, programme goals for the organisation and a link to the implementation of constructability on project level. During the first year of implementation, reference should be made to the implementation programme, but constructability should be integrated with other programmes, and become part of “the way we do things” in the organisation.

Establish a corporate constructability programme

The first element of this stage is to identify, appoint and empower a constructability sponsor that has the full support of the executive team. The sponsor is directly accountable for the success of the constructability programme.

The constructability programme on project level needs functional support and procedures. A programme manager role, that functions as a centre of excellence, is created to facilitate implementation of constructability at project level. The programme manager is responsible for day-to-day company-wide constructability coordination, selection and functioning of project constructability coordinators, functioning of a lessons-learned database and tracking of company programme goals.

The last element of this stage is the creation and maintenance of a constructability lessons-learned database.  This database is of the utmost importance as it is used as an input during the “plan constructability implementation” phase in the project programme.   The format of the database should facilitate retrieval for application to new projects, selecting areas such as discipline, functionality and project phase.

The implementation of constructability on a project has three logical steps, obtain constructability capabilities (supported and enabled by the corporate level programme), followed by planning for implementation, and implementation of the constructability programme.

Obtain constructability capabilities

The owner project team members are pivotal to the success of constructability in the project, as they set the pace and drive successful completion. The (owner) project manager must be committed to constructability and be able to lead the team in 1) creation of a supportive project environment, 2) drive cost effectiveness 3) improve other project objectives by constructability and 4) ensure team involvement in construction. The rest of the owner team members will be selected on their work and construction experience, communication and teamwork skills, open mindedness and good evaluation skills.

The project team will define the project objectives in terms of cost, schedule and quality, as well as safety. It is also important to prioritise objectives, as it will improve decision making and potential trade-off studies. The project constructability objectives will be derived from the project objectives, with participation by design- and construction members.

The selection of the project contracting strategy impacts on the timing and application of constructability and affects the level of the formality of the constructability process.

It is important that the owner, in selecting a contracting strategy:

  • Assesses in-house constructability competence to lead or enhance the constructability process;
  • Understands the impact of different contracting strategies on constructability; and
  • Selects a construction contractor during the early stages of the project.

Owners can consider incentives which are related to constructability performance. It is important to incentivise designers and constructors for common deliverables such as quality and final completion. The incentives must be aligned to ensure that the two companies are dependent upon each another to be rewarded.

Plan constructability Implementation


Timeous and thoughtful planning is very important to ensure effective constructability implementation. Constructability must start during the feasibility stage of a project lifecycle and continue through to the planning- and delivery stages. Three constructability reviews sessions are recommended, as illustrated in Figure 4.

Constructability_Fig4

Figure 4: Duration of constructability and timing of constructability reviews

The team members that will lead the constructability effort should have construction experience, be co-operative team players and be committed to the project schedule duration to minimise turnover.

The organisation structure of the constructability team will vary from project to project. All project team members participate on a part-time basis in the constructability team. The Constructability Coordinator may be a full-time position on big projects, but on smaller projects this role could be part-time and filled by the construction manager or other team members. The Constructability Coordinator reports to the owner Project Manager.

The Constructability Coordinator is responsible for:

  • Orientation and team building of the entire project team;
  • Integration of constructability into the project execution plan;
  • Review of the constructability lessons-learned database;
  • Assurance of adequate consideration of constructability concepts;
  • Planning and scheduling of constructability studies;
  • Gathering of constructability input from various ad hoc specialists;
  • Maintenance of a constructability suggestion logbook;
  • Evaluation and reporting on constructability progress;
  • Solicitation of appropriate feedback; and
  • Forwarding of new lessons learned to the corporate database.

Any constructability programme is more successful when the team is aligned and communicates openly. This need is addressed by a facilitated team building exercise where barriers are identified, and strategies implemented to break barriers.

Constructability teams can improve their effectiveness by reviewing lessons learnt from previous projects.  The creation- and maintenance of such a database is discussed earlier in the article under Establish a corporate constructability programme.

The next step is to conduct the constructability planning workshop.The planning workshop will be scheduled after feasibility analysis. The focus of the workshop is to develop a plan for constructability implementation during project execution, list deliverables and compile a schedule for completion (aligned with project schedule) to support decision making (regarding constructability goals) during planning and delivery stages (refer to Figure 4).

CII identify 11 activities (O’Connor, 2006) that should be included in the agenda of a planning workshop.  The purpose of the workshop is to identify constructability opportunities and concerns, prioritise constructability concepts to be implemented and the drafting of concept application plans for deliverables, required during the decision-making process to promote constructability.

Constructability activities (input) need to be planned for application during the different stages of the project. The Constructability Coordinator needs to integrate constructability activities and deliverables into the project schedule. It is important that constructability input is given during development of project deliverables and not at the review stage, as it will impose rework.

Implement constructability

The constructability plan and initiatives will be integrated with the project work process as the project proceeds through the planning and delivery stages. Implementation will be executed in three steps: put concept application plans into action, monitor and evaluate implementation effectiveness and document lessons learned.

Concept application plans are key in implementation of concepts, but it is important to remember that the implementation is an iterative process during planning and detail design. (less so during construction).

Constructability concepts are high-level lessons learned. Inclusion in the project constructability manual stimulates the application thereof. If these concepts are compiled as check lists and arranged by planning activities or design disciplines, it can be put to good use during planning and review sessions.

Constructability team members provide constructability input and follow constructability procedures, detailed in the concept application plans, when required.  The constructability effort is initiated during the feasibility stage and continued till the end of the delivery stage (refer Figure 4).  The Constructability Coordinator is the main interface with the project team and is the focal point for overseeing and coordinating the constructability effort.  The constructability team will meet on a regular basis to discuss concepts, share lessons learned and provide input to designs.  Constructability reviews will be done by the constructability team on design packages before release, with the focus on confirming that approved concepts have been incorporated.

The Constructability Coordinator keeps a log of constructability suggestions and studies, and coordinates cost and schedule estimates for these suggestions. Feedback on constructability objectives may be made available at an agreed frequency to report on performance at project level.  The performance of the constructability team is also monitored, and corrective actions implemented.

The final element under the implementation of constructability is the documentation of lessons learned. Feedback on the constructability programme performance needs to be documented as the project develops. Quality of design documents from contractors should be assessed. Lessons learned sessions should be conducted during all stages of the project, and summarised at the end of the project. It is also important to evaluate design aspects for inclusion in future projects.  

Update corporate/project programme

The effectiveness of the constructability programme at corporate level, as well as at project level should be evaluated to identify areas for improvement. The three focus areas are: evaluate programme effectiveness, modify organisation and procedures and update the lessons-learned database.

The review of constructability programme effectiveness should evaluate if the programme objectives and goals are met and if it should be revised or changed. A very important aspect is to review the level of support to the project level constructability programme, as the performance at project level is dependent on support from corporate level. The constructability barriers should be re-assed, as well as the effectiveness of the barrier-breaker initiative.  Successes at both the corporate and project level should be recognised, rewarded and announced at relevant levels. Recognition should also be given at the annual company reward ceremony (when due).

The company and programme organisation structure should be evaluated for effectiveness and adjusted/modified, if needed, via update loops (refer Figure 3).  Rotation of incumbents should also be considered and updating of the succession plan for these positions. The effectiveness of procedures and tools used for training, communication, reviews and evaluation should be reviewed and adjusted as required, with focus on communication of lessons learned at project and inter project level.

Updating the lessons-learned database may be the last step in the constructability programme, but is one of the most important activities. The database should be updated with lessons learned from every project. New contributors should be identified and added to the system. The environment should be scanned for new or emerging constructability concepts on a continuous basis. Ensure that contributors always get constructive feedback and recognition for their contributions.

Closing remarks

Constructability is not about adding more activities to an already overloaded project team, but a formalised process that sensitises and enables the team to start thinking about construction of the project as early as during the feasibility stage.

The project team is rewarded for utilising the constructability programme with a reduction in construction cost, direct field labour hours, construction schedule and design rework hours. The project team further benefits from improvements in lost time incident rate, ease of personnel and material accessibility during construction and maintenance, labour productivity, improved security and, improved teamwork.

Owner benefits will include reliability, maintainability and operability.

References

O’Connor, J.T.,2006, CII Constructability Implementation Guide (SD34-1), revision 2, Construction Industry Institute, University of Texas at Austin.

CII (Construction Industry Institute), 2019, CII’s Impact, https://www.construction-institute.org/membership/ciis-impact.Accessed on 19 July 2019.

Garcia, M.A.,2009, Introduction to CII practices, Special presentation to American Council for Construction Education, Jacksonville, Florida on 20 Feb. 2009. Pdf file available at https://www.acce-hq.org/images/uploads/CIIBPFORACCE20Feb091.pdf.Accessed on 22 July 2019.

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Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility for Projects

Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility for Projects

By Davida van der Walt

Introduction

Before we consider strategic corporate social responsibility, let’s first look at corporate social responsibility in broader terms.  The most common terms that refer to social responsibility are ‘corporate social investment’ (CSI) and ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR).  These terms are commonly used interchangeably.

According to the World Bank (Petkoski & Twose,2003), CSR is the commitment of businesses to contribute to sustainable economic development by working with the local community to improve the quality of life in ways that result in benefit to the business and the community.

Investment in local communities where projects are implemented can occur in one or more of the following four primary ways:

  • Job creation;
  • Skills development;
  • Small enterprise development; and
  • Infrastructure development, e.g. water supply to communities.

These categories are not mutually exclusive.  For example, in the event of setting up a small enterprise in the local community, such an opportunity will also make provision for skills development and job creation. A single initiative may involve numerous aspects of social upliftment.

In this article, an attempt is made to provide an integrated view of strategic CSR on projects.  A stronger focus will be given to strategic CSR in the context of developing countries.  We’ll start by looking at the objectives to be achieved by CSR, before discussing strategic CSR on projects.

Objectives with CSR

Overview

Before engaging in any form of CSR, whether as a running concern or for a new project, it is important to consider why you wish to follow this road.  If done for the right reasons, it can be of benefit to all concerned, and if done badly, can do more harm than good. Kapelus (2002) emphasizes the need to consider underlying motivations for business to engage in and embrace the CSR concept.

CSR can be a vehicle to achieve any, or a combination, of the following five objectives:

  • Philanthropy;
  • Reputation building;
  • Socio-economic development;
  • Skills development; and
  • Enterprise development.

The five objectives are shown graphically in Figure 1 as being interrelated and overlapping.  Sustainable CSR can be found where most of the objectives overlap.

CSR Objectives

 

Figure 1: CSR Objectives

Each of these objectives is discussed in more detail in the sections that follow.

Philanthropy

Philanthropy is an unselfish concern for, or devotion to, the welfare of others, expressed especially by the donation of money to good causes.  Here the stated objective is not to seek any benefit for the business or the project. Very few businesses can afford this type of altruism in their early years, let alone new projects.  In some cases, philanthropy can be construed as an attempt to indirectly ‘bribe’ government officials for favours in return.

Reputation building

For any business to be successful, good relationships with stakeholders and a strong reputation of caring for the environment, the communities, and the people therein greatly contributes to business success and sound business practice.   Strong relationships with local communities, unions, government departments, media and investors (amongst others) can significantly impact business operations, and are to be actively sought.

Socio-economic development

Socio-economic development is aimed at improving the social status of the communities, and addressing the needs of the poor, vulnerable and those with special needs.

Socio-economic development thus seeks to improve the economic well-being and quality of life of communities by creating and/or retaining jobs, and supporting or growing household incomes and community living standards.  Economic development may involve job opportunities and income growth, sustainable increases in the productivity of individuals, businesses and resources to increase the overall well-being of residents and maintaining or even enhancing the quality of life. Economic development thus refers to the enhancement of economic activity in the community, which in turn leads to social enhancement.

Skills development

Skills developmentis aimed at providing community members, who are disadvantaged, poor, or illiterate, with skills and competencies which can be transferred to other areas once the project has been completed. Once again, these categories are not mutually exclusive.

Simple skills can be transferred to enable the recipients thereof to be employable by the project.  With further training, the local communities can be the source for many of the operators for the new facility.

The main reason for engaging in corporate social responsibility projects is to contribute towards sustainable economic development.  This is done to facilitate desirable economic and social changes and improvement of the social environment within which a business is operating.

Enterprise development

Enterprise development is a huge opportunity when it comes to CSR. Any project and or operation calls for multiple small business requirements.  Examples could include a tuckshop, or a refuse removal company. Partnering with existing local suppliers to support the development and coaching of new small business enterprises from local communities can greatly support job creation and socio-economic development.  Projects should creatively consider such opportunities and capitalise on them in support of local community development.

Strategic CSR

Requirements

Strategic corporate social investment on a project can be, and should be, beneficial to all stakeholders.  Let us consider the typical requirements for strategic CSR on projects.

Strategic CSR should be all the following:

  • Sustainable;
  • Aligned with country requirements and/or legislation;
  • Benefits the community affected by the project;
  • Benefits the project owner;
  • Fair, ethical and transparent;
  • Seamlessly integrated into the project; and
  • Underpinned with ongoing communication.

The CSR requirements are illustrated in Figure 2, and each of these is discussed in more detail below.

Requirements of strategic CSR on projects

 

Figure 2: Requirements of strategic CSR on projects

Sustainable

According to the Cambridge Dictionary (2019), sustainable means “the quality of being able to continue over a period of time”.  This is a loaded statement.  It is perhaps best to describe with some examples.

CSR in the form of handouts is not sustainable and should be avoided. For instance, if a project decides to build a school and then steps away, the school is likely to become deserted within a year as no one will take ownership for ensuring its maintenance. An example of sustainable CSR is investment in skills development. If local unemployed youth are, for instance, provided with paving skills whilst the project is producing paving, these skills can empower them to find other work. Instead of giving them fish to eat, teach them to fish.  That is the basic definition of sustainability.

If CSR is done purely for brand promotion, it is likely that short-term, non-sustainable investment opportunities may be pursued. The World Bank (Petkoski & Twose, 2003) warns against CSR simply being used as a brand promotion tool.

Aligned with country requirements and/or legislation

Before engaging in any form of CSR, it is of vital importance to understand the legislative and cultural requirements and/or idiosyncrasies of the country in which a project is planned.  Some questions that can help to plan CSR initiatives include:

  • Are there any legislation and/or policies that guide or direct CSR?
  • What is the country’s strategic direction, and could CSR contribute to the country achieving its strategic goal?
  • What is unique about the country’s culture?
  • Are there any customs you should know about?
  • Who are the key stakeholders to engage, such as local, regional or national government structures, tribal authorities, etc.?
  • Who are the pressure groups that could negatively impact your project?
  • Who are the Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) that can support your cause?
  • Are there any funds available in country to support CSR initiatives? and
  • Does the owner company have an established relationship with any of the above which could be capitalised on?

Having answers to the above will set the foundation for strategic CSR.

As an example, when executing a project in Botswana, the book entitled Culture and customs of Botswana (Denbow & Thebe, 2006) is invaluable as it describes the history of the country and relevant information in culture and customs that could greatly support effective stakeholder engagement. Make an effort to learn about the country where you wish to develop a project.

Benefits the affected community/ies, as well as the project owner

Note that this section covers two of the requirements listed in Figure 2.

Fundamental to strategic CSR is that the affected communities, as well as the project owner should benefit.  This does not mean the owner should only focus on reputational benefit.  This means real, tangible benefit.   Let’s illustrate through an example. If your project needs catering services, it makes sense to empower a local small business to fulfil this role.  The project owner may invest in some extra equipment to support the small catering business. In return, the project owner receives a service which is required by the business on an ongoing basis.  Everyone concerned benefits: on the one hand the local community is empowered, and on the other hand the project, or ultimate business, owner receives a required service.

Handouts, as has been said before, are not sustainable.  However, skills development and small business support that would also benefit the project or business, are sustainable.

Fair, ethical and transparent

CSR must always be executed in a fair, ethical and transparent manner.  This obviously holds true for strategic CSR on projects. Transparency and fairness can be achieved by working through existing structures in the community where the project is being executed.  Where tribal authorities are present, they normally provide for the necessary structures whereby training or job opportunities can be directed, via the tribal authorities. They also tend to integrate well with local municipal structures.

For example, the project may approach the tribal authority with a list of skills required on the project.  The tribal authority will through their meetings engage the people in the community to get nominations for the jobs advertised.  They will ensure that nominations conform to the criteria specified by the project and will submit these via the tribal authority.  Nominations will be considered by the project, and feedback will be provided to the individuals as well as the tribal authority to confirm if they conformed to requirements.  This process is fair, ethical and transparent.

Where such civil or tribal structures do not exist, it is crucial that every effort is made to ensure a fair, ethical and transparent process is put in place. Bribery and corruption should be avoided at all cost.

According to Bacio-Terracino (2007), transparency in all business transactions guarantee a certain degree of fairness and permit the participation of different interested parties. These parties, such as civil society, the media, and labour unions, will each strive for their own interests, which will consequently result in better CSR conditions overall.  He says that if corruption is not addressed at the early stages of any CSR effort, the work of CSR practitioners will be built on quicksand (Bacio-Terracino, 2007).

Seamlessly integrated into the project

CSR actions that are seamlessly integrated into your project is the most effective form of strategic CSR. Again, he easiest way to explain is through a few examples.

If your project calls for paving, engage your paving contractor to employ one or two people from the local community and train them in paving skills. The same goes for brick laying.  If you need holes to be dug for fencing, use local labour.  If you have any work to be done that can be done by local contractors who are skilled to do so, make use of local contractors.  If your project and ultimate business calls for the support of small businesses such as catering, waste removal, etc, empower local small businesses with the knowledge and skills to fulfil these roles.  This is a true win-win.

Underpinned with ongoing communication

Open and transparent communication with affected stakeholders with regards to CSR initiatives cannot be over emphasized. This is specifically relevant in the case of mining related projects, where large tracts of land are required.  People directly affected by land purchases and loss of family farms or houses require ongoing communication to alleviate fears and uncertainties (Narula, Magray & Desore, 2017).

Impacts on communities include environmental impacts resulting from the project, such as noise, odours, water and air pollution and health.   The processes employed can be as fair, ethical and transparent as possible, but one still must go to great lengths to communicate possible impacts on local communities, as well as any opportunities, or positive impacts, arising from the project.  The environmental impact assessment processes normally make provision for such engagement with interested and affected parties prior to, and during, project implementation.  However, ongoing, regular interfacing with the community through their established structures is a major success factor.

Concluding remarks

CSR does not have to be your worst nightmare. If done for the right reasons, in collaboration with local community structures and relevant government structures, it can help you forge relationships with local communities that can contribute to the success of your project.  Consider how training and employment opportunities for local communities can be integrated into the project.  Look for opportunities to empower small local businesses to support the project and ultimate business.

The objective is to create win-win relationships.

References

Bacio-Terracino, J., 2007, Anti-Corruption: The Enabling CSR Principle. Available from https://www.business-humanrights.org/sites/default/files/reports-and-materials/Bacio-Terracino-Anti-Corruption-The-Enabling-CSR-Principle-Apr-2007.pdf. Accessed 9 April 2019.

Cambridge Dictionary, 2019, Definition of sustainability. Available from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/sustainability. Accessed on 25 June 2019.

Denbow, J & Thebe, P.C.,2006, Culture and customs of Botswana. Greenwood Press, London.

Kapelus, P.,2002, Mining, Corporate Social Responsibility and the “Community”: The Case of Rio Tinto, Richards Bay Minerals and the Mbonambi. Journal of Business Ethics, September 2002, Volume 39, Issue 3, Pages 275–296.

Narula, S.A., Magray, M.A. & Desore, A., 2017, A sustainable livelihood framework to implement CSR project in coal mining sector.  Journal of Sustainable Mining, Volume 16, Issue 3, 2017, Pages 83-93.

Petkoski, D. & Twose, N.(eds.), 2003, Public Policy for Corporate Social Responsibility. Pdf version of document available from http://web.worldbank.org/archive/website01006/WEB/IMAGES/PUBLICPO.PDF. Accessed 25 June 2019.

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Comparison of Coal-bed Methane to Other Energy Resources

Comparison of Coal-bed Methane to Other Energy Resources

By Jurie Steyn

Introduction

Our team has been working on a coal-bed methane (CBM) to power project in Botswana for many months.  The other day, a colleague asked me just how clean an energy source CBM really is.  A simple enough question, but perhaps not so easy to answer.

The only way to do this, is to compare the environmental and social impacts of CBM to that of other, non-renewable, energy resources.  Even then, one must keep in mind that every energy project is unique in terms of scope, location and impact.  Any direct comparison of energy resources will thus depend on some level of generalisation.

Although there are many different energy resources, I’ve decided to limit my comparison to the following five:

  • Coal and coal mining;
  • Oil extraction from reservoirs;
  • Coal-bed methane (CBM) from coal seams;
  • Shale gas (SG) from shale formations; and
  • Conventional gas (CG).

In this article, I’ll describe each of these resources briefly, consider some energy predictions, give an overview of the approach followed for the comparison, and present the findings.  Having spent 40 years in the petrochemical and energy industries, I feel confident that I have the experience to attempt a comparison of this nature.

Energy predictions

Global economic growth is partly supported by population growth, but is primarily driven by increasing prosperity in developing economies, led by China and India (BP plc, 2019).  BP plc (2019), in their latest Energy Outlook, predicts a steady growth in primary energy consumption to fuel this growth over the next 20 years, in what they refer to as the Evolving Transition scenario, as shown in Figure 1.

Note: 1 toe = 1 ton oil equivalent = 1 metric ton of oil = 1.4 metric tons of coal = 1270 m3of natural gas = 11.63 megawatt-hour (MWh) = 41.868 gigajoules (GJ).

Figure 1:  Primary energy consumption by fuel (BP plc, 2019)

Coal consumption is expected to decline by 0.1% per annum over the period, with its importance in the global energy system declining to its lowest level since before the industrial revolution.  This is supported by the fact that it is extremely difficult to obtain finance for energy projects based on coal.

BP plc (2019) estimates that renewables and natural gas will account for almost 85% of the growth in primary energy.  Renewable energy is expected to grow at 7.1% per annum and is the fastest growing source of energy.  Natural gas, at 1.7% growth per annum, grows much faster than either oil or coal, and overtakes coal to be the second largest source of global energy by 2040.  Oil consumption is expected to increase at 0.3% per annum over the next 10 to 15 years, before plateauing in the 2030s.

Calculating the percentage, or share, contribution of each or the energy sources of the total energy demand, allows one to generate Figure 2. Figure 2 more clearly shows the actual and anticipated decline in the share of total primary energy of coal and oil. Figure 2 also shows the actual and anticipated rise in the shares of natural gas and renewable energy.  The natural gas share represents the total of conventional gas, coal-bed methane and shale gas.

Figure 2: Shares of total primary energy (BP plc, 2019)

Description of energy resources

Coal and coal mining

Coal is a solid fossil fuel that was formed in several stages as the buried remains of land plants that lived 300 to 400 million years ago were subjected to intense heat and pressure over many millions of years. Coal is mostly carbon (C) but contains small amounts of sulphur (S), which are released into the air as sulphur dioxide (SO2) when the coal burns. Burning coal also releases large amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and trace amounts of mercury and radioactive materials.

Coal can be mined from underground mines using a bord and pillar approach, where pillars of coal are left standing to support the roof structure, or with a continuous miner, where all the coal in the seam is extracted and the roof is permitted to collapse behind the mined-out area.  Coal can also be mined from open-cast mines where the covering layers of topsoil and rock are removed by drag-lines to expose the coal seams for blasting and collection.  An alternative to the latter approach is strip mining, where the coal is sequentially exposed in narrow bands, to reduce the environmental impact.Geological conditions determine the most cost-effective method of mining. 

Mining is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Coal miners are exposed to noise and dust and face the dangers of cave-ins and explosions at work.  Note that in this comparison, only the environmental and social impacts of the mining, preparation and storage of coal are considered, not including the downstream impacts of coal utilisation.

Oil extraction from reservoirs

Crude oil is found in underground pockets called reservoirs. Oil slowly seeps out from where it was formed millions of years ago and migrates toward the Earth’s surface. It continues this upward movement until it encounters a layer of rock that is impermeable. The oil then collects in reservoirs, which can be several thousand meters below the surface of the Earth.  Crude oil is frequently found in reservoirs along with natural gas. In the past, natural gas was either burned or allowed to escape into the atmosphere.

Drilling for oil, both on land and at sea, is disruptive to the environment and can destroy natural habitats. Drilling muds are used for the lubrication and cooling of the drill bit and pipe. The muds also remove the cuttings that come from the bottom of the oil well and help prevent blowouts by acting as a sealant. There are different types of drilling muds used in oil drilling operations, but all release toxic chemicals that can affect land and marine life.  Additionally, pipes to gather oil, roads and stations, and other accessory structures necessary for extracting oil compromise even larger portions of habitats. Oil platforms can cause enormous environmental disasters. Problems with the drilling equipment can cause the oil to leak out of the well and into the ocean. Repairing the well hundreds of meters below the ocean is extremely difficult, expensive, and slow. Millions of barrels of oil can spill into the ocean before the well is plugged.

Sulphur is the most common undesirable contaminant of crude oils, because its combustion generates sulphur dioxide, a leading precursor of acid rain. ‘Sour’ oils have more than 2% of sulphur, while ‘sweet’ crude oils have less than 0.5%, with some of them (especially oils from Nigeria, Australia and Indonesia) having less than 0.05% S.

Most oil spills are the result of accidents at oil wells or on the pipelines, ships, trains, and trucks that move oil from wells to refineries. Oil spills contaminate soil and water and may cause devastating explosions and fires. Many governments and industry are developing standards, regulations, and procedures to reduce the potential for accidents and spills and to clean up spills when they occur.

CBM from coal seams

Methane recovered from coal beds is referred to as CBM and is a type of natural gas that is trapped in coal seams. CBM is formed by microbial activity during coalification and early burial of organic rich sediments (biogenic process) and by thermal generation at higher temperatures with increasing depth of burial (thermogenic process). Methane is held in the coal seam by adsorption to the coal, combined with hydrostatic pressure of water in the coal cleats (cleats are natural fractures in coal). Production is accomplished by reducing the water pressure, allowing methane to be released from the cleat faces and micro-pores in the coal.

Coals have moderate intrinsic porosity, yet they can store up to six times more gas than an equivalent volume of sandstone at a similar pressure. Gas-storage capacity is determined primarily by a coal’s rank. Higher-rank coals, bituminous and anthracite, have the greatest potential for methane storage. CBM is extracted by drilling wells into the coal bed of coal seams of up to 500 m deep, that are not economical to mine.

Concerns over CBM production stem from the need to withdraw large volumes of groundwater to decrease coal seam hydrostatic pressure, allowing release of methane gas.  This water may contain high levels of dissolved salts and must be treated. In some cases, the coal seam is stimulated by limited hydraulic fracturing in order to improve methane movement to the well. Surface disturbances, in the form of roads, drilling pads, pipelines and production facilities impact regions where CBM extraction is being developed.  Subsurface effects from typical CBM extraction practices must also be considered. Because of the shallow depth of many CBM basins, the potential exists that well stimulation may result in fractures growing out of the coal seam and affecting freshwater aquifers.

Proper environmental management practices can minimise the effects of CBM production and make it more socially acceptable.  Innovative drilling technologies reduce damage to the surface. Better understanding of the surrounding rock properties improves stimulation practices. These options, plus responsible management of produced water, will lessen the impact of CBM extraction on existing ecosystems.

SG from shale formations

Shale gas (SG) is a form of natural gas found in sedimentary rock, called shale, which is composed of many tiny layers or laminations. Gas yield per well is low compared to conventional gas wells and many more wells are typically required for the same volume of gas production. 

SG is extracted from shale formations of between 1 and 4 km below the earth’s surface.  Because of the low permeability of shale rock, SG wells are drilled horizontally along the shale beds and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of the shale is always required to liberate the gas and create channels for it to flow through.  Fracking involves the injection of fracking fluid (water, sand, gel, enzyme breakers, surfactants, bactericides, scale inhibitors and other chemicals) at high pressure down and across the horizontally drilled wells.  The pressurised mixture causes the shale to crack.  The fissures so created, are held open by the sand in the fracking fluid. 

Fracking of shale rock requires much larger volumes and chemical loading than the hydraulic stimulation of CBM seams.  The vertical growth of fissures can be up to 100m, compared to 4 to 10m for CBM. However, SG is typically extracted significantly deeper than CBM and, provided the geology and hydrogeology of the region is understood and considered in the fracking process, this need not have any detrimental effects on the surface or the potable water aquifers.

Surface disturbances in the form of roads, drilling pads, pipelines and production facilities, impact regions where SG extraction is being developed. The expected life of an SG well is much shorter than that of a CBM well.

Conventional gas

Natural gas obtained by drilling into gas reserves, is referred to as conventional gas (CG), to distinguish it from CBM or SG (unconventional gases). CG is trapped in porous and permeable geological formations such as sandstone, siltstone, and carbonates beneath impermeable rock. Natural gas was not formed in the rock formations, but has migrated and accumulated there. Conventional natural gas extraction does not require specialized technology and can be accessed from a single vertical well.  It is relatively easy and cheap to produce, as the natural gas flows to the surface unaided by pumps or compressors.

Natural gas deposits are often found near oil deposits, or with oil deposits in the same reservoir. Deeper deposits, formed at higher temperatures and under more pressure, have more natural gas than oil. The deepest deposits can be made up of pure natural gas. Natural gas is primarily methane, but it almost always contains traces of heavier hydrocarbon molecules like ethane, propane, butane and benzene. The non-methane hydrocarbons are generally referred to as ‘natural gas liquids’ (NGL), even though some of them remain gases at room temperature. NGL are valuable commodities and must be extracted, along with other impurities, before the gas is considered ‘pipeline quality.’

The benefit of CG is that it is cleaner burning than other fossil fuels. The combustion of natural gas produces negligible amounts of sulphur, mercury, and particulates. Burning natural gas does produce nitrogen oxides (NOx), which are precursors to smog, but at lower levels than fuels used for motor vehicles.

Approach followed for comparison

Parameters for comparison

The different energy resources were compared using 12 different parameters divided into two categories.  The first category consists of environmental parameters, as follows:

  • Air Pollution: This covers dust generation, greenhouse gas emissions during production and contribution to acid rain;
  • Water pollution: This considers the potential impact of the operation on surface waters and the effect on water users;
  • Groundwater impacts:The potential for cross contamination of water aquifers and the depletion of groundwater sources and its impact on current users;
  • Soil pollution: Potential impact of the operations on soil quality and use.  Does it impact the ability of the soil to be used for irrigation and livestock farming;
  • Visual impacts: This considers the overall size, longevity, lighting and dust impact of the operation on passers-by;
  • Biodiversity: The potential impact of the operation on the surrounding ecosystems, flora and fauna.

The second category consists of social, and socio-economic parameters, as follows:

  • Health risks: Are health risks to the workers and community due to the impacts the operation, identified and properly understood, and can these be mitigated;
  • Noise impact: Is noise from the operation expected to be a nuisance to the surrounding communities
  • Worker safety: What is the safety performance of similar operations elsewhere in terms of worker fatalities and disabling injuries;
  • Cultural impacts: What is the potential of the operation to impact on areas of high cultural significance to indigenous people;
  • Infrastructure: What infrastructure (roads, schools, clinics, fire station, etc.) is required to support the operation and what will it contribute to the community; and
  • Job creation: How many direct and indirect jobs will result from the operation and how sustainable is it.  In this case, more is better.

Forced ranking

An approach of forced ranking was used, whereby the different energy sources were ranked from best to worst for each of the 12 parameters described above. The best performer for each parameter was given a score of one and the worst performer a score of five.  Those in between, were given scores of two, three and four, depending on their rank.

In exceptional cases, where the impact of two, or more, of the sources were considered to have comparable impacts, the individual scores in question were totalised and averaged.  In other words, if energy sources ranked in positions two and three were considered to have almost identical impacts, each would be allocated a score of 2,5.

Elimination of bias

In any comparison, the elimination of bias is essential.  One way to reduce bias is to evaluate the different options against many parameters, as was done with the 12 parameters described above. 

Another way is to use several assessors, say four to six, when doing the evaluation, and reaching consensus on the ranking.  However, in this case it was not done and therefore I’m the only one to blame if my findings do not correspond with your opinions.  I have tried to be as fair as possible in ranking the energy sources.

Discussion of findings

The results of the evaluation of the energy sources against the environmental parameters are presented in Figure 3 as a 3-D column chart.  Remember that the impacts are not given absolute values, but results based on the ranking process.

Figure 3: Environmental impact assessment for various energy sources

From Figure 3, it is obvious that coal and oil score badly in terms of impact on the environment.  This is followed by natural gas from different sources, with conventional gas assessed as having the least impact.  CBM has a lower environmental impact for most parameters than SG, but because it is accompanied by high yields of mostly saline water from relatively shallow wells, the impact on the water and soil could be greater.

The results of the evaluation of the energy sources against the social and socio-economic parameters are presented in Figure 4. From Figure 4, the picture is not so clear.  Coal and oil again score the highest for most of the parameters considered.  However, in terms of number of jobs created and associated infrastructure requirements, they score the lowest, which means they require more personnel (a positive) and infrastructure.  CG is considered more dangerous than CBM and SG, because of the higher operating pressure and the known cases of blowouts.

The cumulative impacts of the energy sources are presented in Figure 5. In this case, the total score for the six environmental parameters for each of the energy sources was calculated and plotted. Similarly, for the six social parameters.  Lastly, the total score as shown by the grey column in Figure 5 reflect the totals for the environmental impacts’ score plus the social impacts’ score.  Coal is shown to be the least desirable source, followed by oil, SG, CBM, and CG.

Figure 4: Social impact comparison for various energy resources

Figure 5: Cumulative impacts of energy sources

Concluding remarks

Natural gas remains the energy source with the lowest negative social and environmental impacts.  Therefore, natural gas, is estimated to grow at 1.7% per annum, i.e. much faster than either oil or coal, and overtakes coal to be the second largest source of global energy by 2040 (BP plc, 2019).  Natural gas is a combination of CG, CBM and SG.  CG recovery is the overall winner in this comparison with the lowest social and environmental impacts.  In the second position we have CBM, followed by SG.  Even though SG is normally recovered at greater depths than CBM, the extent of fracking required to release the methane in shale is significantly more extensive.

Next in line is oil recovery from geological reservoirs. This is understandable when one considers the oil-related environmental disasters we have witnessed.  Associated gas is also continuously flared from drilling operations.  However, low yielding (i.e. nearly emptied) oil reservoirs can be used as a suitable geological formation for storage of carbon dioxide.  The action of injecting carbon dioxide into a low yielding well will temporarily boost oil production from such a reservoir.

It comes as no surprise that coal is the energy source with the greatest negative impact on the environment.  In terms of negative social impact, it also rates the highest, but by a very small margin.  This result helps us understand the current furore over coal and the difficulty to obtain finance for coal-based projects.

References

BP plc, 2019, BP energy outlook, 2019 edition.  Electronic document available from https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/news-and-insights/reports-and-publications.html.Downloaded on 10 April 2019.

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Can Anybody be a Project Manager?

Can Anybody be a Project Manager?

By Koos Taljaard

Opening remarks

Can anybody be a project manager?  The easy answer is yes, everyone can be a project manager, and probably already is: everyone uses project management skills in their day-to-day personal and working life as they are doing ‘projects’ all the time.

The more pertinent question is, if everyone can be an effective project manager, and do they require a different set of skills to manage projects?  To answer the question, it is important to understand what a project is and in so doing better understand what project managers are required to do, their required skill sets and knowledge attributes.

The objective of project management is to complete projects which comply with the client’s business objectives. According to the PMI PMBOK® Guide (PMI, 2017) a project is “a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result”. A project is thus temporary in that it has a defined start and finish date, and therefore defined scope and resources (including cost). A project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. Project teams often include people who don’t usually work together, people from different organisations and across multiple geographies, bringing their own systems, cultures and aspirations.

Projects and project management

Examples of projects can include the development of software for an improved business process, the construction of a building or bridge, the relief effort after a natural disaster, the expansion of sales into a new geographic market, and the establishment of a new petrochemical complex. This stands in contrast with business as usual (or operations), which are repetitive, permanent, or semi-permanent functional activities to produce products or services.

Project management then, is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet specific project requirements. Projects must be expertly managed to deliver results on-time and on-budget, with minimal or no scope changes, whilst still meeting the original strategic intent or business need.

Many tend to think of project management as a new approach for growth and development. However, project management has been around for thousands of years and was involved in the planning, coordination, and construction of the Ancient Wonders of the World. Throughout the history of project management, the basic principles of project management have always remained the same. In the late 19th century, the need for more structure in the construction, manufacturing, and transportation sectors gave rise to the modern project management tactics we use today. However, it must be remembered that although project management has always been practiced informally, it only began to emerge as a distinct profession in the mid-20th century.

In today’s fast-paced business world, the need for effective project management has become a necessity rather than a luxury. Any formal project, unlike a random set of tasks, requires professional management, and implies teamwork and accountability to finish on time, on budget, and meet quality requirements. Therefore, we have at least two essential roles: the people doing the actual project work and delivering the required outcomes, the team members, and the person directing and leading the project work whilst ensuring that management goals are met, the project manager.

The project manager function

Though specific responsibilities vary depending on industry and project type, a project manager is broadly defined as someone who leads the larger-scale projects, doing everything from ensuring clarity around the scope of work, to onboarding and educating other individuals essential to the project, to project coordination, managing the timelines, scope and budgets associated with the undertaking.

Project managers work closely with individuals of different organisations, ranks, departments and stakeholders, thereby ensuring effective planning, coordinating the efficient and flow of information among all project stakeholders. Depending on the industry and organisational structure, projects managers may either focus on a single project at a time or manage multiple projects with their respective timelines and responsibilities.

As you can probably tell by the description, this role is essential in nearly all industries and fields of work, meaning the actual types of projects managed can take nearly any shape and form. Most project managers, however, choose to specialise in a specific industry to ensure they’re equipped to handle its unique challenges.

The job of a project manager includes three broad areas:

  • Assuming responsibility for the project as a whole;
  • Employing relevant project management processes; and
  • Leading the team.

Skills required

To understand what an effective project manager is, we need to unpack the skills and attributes of a project manager. The key and most important skills required to be an effective project manager are:

  • Strong leadership: Effective project management means having strong leadership qualities such as being able to motivate the team and other stakeholders and lead /direct them to maximum performance, so that they can achieve challenging project goals;
  • Competence:Good project managers can initiate new projects as well as face the challenges that come with it.  They follow a formal stage-gated process and are fully competent with the requirements of all project steps during the different project stages;
  • Project management technical expertise:Since project management software systems, procedures and other related programs are essential in accomplishing the project goals, an effective project manager needs to have sound technical project management knowledge to understand the issues that are related to the technical aspect. You need good processes and project systems to be effective as your projects get larger;
  • Communication skills: Good project managers are good communicators so that they can connect with people at all levels inside or outside their organisation. The project manager must clearly explain the project goals as well as each member’s tasks, responsibilities, expectations and feedback. By some estimates, more than 50% of a project manager’s time is spent in some aspect of communication. This includes meetings, status reporting, emails, phone calls, coordinating, talking to people, and completing documentation. Some studies have even suggested that verbal and written communication takes up 80% of the job;
  • People and team-building skills:It is necessary that a team works in unison, otherwise the project will undergo various relationship challenges that might hinder its success. Project managers must make each of their team members realise the importance of their contribution and focus on their positive traits. He must be fair and just in the way he treats team members. If you prefer to stay in your office and focus on your own work, you may not have the collaborative ability to be a good project manager. Effective project managers need to spend a lot of time with clients, stakeholders, and team members;
  • Decision-making skills: An effective project manager needs to have decision-making skills because there will always be decisions that need to be acted on, often with time constraints;
  • Coordination and delegation skills: Many people like to work on the project details. We need people like that. But when you’re a project manager, you must rise above the details and become more of a delegator and coordinator. You must be able to rely on others for much of the detailed work, but must still be able to do the mundane and detail work when required;
  • People management skills: To be a good project manager, you need to be able to manage people. You won’t have 100% responsibility for staff members, but you will need to show leadership, hold them accountable, manage conflict, etc. Some project managers say they could do a much better job if they didn’t have to deal with people. If that’s how you feel, project management is probably not for you;
  • Planning and execution skills:When a client gives you a project, what is your immediate inclination? If your first thought is to get a team together to start executing the work, you may not have a project management mindset. If you don’t want to spend enough time to be sure you understand what is required, and what is the best approach to achieve results, the role of project manager is likely a bad fit for you;
  • Organising skills:People who have poor personal organisational skills and techniques usually don’t make good project managers. If you’re going to manage multiple people over a period, you must be organised, so you can ensure that everyone is doing what they should be doing as efficiently as possible; and
  • Reporting skills:You don’t have to love reporting status and progress to be a good project manager, but you can’t hate it either. Most, if not all, aspects of project management require extensive documentation and document control, including project charters, execution plans, status reporting, communication plans and scope change management.

The process of becoming a project manager is unique because there isn’t one single prescribed path to becoming one. Some decide they want to be a project manager and take classes and get a project management qualification, while others, with unrelated degrees or experience, find themselves taking on the responsibilities of a project manager with no formal project management training.

Attributes required

Over and above skills which can be learned, developed and improved, effective project managers require specific inherent attributes. Here are some attributes of good project managers:

  • Get to know their team and how they work: Understand that a project isn’t about the project manager. He understands that knowing how to communicate with the project team and establishing a system that works for everyone is crucial to the project’s success. With a structure that accommodates the team, he gets everyone on board to focus on what’s important;
  • Inspire a shared vision:An effective project manager understands the project’s vision very well and can articulate the vision to his team members and other stakeholders. A visionary person can lead his people to the right direction as well as easily adapt to the changes that come along the way. They are good at enabling people to experience the vision as their own;
  • Keep stakeholders in the loop: The project manager continuously communicates with all stakeholders verbally and in writing. He looks forward to coordination sessions with his team to talk about what’s happening, what has been accomplished, and what steps to take next;
  • Identify and establish parameters: The project manager makes sure that everyone understands the project objectives and works within the agreed and approved scope of the project. This way, he can set reasonable expectations, feasible tasks and goals;
  • Present and prepared for anything: As deadlines approach, the project manager checks in regularly to see if the team will be able to deliver on time and if there are questions or problems that need to be addressed. He is ready to deal with the pressure of delivering on time, even if it means realising mistakes have been made, and doing everything possible to correct them;
  • Confidently speak on behalf of the team: Clients will want the project manager on the phone or at a meeting at any time to discuss progress, updates, and changes that need to be made. Because the project has a well-defined scope and the project manager has checked in with his team on a regular basis, he will be able to take those calls or attend client meetings with the relevant information to share;
  • Not easily swayed: A client, partner, or team member may approach and present the project manager or team members with new ideas, requirements, or questions. The project manager needs to be open to hearing these new ideas, but make sure to keep in mind the original scope of work and project requirements. If they align or improve on the original scope in terms of safety performance, he is willing to discuss things further. If not, he is not afraid to turn down those ideas and present valid reasons for doing so;
  • Seek out and consult with subject matter experts: Effective project managers know their own limitations. They know that when clients have specific concerns, to seek out knowledgeable people and consult with them. The project manager thereby acknowledges that, with their level of experience and knowledge, the subject matter experts are the best people to answer those questions; and
  • Encourage and congratulate others for a job well done: The role as a project manager goes beyond monitoring progress and checking in on deadlines. He “owns and supports the process” of putting together and bringing the project to fruition. He cheers his team members on and congratulates them for every successful milestone achieved, yet at the same time he is not afraid to ask questions or raise issues that he may anticipate.

Thus, project management is far more than just management. If you haven’t already guessed it, these attributes show that project management isn’t solely about managerial skills and know-how.

Comparing Project Management and General Management

There are strong views that any good general/operational/technical manager will always be a good project manager and vice versa. This is not true, and it is a rarity for a person to have the skills and attributes to be able to effectively manage both types of work.

A general/operational/technical manager has a wider scope of responsibility than the project manager, and the operations/technical role is permanent while the project manager role is temporary. Operational management is an ongoing function in an organisation that performs activities that produce products or services. Operations are ongoing; some examples include accounting and human resources. An organisation needs those roles no matter what initiative(s) they may be working on.

The very fact that the role of a project manager is temporary implies that a project team is basically a ‘short-term’ association. In a fixed operations/technical management team, the team members report directly to the manager who leads that team and those member roles in the team will generally be long-term. The manager is responsible for creating good team work and setting the norms and behaviours of the team. He/she needs to build trust and respect in the team, encourage the sharing of information, opinions and feelings for the benefit of the team, and set targets to appraise the performance of the team members.

A project team will consist of people from different departments across different sites of the organisation and/or contracting establishments. Sometimes, project team members may still report to their functional departmental manager, as well as reporting to the project manager. As the priorities of the other departmental managers change, the project team’s stability can waver, but it should never compromise the project outcomes. Where team member report to more than one manager, appraisal of his or her work may pose problems. Here the project manager needs to find the right balance between constructive team building initiatives with an emphasis on open and honest communication.

The skills needed by the project manager are different to those needed by operational managers. General differences between general/operational/technical management and project management are shown in Table 1.  Simply put, project management is unique and highly planned, yet unpredictable. The principal difference between project management and operational management is that the project manager has a temporary role, which leads to some specific differences and difficulty in the case of team building effort.

Insight 061 - Table 1

Table 1: General/operational/technical management vs. project management

Personality types best suited to project management

What personality type fits best into project management? It will depend largely on the type, scale of the project and the experience of the project team. There are many models used to describe personalities. One of the most prevalent is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) (Myers & Briggs Foundation, 2019). Based on the answers to the questions on the questionnaire, people are identified as having one of 16 personality types. The goal of the MBTI is to allow respondents to further explore and understand their own personalities including their likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, possible career preferences, and compatibility with other people. 

The questionnaire itself is made up of four different scales, namely:

  • Extraversion – Introversion: Projects are about people and teams, so good project managers tend to be at least somewhat extroverted. Introverted project managers may find their projects wandering out of control because they are insufficiently engaged with the people responsible for the work;
  • Sensing – Intuition: A second scale considers the dichotomy between a preference for observable data and a preference for intuitive information. Projects are best managed using measurable facts that can be verified and tested;
  • Thinking – Feeling: A third scale relates to whether decisions are based on logical objective analysis or on feelings and values. Projects, especially technical projects, proceed most smoothly when decisions are based on consistent, analytical criteria; and
  • Judging – Perceiving: The fourth MBTI scale is the one most strongly aligned with project management, and it describes how individuals conduct their affairs. On one extreme is the individual who plans and organises what must be done, which is what project management is mostly about. On the other extreme is the individual who prefers to be spontaneous and flexible. Projects run by these ‘free spirits’ tend to be chaotic nightmares and may never reach completion.

Project managers need to be ‘technical enough’. For small, technical projects, it is common for the project leader to be a highly technical subject matter expert. For larger programs, project managers are seldom masters of every technical detail, but generally they are knowledgeable enough to ensure that communications are clear and that status can be verified. On small, technical projects, the project manager may be a technical guru, but that becomes much less important and often problematic as the work grows. Large-scale projects require an effective leader who can motivate people and delegate the work to those who understand the technical details.

Finally, good project managers are upbeat and optimistic. They always need to be liked (mostly not, however) and trusted by project sponsors and upper management to be successful. They communicate progress honestly, even when a project runs into trouble. Retaining the confidence of your stakeholders in times of trouble also requires communicating credible strategies for recovery. Effective leaders meet challenges with an assumption that there is a solution. With a positive attitude, often, they find one.

Closing remarks

Although the processes of effective project management have only been recognised for around 50 years, project management has been around since the dawn of mankind. From amazing feats of engineering and construction in ancient times to the complex projects we see today, the history of project management is vast, extensive, and ever-growing.

It can clearly be seen that the project manager requires a very wide skills base to be effective, making them more of a generalist than a specialist. Many of these skills cannot be taught and are revealed more naturally in the person. Training will enhance and improve these skills. However, project management is not for everyone. Many people have some of the traits to be a good project manager, but they may also have qualities that make them a bad fit for the position.

Project management, especially for larger projects, is a highly demanding and a time-consuming job. The project manager needs to be skillful and experienced in a wide sphere of the working environment, from very strong leadership, communication and people skills to very strong project and technical skills.

Effective project managers have a lot in common with all good managers. Good project managers are people oriented and will quickly establish effective working relationships with their team members. However, the skills required is very wide ranging and somewhat different from normal management.  Project management is definitely not for everybody.

A quote to consider when contemplating this career path is the following by Tom Kendrick (2011): “Everyone cannot be an effective project manager, and not all project managers will be successful in all types of projects, but if you believe you have the traits described above go for it. It will be very challenging and most times rewarding”.

References

Kendrick T.,2011, 101 Project management problems and how to solve them. Published by AMACOM.

Myers & Briggs Foundation, 2019, MTBI basics. Available from https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/home.htm?bhcp=1.Accessed on 28 April 2019.

PMI, 2017, A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® guide), 6th edition, Project Management Institute, Newtown Square, PA.  

 

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Third Generation Modularisation

Third Generation Modularisation

By André Kok and Freek van Heerden

Introduction

The development of modularisation in the process industry, from Generation 1 (G1) to Generation 3 (G3), was discussed in an earlier Insight Article (Steyn & van Heerden, 2015). The authors described the drivers, benefits, disadvantages, and risks of process modularisation. The advantages of a modularised approach generally lead to an improved return on investment and project nett present value (NPV) because of a lower total installed cost and shorter construction schedule.

G1 modules have been constructed since the early ‘90s and were limited to main pipe racks with the main piping pre-installed.  G2 modules were built from early 2000. This involved the installation of piping and main equipment in the modules, primarily all steel equipment. This approach reduced the field work by approximately 30 to 40%. G3 modules take the concept further to describe modularised process units. These process unitscontain 95% of steel work, up to 85% of the electrical installation and up to 95% of the instrumentation. This enables loop checking to be done in the module yard. G3 modules effectively relocate 90% of the field work to the module yard.

In this article, we build on that 2015 article and discuss G3 modules in more detail.  We focus on the more salient and practical issues during the development of a modular approach and explore the benefits of G3 modules. We also look at the appropriate approach, the risks and when not to do modularisation. Finally, case studies are presented of the outcome of modularisation work in which the authors were personally involved.

History of G3 modules

Fluor played a leading role in developing G3 modularisation (Haney, 2012; Chandler, 2013; Fluor Corporation, 2015). In early 2009, the Fluor team examined barriers to increasing modularisation beyond G2 to create a real step change, like the change from G1 to G2 modules. Their work process included the following steps:

  • Brainstorming to identify opportunities;
  • Reviewing methods and techniques used in offshore modules;
  • Considering the number of interconnects between modules with the intent to develop modules that incorporate full unit operations with a minimum number of interconnections between modules;
  • Distribution of electrical and instrumentation hubs throughout the facility to give each module distributed instrumentation, control and electrical functionality; and
  • Reviewing other enabling technologies (e.g. cable connectors such that instrumentation and electrical connections can be done simply and easily).

Fluor’s Fred Haney and his team subsequently patented the concept of the modular processing facility, their G3 approach, in 2012 (Haney et al, 2012).  An example of a G3 module is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Third generation module for an LNG plant

Key requisites for modularisation to work

A modularisation philosophy needs to be developed very early on for the project. At the end of the feasibility study (FEL2), the overall concept must already be well entrenched. Meyer et al (2012) highlight the need for early modularisation definition and logistics requirements. In developing the philosophy, the logistic constraints and site-specific conditions must be clearly understood and considered. Many modules will arrive at some nearby harbour. The size of modules and the weight that can be accommodated both in the harbour and en-route to the site will have a major impact on the overall philosophy.

If the site is not close to a port with good access to the site, it may be required to deliver the modules in subsections and have a staging and final assembly yard close to the final placement site. The necessary infrastructure can be made available to assemble and test a module at the assembly yard before it is moved to its final position on site. Staging facilities at site are anyway necessary, as modules will not arrive in a ‘just-in-time’ fashion, such that they can be moved into their final position upon arrival.

Fabrication facilities must be available with module manufacturing capabilities, whether in country, or overseas. The project team must do their own research on the location and capability of module yards globally to ensure that up to date information is available. The move toward modularisation is accelerating rapidly and up to date information is essential.

Figure 2 shows a module offloading berth with a crane unloading a module onto the berth and the module being moved along the road.

Figure 2:  Modules being offloaded and transportation of module to site

G3 modular execution

Benefits

The advantages gained from a G3 approach generally lead to an improved return on investment and project NPV because of a lower total installed cost and shorter construction schedule. The key benefits are cost reduction, cost and schedule certainty and improved safety and quality, as described in more detail below:

  • Installed cost reduction: Moving activities off site to a module yard results in improved productivity and lower labour rates. Because modules can be fabricated in various module yards, labour is more distributed, making it easier to source scarce resources and reduce the peak manpower load at the site significantly.  A result often not properly understood or evaluated is the reduction in overall plant footprint, especially for G3 modules. Bulk materials like piping, cabling and structural steel for pipe racks are significantly reduced because of the reduced footprint.
  • Cost and schedule certainty: Because modules are being constructed in controlled environments with the necessary facilities, cost and schedule are found to be much more certain as compared to a stick-built facility.

Improved safety and quality: Module yards are set up to handle large modules and provide safer conditions with the right infrastructure during fabrication. For example, access for working at heights can be much more safely provided when compared to the normal practice of extended scaffolding on site. As module yards are set-up with a long-term mindset, issues like quality control, both of incoming materials and fabrication, is generally more effective.

Layout/Plot plan

A key difference in the G3 work process is that modularisation drives plant layout, rather than the G2 approach where the plant layout was typically like a stick-built plant.   For G2, the modules were then determined by ‘cutting’ the layout into sections called modules. This approach led to numerous interconnections for piping, cabling, etc. In comparison, a G3 approach requires:

  • Minimal input and output connections: Combine all the equipment for a specific unit operation into a single module (e.g. a crude distillation unit). The objective is that the module receives one feed and deliver one, two or three final products. All operations to achieve this is contained within the module. Utilities need to be supplied to the module, as required;

  • Team approach to plot plan development: It is essential that the plot plan development is a team effort. All disciplines need to collaborate as an integrated team. This development is typically an iterative process. If the integrated approach is not successful, it will result in huge interdisciplinary impacts (and cost/schedule delays).  The ‘best’ layout is one with maximum modularisation and a 4- to 6-week period should be allowed to finalise the layout; and

  • Early design freeze: At this stage, it must be clear to the reader that, in order to be successful, earlier than normal ‘freezing’ of key equipment/concepts and a rigorous change management process is essential. It is also necessary that individual process block model reviews are completed before the overall plot plan review.

Design engineering requirements

In order to achieve the key objectives for a G3 module the engineering team needs to approach the design in a very different manner. This is not always easy, as one tends to revert to the familiar. The project leader(s) will need to keep challenging the team and make sure that the change management process is used (especially for a team where these concepts are new). The following list highlights key differences (Haney, 2012):

  • Interconnecting pipe racks are not used;

  • Offshore design practices are utilised, where practical;

  • Schedule interdependencies are critical to success;

  • Vendor data (particularly with packaged units) to support the design critical path is required early on. Thus, the selection and involvement of key vendors early in the design;

  • The need for future expandability needs to be agreed upfront (you cannot add on in the future);

  • Weight management of modules is critical to success and using an effective “load shedding” plan is required;

  • Process design cannot change after completion of Front-End Engineering Design (FEED). Success depends on finalising process design at the end of FEED;

  • Finalising of process datasheets is critical to support early vendor selection and involvement;

  • Process control finalisation is required much earlier than normal. This is especially critical on packaged equipment; and

  • Early constructability input into the development of the plot plan is critical because it helps ensure future access for operations and maintenance requirements; addresses module/equipment rigging and field erection issues; and facilitates development of equipment arrangement to ensure arrangement supports vendor/supplier layout requirements.

The owner’s personnel need to buy into G3 modular concepts and owner’s operations personnel are required to participate during FEED to validate the design layout. This is a particularly important point as the owner personnel need to accept the facility from the constructor and be able to operate it for the next 20 to 30 years. Owner personnel not familiar with the design, layout and operations and maintenance techniques used on this type of facility will not accept the design as workable. It may be necessary to have key personnel seconded to such a facility for an extended period (3 months, at least). They need to work in similar jobs to see, feel, taste, and learn before they become part of the owner team ‘back home’.

Material handling studies are very important during design validation and each activity (e.g. catalyst change, heat exchanger tube bundle removal) needs to be worked through step by step to ensure the activity can be performed. Because of the compactness of the modules, normal maintenance procedures like using a crane to remove a pump can generally not be done. Special davids, crawl beams, local hoists, etc., are often required to enable effective operation. If, during start-up or later in operation, it is discovered that special tools are required, if is very difficult, if not impossible, to install.

Practical Examples

The benefits of footprint reduction are often not properly understood when considering modularisation. In a complex plant (e.g. refinery) consisting of various processing units, plot space required can be subdivided into two aspects, namely the area required for a single unit (example 1) and the area required for the complete facility (example 2).

Example 1 – Process units

As G3 modules integrate complete processing units into single large modules, there is a great opportunity to reduce the area required for a processing unit. In the example shown in Figure 3 (based on an actual project), it was found that the footprint of the unit could be reduced by 35%. This was somewhat less than what was expected as the area required for the air coolers was limiting.

Figure 3:  Plot space required for processing unit

Considering the location of the site and access, it was required to split the integrated module into 7 sub-units and 26 sub-assemblies, or modules. These modules were assembled in various module assembly yards. The maximum size and weight of the modules are given in Table 1.

Table 1: Detail for modules

A detailed bottoms-up estimate showed that the end-of-job cost could be reduced by 12 to 15.5% as compared to a stick-built plant and by 7 to 8.5% as compared to G2 modularisation. Very significant is also schedule reduction of 4 to 5 months in an overall schedule of 48 months. This could be achieved by distributing the work amongst various experienced module yards.

Example 2 – Complete facility

The facility consisted of several large processing units, steam and power generation, as well as other utilities and infrastructure.

The overall plot space could be reduced by 40% and on-site labour reduced by 50 to 60%. The overall NPV of the project (as compared to stick-built) increased by between 300 and 370 million US$ and the IRR between 0,9 to 1,3%, as illustrated in Figure 4. 

Figure 4: Overview of saving achieved for total facility

Know when not to modularise

After all the discussion and preaching the benefits of modularisation, one needs to be aware that modularisation is not the golden bullet that solves all project cost and schedule issues. There are instances when this approach should not be used, as described below:

  • Unproven process technologies: The process needs to be proven commercially, otherwise design cannot be frozen early in the FEED process. An untested or new process step has the risk that process modifications may be required during commissioning or operation. The normal practice of having a ‘start-up modifications’ budget allowance is not practical. If a jump-over is needed for start-up, it needs to be designed in from the start.
  • Location limitations: If the location limits site access severely and only very small modules can be moved, it may be more effective to revert to G2 modules. Inland locations can easily halve the savings.
  • Inexperienced engineering contractor: It is essential to use an engineering contractor with modularisation experience. If this is not possible do not consider modularisation. The risk is too high and there are many horror stories and business school case studies of how not to execute a modular project.
  • Impossible to mobilise resources early in project: Successful modularisation requires more upfront detail engineering and capital expenditure. If the stakeholders cannot be convinced of the need for earlier cash flow and resource mobilisation, modularisation may not be possible. 25% of detail engineering needs to be complete by the final investment decision, vs. perhaps 2 to 3 % for a stick-built plant.
  • Impossible to pre-select key contractors: If the company’s commercial practices require strict competitive bidding for EPC contractors, or for key equipment and packages, modularisation may not be the preferred approach. Modularisation requires early selection of key contractors and vendors that need to work in a partnership mode throughout the project. Continuity of key personnel is essential.

Concluding remarks

We hope that this article has at least sparked an interest in considering G3 modularisation on your next project. It is certainly worthwhile to consider and, if executed properly, can improve the project outcome significantly.

We have also pointed out that modularisation should not be tackled half-heartedly and that it is not for the faint-hearted.  An absolute conviction as to the benefits, rigour, attention to detail and effective change management is required to make a G3 modularised project a success.

As shown, there are occasions when modularisation is not advised. Do not try to commercially prove an untested technology using a G3 modular approach.

References

Chandler, G., 2013, Smaller, better, faster – Fred Haney’s vision turns modern construction theory on its head, Oilsands Review.

Fluor       Corporation,    2015,    3rd    gen    modular    executionsm,    Available    fromhttp://www.fluor.com/about_fluor/corporate_information/technologies/Pages/technology-info.aspx?tid=9&bsl=Construction. Accessed on 24 March 2019

Haney, F.,2012, Training session to SASOL on Modular Execution, Feb. 9, 2012, Fluor Corporation.

Haney, F., Donovan, G., Roth, T., Lowrie, A., Morlidge, G., Lucchini, S. & Halvorsen, S., 2012, Patents EP2516759A1, Modular processing facility, Google Patents. Available from http://www.google.com/patents/EP2516759A1?cl=en. Accessed on 24 March 2019.

Meyer, B., Kluck, M., Kok, A., Diekmann, J., O’Connor, J., Foster, C.,2012, CII Annual Conference on Industrial Modularization.

Steyn, J.W. & van Heerden, F.J., 2015, Insight Article 019: Select topics in value engineering – Modularisation in the process industry.Pdf download available from https://www.ownerteamconsult.com/download-insight-articles/.  Accessed on 25 March 2019.

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The Elusive Project Sponsor

The Elusive Project Sponsor

By Jurie Steyn

Introduction

All projects are risky ventures: the larger and more complex the project, the higher the risk of an unsuccessful outcome.  It is generally accepted that a critical success factor for any megaproject (projects > $1 billion) is the presence and participation of an effective project sponsor (Barshop, 2016).  In fact, the Project Management Institute reports that the top driver of projects meeting their original business goals is an actively engaged executive sponsor (PMI, 2018).

According to the Association for Project Management (APM, 2006), the project sponsor is the primary risk taker and owner of the project’s business case.  The sponsor is tasked with ensuring that all benefits of a project are realised by the organisation’s top management.   The sponsor chairs the project steering committee, ensures that risks are properly managed, that obstacles faced by the project are dealt with, and is the person to whom the project manager is accountable. The project sponsor focuses on project effectiveness, while the project manager focuses on project efficiency (APM, 2006).

An average of 38% of projects do not have active executive sponsorship, which highlights the need and opportunity for executive leaders to be more involved in the realisation of strategy (PMI, 2018).  Barshop (2016) maintains that the main reason why companies lacked strong project sponsorship was that senior management of these companies did not understand the project sponsor’s role in project governance.

In this article, we consider several scenarios for the executive sponsorship of projects and suggest ways to deal with problematic or absent sponsors.

Four scenarios

Several books (Englund & Bucero, 2006; West, 2010), and many more articles (Christenson & Christenson, 2010; Schibi & Lee, 2016), have been published on project sponsorship which describe personality traits, required training, as well as the role and responsibilities of project sponsors.  Whilst it is true that an effective sponsor is essential for project success, it is also true that not all sponsors are equally effective.

Four scenarios regarding the effectiveness and availability of project sponsors are described, with ways to deal with potential problem. The scenarios are described in some detail in Figure 1.

Figure 1:  Four sponsor scenarios

The four sponsor scenarios are:

  • Effective sponsor: The effective sponsor knows what to do and has the executive power and resources to do it;
  • Ineffective sponsor: The ineffective sponsor can have gaps in his training and/or may be at a too low level in the organisation;
  • Missing sponsor: The missing sponsor has either left the project for other responsibilities or has not been appointed yet; and
  • Reluctant sponsor: The reluctant sponsor may meet all the requirements, but doesn’t want to accept the responsibility.

Each of these scenarios is discussed in more detail in the following sections. 

The effective sponsor

According to West (2015), the value of an effective project sponsor is the product of the value of the project to the organisation, and the role that the project sponsor plays in a successful project.  He states that above all else, it is the effectiveness of the project sponsor that is critical to a successful project.

Truly effective sponsors are hard to find and should be nurtured by their owner organisations and appreciated by the project manager and project team.  The effective sponsor will be of appropriate seniority in the organisation, work closely with and mentor the project manager, understand the basics of project management, negotiate support and resources for the project, and be able to make decisions based on facts. Depending on the size and complexity of the projects, the effective project sponsor may be able to sponsor more than one project. In most organisations the project sponsor will have other responsibilities which may lead to time constraints. The effective sponsor will be able to manage his/her time properly and obtain assistance when required.

An effective sponsor has some key requirements that must be met by the project management team.  They have a need to feel involved in the project process, require a constant stream of timely information, must be able to trust the project manager (and vice versa!), need help with managing their project commitments, and assistance with the preparation for meetings with stakeholders.

An effective sponsor will also be able to stop a project when there is no real justification to proceed, in other words when the intended business objectives are no longer achievable.  Stopping a project in the front-end loading phase, when there is no longer any justification to proceed, does not constitute a failure, but rather shows strength of character and a keen business sense on the part of the sponsor and his project management team.

The ineffective sponsor

As mentioned before, an effective sponsor is essential for successfully completing a megaproject.  The direct corollary is that an ineffective sponsor greatly increases the probability of an unsuccessful project in the form of schedule and cost overruns, and not delivering on the organisation’s strategic objectives.

Project sponsors may be ineffective for several reasons, some of which are listed below:

  • Uncertainty on the actual role of the project sponsor on a project;
  • Insufficient training in, or experience with, project sponsorship;
  • The sponsor may be unwilling/unable to make decisions;
  • The sponsor is at too low a level in the organisation to be effective;
  • Too busy with other management obligations and not available to project team;
  • Deliberately wasting time on less important matters to avoid sponsor responsibilities;
  • Preoccupation with personal matters which takes focus off the project; and
  • The sponsor may be reluctant to take on the role of sponsor (more later).

Some of these causes are relatively simple to overcome.  For instance, a sponsor who is insufficiently trained on the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of sponsorship, and is willing to learn, can be trained.  Training can involve formal courses, or on-the-job training by other experienced sponsors.  Very experienced project managers can also lead and assist the ‘inexperienced’ sponsor, as illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2:  Assisting the ineffective sponsor (Adapted from van Heerden et al, 2015)

Sponsors who are unwilling to make decisions, may also be too low in the management hierarchy.  The project manager can attempt to deal with the problem by using a formal scope management procedure and taking the inexperienced sponsor through the motivation in detail.  If this does not deliver the desired results, or the sponsor is at too low a level to have an impact, the project manager will have to approach a trusted member of the organisation’s management team to discuss the concern and the potential negative consequences on the project.

Sponsors with insufficient time to deal with the project related matters can be addressed by discussions between sponsor and project manager.  If the reason is that the sponsor wants to remain in his/her comfort zone, training may be the answer.  If not, the project manager can offer to temporarily take on some of the sponsor responsibilities while the sponsor delegates some of the other responsibilities.  Sponsors who are preoccupied with personal problems can transfer some of the sponsorship responsibilities to the project manager or other subordinates. 

Lastly, sponsors who are reluctant to take on the role of sponsor will be discussed under a separate heading.

The missing sponsor

‘Missing’ sponsors are unavailable to meet project responsibilities (sometimes right from the start, or at some later point in the project) because nobody has been appointed to the position or they are otherwise occupied.  Sponsors can be ‘missing’ from the sponsorship function for any of the following reasons:

  • No sponsor has yet been appointed for the project;
  • An existing sponsor was moved or promoted to another function;
  • An ineffective or reluctant sponsor was removed from the position;
  • Top management does not consider it necessary to appoint a sponsor;
  • Medical or family emergencies, resulting in time away from the office; and
  • The sponsor may be overloaded with other projects and/or responsibilities.

There are ways to overcome the gap left by a ‘missing’ sponsor, although it places an additional burden on the owner project management team.  Several members of the project management team can act as project sponsor, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3:  Filling the gap of a missing sponsor (Adapted from van Heerden et al, 2015)

There are typically four key players in the project management team of any megaproject, namely the project manager, the business manager, the operations manager and the engineering manager.  Any one of these should be able to act as project sponsor.  When the sponsor post is expected to remain vacant for an extended period, the sponsor responsibilities can be divided up amongst the different managers.  Alternatively, each of the managers in the project team can rotate to the position of acting project sponsor for a specific period, say a month at a time.  Keep in mind that an acting sponsor in the place of a ‘missing’ sponsor can keep the project moving along, but can never be as effective as a dedicated and committed sponsor.

The structure for a programme is depicted in Figure 4, with similar acting arrangements as before.  Programmes are typically larger, more complex and subject to more uncertainty than projects, which implies that the need for a full-time sponsor is even greater if a successful programme is desired.

Figure 4:  The elusive sponsor of a programme (Adapted from van Heerden et al, 2015)

The reluctant sponsor

A reluctant sponsor, as the name implies, is a person who does not want to be in that position of responsibility.  Perkins (2015) refers to them as resistant sponsors, and states that resistant sponsors may be blatant or passive-aggressive in their efforts to block progress: indeed, a very dangerous situation.  In my opinion, having a reluctant project sponsor on board is far worse than having an ineffective or ‘missing’ sponsor.

Sponsors can be referred to as ‘reluctant’ for any of the following reasons:

  • They consider the project to be a career-limiting disaster;
  • They don’t wish to be tied down for the multi-year lifespan of the project;
  • They anticipate that the project will diminish their current responsibilities;
  • The project proposal was not their preferred option; and
  • They want to fulfil their prophecy that the project will be unsuccessful.

Reluctant sponsors can have very negative effects on project success and can demoralise project management teams (Perkins, 2015). This can lead to project team members leaving the project, rather than work in a toxic environment.

When dealing with a reluctant sponsor, the following approaches can be considered (Perkins, 2015):

  • Remain professional: Don’t resort to personal attacks on a reluctant sponsor. Rather blame the work processes and seek or offer solutions;
  • Keep the reluctant sponsor informed: Discuss matters requiring difficult decisions with the reluctant sponsor prior to formal meetings to avoid time being wasted during project steering committee meetings;
  • Document thoroughly: Project management practice requires the team to document agreements, motivate change requests, keep a risk register, list and follow up on action items, etc. Ensure that all documentation is timely and thorough with a reluctant sponsor;
  • Call in supporters: Ask high-level supporters of the project in the organisation to highlight the project’s value. Stubborn reluctant sponsors will find it hard to continue destructive behaviour in the face of continuous enterprise-wide support;
  • Informal engagement: Ask a senior member of the organisation’s management team, respected by the reluctant sponsor, to discuss the project with him/her. If the discussion is penetrating enough, reluctant sponsors may modify their destructive behaviour; and
  • Auto-ignition: Let reluctant sponsors destroy themselves through their actions. This is a risky, last-ditch effort, based on the hope that the rest of the organisation will recognise the reluctant sponsors’ poor decisions, and remove them from the sponsorship responsibilities.

Concluding remarks

Ashkenas (2016) states that the project sponsor should be the first appointment to be made when steps are taken to implement corporate strategy.  Before launching a new project, the sponsor and the project leader should meet to set, clarify, and align expectations. This is particularly important if the sponsor was not actively involved in the project initiation phase, and may not understand the background and risks.

Several authors have expressed the concern that due to the growing number of megaprojects in the world, good project sponsors are becoming increasingly difficult to find in the open market or inside the organisation (Merrow, 2011; Barshop, 2016).  Organisations are encouraged to train their executives for future roles as project sponsors.  If your company has a need for project sponsorship training, do not hesitate to contact us at OTC.

References

APM (Association for Project Management), 2006, APM Body of knowledge, 5th edition. Association for Project Management, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.

Ashkenas, R., 2016, Before starting a project, get your sponsor on board. Available from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ronashkenas/2016/05/09/before-starting-a-project-get-your-sponsor-on-board/#127c26f779c9. Accessed18 February 2019.

Barshop, P., 2016, Capital projects: what every executive needs to know to avoid costly mistakes and make major investments pay off. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.

Christenson, D. & Christenson, J. 2010, Fundamentals of project sponsorship. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2010, in Washington, DC. Project Management Institute.

Englund, R.L. & Bucero, A., 2006, Project sponsorship: achieving management commitment for project success., Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.

Merrow, E.W., 2011, Industrial megaprojects: concepts, strategies, and practices for success., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.

Perkins, B., 2015, 6 ways to cope with a resistant sponsor.  Available from https://www.computerworld.com/article/2883748/6-ways-to-cope-with-a-resistant-sponsor.html. Accessed on 14 February 2019.

PMI (Project Management Institute), 2018, 2018 Pulse of the profession. Project Management Institute, Philadelphia, PA.

Schibi, O. & Lee, C., 2015, Project sponsorship: senior management’s role in the successful outcome of projects. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2015, EMEA, London, England. Project Management Institute.

van Heerden, F.J., Steyn, J.W. & van der Walt, D., 2015, Programme management for owner teams: a practical guide to what you need to know., OTC Publications, Vaalpark, RSA. Available from Amazon.

West, D., 2010, Project sponsorship: an essential guide for those sponsoring projects within their organizations., Gower Publishing Limited, Farnham, Surrey.

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