Having spent most of last year on assignment overseas, I have a renewed appreciation of how tough it is to deliver any megaproject and just how many people are involved – the sheer complexity of it, size of the supply chain, vast number of stakeholders, and geopolitical consequences.  The core project team, who give their lives over to these projects 24/7, are unfortunately only one piece of the increasingly complex jigsaw puzzle which has to be solved in order to deliver a safe, high performing plant.  From all the data available, we know that only about 1/3 of all megaprojects achieve this feat on schedule and budget.

On a different note, I recently had a conversation with a senior construction lawyer in London, and was shocked to learn that she had never visited a construction site!  The rules by which we play the game necessary to win and deliver these projects are largely set by the contracts and laws written by such professionals.  Unfortunately these rules are not created by the people who have to deliver such projects – who want to work together to achieve common goals, solving the many problems along the way.  The contractual framework created by lawyers, lenders and insurers is more about passing risk down the supply chain in the misguided belief that the delivery problem is no longer ‘ours’.  Whilst most project teams that I meet have a great deal of understanding and empathy for the network of suppliers and subcontractors that are needed to build these megaprojects, all too often the contracts constrict behaviours and prevent true collaboration.

Industry has tried to tackle this dichotomy (between the contractual framework and how people want to work) for years.  Remember CRINE for North Sea projects?  I’ve lost count of the number of industry forums where the need for greater collaboration has been debated, violently agreed with (though mostly by those lower down the supply chain!) and work groups have been created to make proposals…all with great intentions but always coming up against the brick wall of the contract and the need to hold someone legally accountable when things go wrong.

No one company can build a complex, megaproject on its own. More than that, companies don’t build projects, people do.  People like the ones I was privileged to spend time with at site last year.  I personally have no energy to keep trying to fight the legal system, but I do have considerable energy and belief that we can find better ways to work within it.  The ECITB have developed a Project Collaboration Toolkit that is delivering results for the upstream industry, that has historically been open to this approach.  We’ll be talking about this more in a future post…

Karen Cherrill – Director Kingsfield Consulting