Melbourne road infra

By Sascha Chandler, Integrated Infrastructure Partner, PwC

Major transport projects are expected to achieve high-quality outcomes including delivering on time and without blowing out the already enormous investment of public funds. Achieving this needs close and consistent attention to progress and risks.

Each transport project is unique and complex, with a dizzying set of critical paths that need to come together. No project can go live without a high level of confidence that the community and personnel will be safe, that the other commercial participants in transport precincts can achieve their expectations, and that operations will be reliable and satisfy customers.

Delivering transport infrastructure that aligns with community expectations is within reach, but getting there demands disciplined management of risks, planning, governance and communication. A carefully structured delivery framework allows proactive and rapid detection and remedy of any gaps that emerge between the desired and actual state of the project. 

An assurance and risk framework can be ‘low cost, high return’

Despite many examples of the real risk of less-than-optimal transport project outcomes, project managers and delivery agencies often remain highly optimistic about the likelihood of success. Optimism isn’t a bad thing, but it’s best underpinned by independent, dispassionate and forensic scrutiny of the project that begins as early as possible, applies learnings from other domestic and international projects, and challenges delivery assumptions. After all, public scrutiny will be intense once the project goes live. 

Projects of extreme complexity and scale need oversight that is expert in each relevant discipline, but is also horizontally integrated and collaborative. Every piece of the puzzle – the planning, cost estimation, risk prediction, procurement, contracting, asset management, data analytics, stakeholder and community engagement – needs to be right. These pieces also need to fit together into a robust whole-of-project perspective that provides up-to-date data to support decisions and interventions. 

An assurance and risk framework supported by industry subject-matter experts that integrates all the moving parts and uses leading indicators and risk/performance data is a relatively ‘low cost for high return’ consideration for leaders – making it easier to identify opportunities to strengthen key controls and build stakeholder confidence in the run up to commissioning a major asset.

Drawing on global frameworks

Around the world, we’ve seen examples of major public transport projects running behind schedule and greatly over budget – drawing intense examination, widespread public and political dismay, and reputational damage. There is much that can be learned from international experience. In particular, the Australian transport sector has few tried-and-tested procedures, frameworks and KPIs to de-risk projects of the scale of those soon to reach delivery milestones in several of our capital cities. 

There are governance frameworks employed globally that can be adapted for our local transport environment. These frameworks of proven leading indicators enable project leaders to test the convergence of the many and varied critical paths of their projects. 

A simple, transparent and accurate framework helps manage risks

The complexity of large-scale infrastructure projects is often underestimated, particularly the intricacies of the interfaces among parties. These intersections are where poor communication, unclear accountabilities and responsibilities, mismatched objectives, or behavioral inconsistencies typically come to a head as a commissioning milestone approaches. 

In a complex, multi-party project, the assurance and governance environment can become very cumbersome very quickly. Unfortunately, as the heat is dialed up, some delivery parties may retreat into their own sphere of influence and accountability at the cost of collaboratively identifying risks and solving problems. 

For everyone to have a clear view of safe progress towards major milestones, it’s best to have well-integrated delivery plans with strong, consistent oversight of key suppliers and their progress towards shared milestones. A simple, transparent framework and a dashboard of forward-looking multidimensional key performance indicators and progress measures will help identify challenges and delays and enable proactive management and communication. The KPIs should be specific and time-bound, with unambiguous accountabilities.

Embracing the power of technology

While governance, risk management and assurance is very much still a human activity, enabling technologies for intelligent, data-informed risk identification and modelling are constantly improving. 

Each entity engaged in the project will have its own data and ways to measure progress, but if these datasets can be integrated, aggregated and interrogated at the right level of granularity, it will be quicker and easier to see where targeted interventions are needed to correct the project’s course. 

One useful digitally enabled technique is ‘sentiment harvesting’ from the people who are actually building the asset/s and have a great pool of real-world knowledge about the project’s risks, progress and deficiencies. Harvesting these insights throughout construction and testing can provide near real-time insights into what is being experienced across delivery teams.

Reviewing performance after commissioning 

Once Day 1 has passed and passengers are using the new transport infrastructure, it’s important not to miss the opportunity for a detailed review. This is the time to measure the KPIs that test how well the commissioning has gone and how the community and operators are responding. Insights emerging from the review can then inform subsequent operational or commissioning events or be shared to support the sector.

Bringing transformative transport projects into being will generate a valuable and extensive catalogue of ‘lessons learned’. With the modernisation of transport infrastructure continuing at pace, this will be an important asset for each state and will surely reduce risk and strengthen delivery.

In other articles in the Getting transport projects purpose ready series, PwC takes a closer look at how to safeguard success through customer-centric design, community and stakeholder engagement, data and analytics, and asset management with insights from our human-led, tech-powered community of solvers.

This sponsored editorial is brought to you by PwC. For more information, please visit www.pwc.com.au

 

About the author

Sascha Chandler is an Integrated Infrastructure Partner based in Sydney leading our national Infrastructure Risk and Controls team. Sascha has led a vast number of complex and high-profile projects, building a wealth of expertise in portfolio, program and project governance risk and controls. His combination of project governance and control skills coupled with his familiarity with contemporary risk analytics and reporting technologies enable him to provide valuable insights and advice to PwC Australia’s public and private sector clients.

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