Holding back the floods

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Posted by APM on 15th Apr 2013

The East of England Branch Norwich group was treated to an excellent talk in March exploring the project management of the Broadland Floods Alleviation Project. Although the topic was local in flavour the learning that came from this talk could be applied very widely.

Unusually for a project, this is a twenty year commitment to project manage a cohesive defence against floods in low laying Broadland. Born out of one mans vision, this public private partnership project is a long term commitment to the area with a very high quality expectation and an extraordinary amount of stakeholder management.

The aim is to quietly and efficiently upgrade and maintain over 240 kilometres of floodbank, provide first time defences to five previously undefended communities, thereby safeguarding 1700 properties, over 24,000 hectares of arable land, fen and grazing marsh and numerous NATURA 2000 sites.

The project has now reached its half way mark but it hasnt been all plain sailing. The first 2 years were a struggle, with the three key organisations (client, contractor and consultant) having to learn to let go of personal agendas, key stakeholders not quite understanding the benefits of buying into the project and a sharp learning curve for the project managers on local politics.

Aware that these issues needed to be resolved if the project was to succeed, the decision was made to co-locate staff from all three organisations into one open plan office, breaking down the barriers and ultimately creating a cohesive workforce that could really work together. Staff out on site also went through a process of forming the right team and culture, with the project organisers not being afraid to move people around in order to ensure the right skills where employed in the right place. A great emphasis was placed on building a no blame culture if something was wrong, anyone can call it out, including stopping work in order to resolve an issue, safety being of paramount importance.

Along side forming the right team, the organisers explored how do we get things done around here tapping fully into the local culture and building the right relationships with stakeholders ultimately meaning planning applications could be processed more easily and there was far less opposition to new defences encroaching on land or altering vistas.

By using a mix of talk and video, Kevin Marsh bought the whole project alive and by being very honest about the issues, he showed the true value of building the right team and understanding the culture in which the project is operating.

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