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Mega projects - 3 case studies, Edinburgh

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Scotland Branch held an evening event in Edinburgh on Thursday 18th November 2010 looking at mega-projects through three different case studies and were privileged to enjoy presentations from three exceptionally experienced and knowledgeable project directors.
Challenging questions were posed which we hoped to be able to answer in 90 minutes. 

  • What sets a mega-project apart from a large project or elongated programme?
  • Is complexity the same as complicated?
  • By complex do we just mean a large project, one which is geographically distributed or one that uses complex technology?
  • Are mega-projects just more complicated, still applying the same methodologies, or something different altogether?

Delegates were welcomed by Roger Hunter, a long time stalwart of the Scotland Branch Committee and with not inconsiderable experience in the management of complex mega-projects himself.  This was Rogers last contribution to the committee before standing down after 5 years of committed service.
The Libya Universities Programme was the subject of the first presentation.  An ambitious undertaking by the Libyan government commenced in 2007 to construct 25 new campuses of higher education throughout Libya, part of national redevelopment.  Coenraad Botha, Practice Director of Llewelyn Davies Yeang, international architects, and one of the design companies contributing to the 3 billion programme.  Coenraad highlighted the challenges of dealing with a multi-national design team operating in Libya with a project management and cost consultant in Scotland!  Critical issues related to: the inconsistency of international standards; the challenges of a client unfamiliar with project processes; fluid requirements; and cultural and political sensitivities.

Iain Stevenson, Controls Director for the aircraft carrier programme, based in Rosyth presented the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers which will be the biggest and most powerful surface warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy representing a step change in capability, enabling increased strategic effect and influence around the world.  Iain explained how the project will have taken 20 years from concept to the carriers being fully in-service and outlined the structure of the delivery alliance of three major UK defence contractors located at 6 different sites around the country.  Recent decisions on the aircraft variant have resulted in significant change control challenges which have demonstrated the strength of the alliance, underpinned by common culture and values.

Stephen Radley, Senior Project Director AMEC, provided the final presentation.  This covered the 25 billion Sakhalin-2 project, a major oil and gas development on Sakhalin Island off the east coast of Russia.  Project scope included: drilling platforms; sub-sea pipelines; onshore processing facilities; distribution pipelines on land; and the construction of major export facilities on the other side of the island - all delivered in a seismic environment with a temperature variation of between +30C to -40C.  Additional challenges included the large number of international teams involved, located as far apart as Canada, USA, UK, India, and Korea as well as in Russia itself.

Common themes throughout the projects included: cultural and behavioural challenges; the need for detailed integrated scheduling; importance of careful and continuous client management; and the ever present issue of change management. 

So what did the presenters believe sets mega-projects apart from other projects and programmes? It is really a matter of scale. The key considerations are: the need for management on the macro-level avoiding being drawn down into detail; the high stakes requiring very careful management of client and sponsor; and the ever present political element that hangs over projects of this scale resulting in very considerable personal risk for stakeholders.





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