Prophets of doom
What a year it’s been – and we’re not done yet. With many commentators warning of still worse to come, it might be hard to celebrate New Year’s Eve this time round. The government is pinning (some) recovery hopes on infrastructure spend. ‘Shovel-ready’ projects are lined up, though with a mixed reception. Slow consenting, jobs for the boys (literally), late delivery and budget blow-outs are the criticisms we hear. Some of this is fair. The engineering and construction industry has devised some good practices. But it hasn’t always done itself a favour. Its reputation has been tarnished as a result. This is unfortunate, because the number of successful projects probably out-number the ‘problem’ projects many times over.
At Ergo we sometimes see these problems. There are often good reasons for capital projects not coming in on time and on budget. After all, many things change in the life of a project. But it is also the case that flexibility is too often tolerated; for gains which are not material or justifiable in the big picture. If decision-makers aren’t engaged at the right time, or if they change their mind, for whatever reason, the impact can be significant. An engineer’s natural mindset is to help out, to find a way through and to work collaboratively to solve problems. Relationships are often preserved, but to the detriment of other criteria. What were ‘frozen’ designs quickly thaw, with ramifications for time and budget.
None of this is new. Is it such a bad thing though? Extra time spent at the design stage is surely good value for money if it makes construction and maintenance more straightforward. What is critical is that once a project has progressed through the usual ‘gateways’ (concept, feasibility, equipment specification, detailed design etc), there is a rigorous and unambiguous process for reacting to change. By escalating any variation to the ‘right’ level, asset owners are better able to assess consequences and to decide to accept changes or not; and make plans accordingly. Unwanted surprises will be reduced, hopefully eliminated. Out-turn construction costs, and ultimately capital programmes, will be more predictable. Is that achievable? Let us hope so. In the current environment, a positive outlook and a can-do attitude are healthier and more welcome than prophets of doom.