The Complexity of Multi Discipline Infrastructure Projects

Infrastructure Project

ECS Associates fully comprehends the nature of the complexity of fast track multi discipline infrastructure projects.

Complexity is a key characteristic of construction projects. The degree of complexity that determines the overall approach to a project comprises a broad range of variables. To conceptualize complexity in theory, consider the five dimensions (task, social, cultural, operative and cognitive complexity). Plus there are a number of factors determining each of these dimensions.

Although projects may be similar in nature, each project is unique.

Major important project variables employed in delivering the required solution include:

  • what is delivered, differences between locations where the project is delivered, the client’s value proposition for projects, risk allocation, stakeholder influences, resources employed, management systems, constraints, processes and procurement practices; and
  • combinations of funders, clients and built environment professionals, site conditions, materials, technologies, general contractors, specialist contractors, skills-base and workforce requirements.

All projects need to be planned, specified, procured and delivered. Decisions are made on what the project needs to deliver, who will deliver it and how will it be funded and governed. The remaining decisions centre on how it will be managed through to completion. Such management takes place within a project-specific environment which continuously involves the management of risk events, which may be foreseen or unforeseen. It also includes those that have the potential to negatively impact on project outcomes during the protracted delivery process (Dr Ron Watermeyer, 2019). 

Risk taking is necessary in the delivery of projects. Sources of risk in projects include commercial and legal relationships, economic circumstances, human behaviour, natural events, weather, inherent and unforeseeable site conditions, political circumstances, community unrest, technology and technical issues. Risks can also manifest in weak clients who are not capable of making timeous decisions. Added to that is having difficulty in providing information timeously or paying promptly, as well as in the differences between the actual prices paid in terms of the contract and those estimated at the time of tender. Changes to requirements during the execution of projects to enhance quality, performance in use, or the usefulness of outputs or to address shortcomings in design also add to risk. The parties to a contract face choices on how to deal with inherent project risks. Risks can be transferred or accepted. Accordingly, a central issue that needs to be dealt with in projects is the financial liability related to the uncertainty of information when decisions are made, particularly in the early stages of a project, and future events

However, at a practical level, projects are designed by teams (often coming together for the first time and often working remotely), in two dimensions and other teams are required to build the projects in three dimensions. The delivery model in project management involves estimating, scheduling, logistics, or supply chain management, productivity control, quality control, risk management, human resource management, safety awareness, environmental control to name but a few of the required variables. These variables must be managed in the face of competing interests such as shareholder value, contractor margins, budgets, timeline, political and legal requirements. It is no wonder then that the majority of projects end up over late and over budget with legacy litigation and claim issues arising.  

Key guideline and success factors for implementation of complex multi discipline infrastructure projects include:

• Preparation of a comprehensive contract document with complete scope definition as possible,

• Set the rules of contract administration at kick off meeting and instil a co-operative style of behaviour

• Do what the contract says and within the times stated

• Manage risk through Early Warning and Collaborative Mitigation Processes

• Manage the Programme in collaboration (weekly)

• Constantly update cost forecast (weekly)

• Proactively manage change control

• Avoid “us and them” – use only “we”

• Manage the project and not the Client/ the Contractor

• Invest in, develop and protect trust!

• Have some fun!!!

The leadership at ECS Associates has over 200 years of experience in managing and successfully delivering complex multi discipline infrastructure projects, both in Africa and globally. Project experience ranges from Nuclear, Conventional Power, Renewables, Water Treatment, Oil & Gas, Infrastructure and Mining. In our experience a collaborative ethos framed in effective leadership set in a fair and trustful contractual regime invariably delivers a project in accordance with budgeted metrics.  

  Dr Ron Watermeyer