GUEST ARTICLE: Avoiding risks in the pre-construction phase is key to improving mega project outcomes

  • 3 Jun 2021

Due to their size, location and complexity, major programmes often attract more than their fair share of issues, even before works get underway. Adopting a more robust approach to risk management in these early stages, however, could improve project outcomes significantly, explains Jacqueline Hughes, senior risk analyst at risk management consultancy, Equib.  

The high-profile nature of many mega projects, combined with the scale of the works to be undertaken and the range of stakeholders involved, means they can be prone to pre-construction phase disruption.

For example, most major infrastructure programmes are likely to attract some kind of opposition from the local community, environmental bodies and MPs, who may then instigate reviews to consider their impact. Government-funded programmes could also be challenged over whether planned programmes represent value for money for taxpayers.

Property

As mega projects are often run by newly-formed organisations, any early-stage opposition comes at a challenging time, just when the new entity is establishing its own management processes and formalising a means of interacting with third party organisations.

Effective communication and stakeholder engagement can play an important role in helping to get a mega project off to a good start. In particular, public consultation can help to diffuse local tensions and secure the buy-in of the local community and other stakeholders.

Report

report by the Public Administration Committee highlights the importance of ensuring local communities understand the socio-economic benefits that the project will bring. 

Improved public consultation could also help when it comes to sharing mitigation measures to reduce the project’s impact on the environment – for example, traffic management measures to control road congestion and reduce carbon emissions.

During the pre-construction phase, it is also important that project managers and their specialist advisers secure the necessary consents. As well as providing evidence that the project is taking steps to mitigate its environmental impact and protect local ecology, consents may be required to ensure water courses are kept free from pollution and onsite noise is managed.

To minimise the risk of potential delays to the planning process, project managers should ensure all the required consents are secured at an early stage.

The phased nature of the design process for many major programmes can also increase cost and time uncertainty, particularly if some outline and detailed designs are being submitted for planning approval after construction work has started.

Project managers should ensure that all early-stage designs are achievable and sufficiently detailed to demonstrate the suitability of specific methods and/or materials. BIM systems could make this process easier by enabling project managers and key decision-makers to visualise design solutions, avoiding the need to unpick or adapt them at a later stage.

Scenario planning

Another key element of pre-construction phase project management is scenario planning. Taking this approach will ensure all ‘known knowns’, ‘known unknowns’ and even ‘unknown unknowns’ are accounted for early on.

During the pandemic, the construction industry witnessed the scale of the disruption that can be caused by unforeseeable events and while it may not be possible to plan for each one specifically, it is possible to plan for their certain scenario-based impacts.

For example, one scenario might be ‘what would happen if contractors to the project were forced to reduce their workforce by half?’ Once risks have been identified, they should be captured on a risk register to ensure they can be prioritised for mitigation purposes, and monitored over time.

A risk-centric approach to project management during the pre-construction phase can help to reduce the probability of cost and time delays arising once work has started. Reviewing risks regularly and utilising risk modelling techniques, such as quantitative schedule risk assessment, will also ensure that any unexpected issues are resolved as efficiently as possible.

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