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Keep on talking

Overseas brief; Three of the profession's best civil engineering managers showed how to manage on time and within budget at the final of the Civil Engineering Manager of the Year held at Great George Street in October

ICE CIVIL Engineering Manager of the Year Graeme Stewart is disarmingly easy to talk to, not necessarily what you might expect from the busy boss of a ú200M ($330M) project, a polyethylene process plant for oil giant BP-Amoco in Scotland.

'I've been a bit lucky, in that my non-confrontational style fits the current way of doing things,' says Stewart. 'Only very rarely does conflict work,' he says. 'You can force people to do things, but it does not work out well. With contractors, for example, all those letters starting 'pursuant to clause 19b' ... 'and hereupon I inform'... and so on, it is all nonsense, a waste of effort drafting and replying.'

At his presentation in the competition finals at the Institution recently, he showed a list of contractual letters. It was empty. Stewart went on to beat two other high quality project managers, Brian Coslett and Michael Fordham. Coslett was shortlisted for the ú45M Ganol Wastewater treatment scheme in North Wales and Fordham for the ú165M for the East London sludge incineration plant.

Stewart's shared his methods with NCE International on his most recently completed project, the ú60M Marine Vapour Recovery Project in Grangemouth in the Firth of Forth. The project used a team of only two full-timers, himself and the engineering manager.

The old approach would have meant a team of 18 or so - 'so we saved perhaps ú3M or more in salaries over three years.' Most of those people would have been 'man-marking, checking the contractors daily'.

Stewart may fit in with the partnering trend but he knows what he wants and is firm enough about setting targets. Sorting out a partnership or alliance involves tough negotiating and must end up with clear and simple targets, he insists. BP-Amoco knows what it wants and what the price of something should be.

Big team meetings for brain-storming through the risks and going over a project in detail early on to find value savings are part of BP-Amoco's methods. To do that all requires a good team sense, says Stewart, and is another reason for working at establishing good relations.

This needs to be done quickly. Modern projects proceed at a much faster pace than in the past and are front-ended. Getting a team working together rapidly is crucial because the first six months is the important time.

Making decisions early and setting things in train is a theme that he returns to several times. 'If you line up the various parties and interests early on and find out their preoccupations, you can often sort out difficulties relatively simply and for low cost.'

He gives a number of examples from the Marine Vapour Recovery project at Grangemouth.

This was a high profile project aimed at cutting emissions of volatile gases and vapours during tanker loading.

The project added new equipment to the terminal which loads tankers with oil from the Forties field in the North Sea. Crude oil arrives at huge tanks onshore from a pipeline connecting platforms run by BP Amoco as well as many other companies.

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