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Global infrastructure chiefs criticise unachievable project deadlines


Leading figures in global infrastructure have called for an overhaul of how mega-projects are delivered. 

Infrastructure & Projects Authority chief executive Tony Meggs, US contractors Peter Kiewit Sons chief executive Bruce Grewcock and cost consultants Rider Levett Bucknall global board director Ann Bentley all claim changes need to be made to project delivery to escape the current cycle of running over time and over budget. 

Speaking at McKinsey’s Global Infrastructure Initiative Summit, Meggs said many major infrastructure projects suffer from ill-defined objectives.

He said: “It is amazing and is particularly true for mega-infrastructure projects how often people can be working on the same project with totally different objectives and really getting clear on the objectives up front is much harder than people often give it credit for.

“One of the things we often do in government is make the objectives very wide so that everybody is happy, but actually that is not very good for delivering a good project.”

Meggs also claimed that infrastructure projects had been too often “troubled by overly-aggressive schedules” that drive “lots of bad behaviour”. He also criticised the UK for prematurely setting completion dates for projects “for political reasons”.

“I think we need to give ourselves a little bit of slack here and be slightly more generous in definition of dates because what happens is in effect we create failure out of success. You can have a good project of enormous complexity that may be 10% late but by global standards that is an outstanding performance,” Meggs said.

Bentley said: “There seems to be almost an inverse rule between activity and time.

“However long the planning period is, the real planning only takes place in the last 10% of time and it really does not seem to matter if the planning is five years or five minutes.”

Bentley also criticised those who make procurement decisions “almost in isolation to what it is they are actually trying to achieve.”

She said: “We often find that procurement is driven by a favourite type of contract or a way of doing things because whoever is in charge did it that way previously.”

The global board director also spoke of “naivety” among clients and advisers working on infrastructure projects who only read up on best practice guidance towards the end of the process and who “do not actually take the time to really examine projects that have been successful”.

Meanwhile, Grewcock urged those listening to consider the benefits of contractor-driven infrastructure projects.

Grewcock said: “In the [US] power market right now it is almost exclusively contractor-driven. And in that market segment right now we are building lots and lots of gas fired car plants. Claims, changed orders, late delivery, cost blowouts are almost non-existent if you manage your business right.

“Our clients in the oil and gas sector are telling us ‘we want contractor-driven solutions,” he added.

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