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Jacque Rast: Project delivery dynamo

From civil engineering graduate to entrepreneur to one of the world’s top programme managers, CH2M Hill major programs president Jacque Rast knows more than a thing or two about efficient infrastructure delivery. She shared her philosophy with Mark Hansford.

Jacque Rast’s 30 years in the civil engineering industry makes for a lesson in personal development and entrepreneurial spirit that would be the envy any business leader.

She’s done the lot − from working on technically challenging, never-done-before environmental clean-ups, to running − and ultimately selling − her own management consultancy.

Now she is overseeing multi-billion pound projects for CH2M Hill including its work on London 2012, Crossrail, the
London Tideway Tunnels, the Masdar low carbon city in Abu Dhabi and the Panama Canal expansion.

This is an impressive CV by anyone’s standards. And pretty varied too − her work takes in nuclear decommissioning, defence, tunnelling and urban regeneration. But there is a common theme running through her career and that is programme management.

Rast is passionate about the positive impact that good programme management can make on large, billion-dollar programmes. And she is keen to stress that is a very different skill to project management − a skill that with the current upsurge in planned British infrastructure projects British engineers would do well to develop.

“Both play a vital role. Project management is about the day to day management of specific tasks. But if you have interrelated tasks someone needs to pull it all together, and that’s programme management,” she says.

“Being a programme manager requires a very different set of expertises. You have to think about interconnections of projects rather than the deep delivery of one project.”

“Being a programme manager requires you to think about interconnections of projects rather than the deep delivery of one project”

In CH2M Hill parlance, programme management is “the disciplined, systematic orchestration of manpower, time, money, and information to deliver a collection of related projects in a coordinated way, to obtain benefits for the owner not attainable if managed separately”.

In Rast’s view this is critical. “The greatest single challenge on any programme is to gain agreement with the client and stakeholders on the overall vision and strategy at the start − what its aspiration is, what the most important outcomes are; what the real key performance indicators are, and why delivering the scope as an integrated programme brings a greater benefit than delivering its component projects individually.

“The continuing challenge then is to drive both the establishment of the programme standards, and then the delivery of each project, in accordance with that overall aspiration and vision, but with enough flexibility and creativity that allows for the unique scope, schedule, and stakeholder considerations of each project within the programme.”

Fortunately for us, the best examples Rast can give are London 2012 and Crossrail − although admittedly her firm is heavily involved as programme manager in both. On London 2012 CH2M Hill is part of the CLM joint venture with Laing O’Rourke and Mace. On Crossrail CH2M Hill is part of the Transcend consortium with Aecom and Nichols Group acting as programme partner.

“The best example I can give is London 2012,” she says. “Is it really going as well as it appears? I would say ‘yes’. This is because CLM and the Olympic Delivery Authority really worked very hard in the early days on that overall vision and strategy of the programme.

“The greatest single challenge on any programme is to gain agreement with the client and stakeholders on the overall vision and strategy at the start”

“Then we focused on establishing programme-wide standards to achieve that vision,” she says. “Now we are in the phase of driving delivery of the individual projects, with a broad supply chain and enough flexibility to allow for the completion of great projects that each contribute to the overall programme vision.”

She’s particularly admiring of the response from the supply chain. “The project is a real testament to the British engineering and construction sector.

The project is not without its challenges, but the everybody has done really well. Everybody has really embodied the ideals of the Olympic sprirt.”

Crossrail, meanwhile, she says is “really unique” in terms of the management teams in place. “You really don’t normally see that much programme management talent on one programme,” she says, referring to the strength of Transcend’s programme partner team and also the Bechtel-led Crossrail Central consortium.

As project delivery partner, Crossrail Central is responsible for the scheme’s central tunnelled section. “It really is a testament to Crossrail that it was able to do that,” she says.

Indeed, as an American, Rast is slightly envious of the mega-projects that are currently under construction or in planning in the UK. “In the UK you are fortunate [to have so many schemes] and hopefully that is something that will inspire people to work in this industry.”

Jacque Rast in office

Jacque Rast in office

Rast’s desire to inspire others into the industry stems from her 30 year relationship with it, beginning in the late 1970s as a civil engineering student at Penn State University.

After graduating in 1983 she plunged straight into working on probably the biggest environmental clean-up ever undertaken − the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) £9bn-plus programme to decontaminate thousands of abandoned hazardous waste dump sites across the country.

The EPA’s so-called “Superfund” meant new clients, different technologies, diverse professional capabilities, unknown risks, and challenges beyond anything previously imagined. As technically complex as Britain’s current nuclear decommissioning challenge, the job was also laced with political pitfalls and stakeholders to negotiate − and was classic programme management material.

She joined CH2M Hill midway through this programme in 1988 and from there she worked on major programmes in many other sectors, including defence and roads and rail before setting up her own management consultancy in 1997, advising infrastructure owners on how to structure big programmes.

That company she sold to Earth Tech in 2001, before rejoining CH2M Hill in 2005 to secure the firm’s role on London 2012.

“In the UK you are fortunate to have so many schemes and hopefully that is something that is something that will inspire people to come and work in this industry”

She lived in London for two years while the vision and strategy was developed but is now based again in Denver, Colorado − although her oversight on projects such as the Panama Canal expansion, Masdar, Mumbai Airport and London Tideway Tunnels keeps her in the air and living out of a suitcase for weeks at a time.

“Geographically, we are seeing accelerated opportunities this year in the Middle East, India, North America, and South America,” she says, adding that it remains unclear how much of China’s booming infrastructure programme will be delivered by non-Chinese firms.

Rast is looking at energy − nuclear new build, renewables and eventually oil and gas − as well as water, transport, national government facilities (particularly in the US), sport, and what she terms “integrated developments” − eco-cities such as Masdar and special economic zones.

“I am spending a lot of time on the sport and integrated developments markets in the Middle East and Brazil, ” she says, “as well as continuing to spend a lot of time in the UK to further our programme management approach here.”

CH2M Hill has set up a programme management delivery centre in London to serve the UK and Middle East.

Jacque Rast CV

  • 1983 Graduates from Penn State University with degree in civil engineering.
  • 1988 Joins CH2M Hill, working in design and project management and client group management
  • 1997 Starts management consulting firm, Talisman Partners
  • 2001 Sells to Earth Tech, which she joins as senior vice president, facilities and transportation
  • 2003 Owns Azimuth Group and works as a senior management consultant for the AEC industry
  • 2005 Rejoins CH2M Hill’s enterprise management solutions business group
  • 2008 Joins main board of CH2M Hill

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