Major Projects Association has had to learn to translate things from the real to the virtual world, like all other organizations, during the lockdowns. One of the most successful of these translations has been the Major Projects Simulator. We normally run the Simulator as a face-to-face event at the Oxford Kassam Football Stadium but for the last couple of outings we’ve run it successfully only with distributed teams. 

David Jones from PA Consulting took part in the most recent Simulator and shares his experience.

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I was fortunate enough to take part in a simulated project environment hosted by the Major Projects Association (MPA), a community of practice for organisations engaged in the initiation and delivery of major projects, programmes, and portfolios. It involved a condensed experience of building a football stadium, over the course of two years, into a day’s workshop using simulation software.

Designed to capture the universal challenges of project management, the MPA Simulator provided an excellent platform to hone project management skills on major infrastructure projects, educate in effective decision-making, build up effective communication and team management skills, and helped in highlighting the importance of engaging with stakeholders.

It allowed attendees to participate, organise, and compete in teams with other project professionals from a range of backgrounds, to manage and ‘live’ a complex infrastructure project, remotely. Each team oversaw the whole project lifecycle of an infrastructure build and how decisions in various P3M disciplines such as scope definition, contract and procurement strategy, stakeholder management, and risk management combined to determine final outcomes.

Whilst weighting was given to stakeholder satisfaction to determine the overall winning team, the success of the stadium builds also depended upon delivering the project against the trinity of cost, time, and quality. The unique opportunity to work within a simulated environment, with different people, at pace helped to highlight three key issues in delivering major infrastructure projects:

Three elements

Uncertainty

Major projects can suffer from uncertainty, particularly due to the scope, scale, and nature of what they are trying to achieve. Building a football stadium, designing HS2, or assessing airport capacity improvements (such as Heathrow third runway) are sprawling developments designed to significantly provide regional, national, and international benefits. But these types of projects can be so long in duration that suppliers, markets, and business models may not yet exist. To remove uncertainty around what you want to achieve, the more analysis that can be done, the better. Proof of concept studies, feasibility studies, and modelling analyses will help to bring clarity to unknowns and help prepare you make key decisions that can impact a project later down its lifecycle.

Ambiguity

Throughout a project, it may not always be clear what the right decisions to take are. External factors such as the capacity of the market to deliver, commercial themes such as risk sharing, and politically driven decisions may all impact and influence the evolution of a project. It is important to understand and adjust to such changes and this can be achieved through impact assessment and decision analysis. These methods can help determine how changes in parameters may affect outcomes and can inform on where to apply measures to counter them. The rapidly changing data-driven environment that most major projects operate within today makes the end goal of complex projects a little less clear.

Continuity

Stakeholder engagement and the need to align a disparate and, on occasion, diametrically opposed stakeholder field is a key challenge when delivering major projects. Any large scale, high impact project will generate its fair share of stakeholders that may hold strong and unwavering opinions. A key attribute of any project professional is the ability to understand and manage the vocal, high interest, high influential stakeholders. Aligning the key groups first will have a beneficial impact on the project and how it evolves as they can support you and your decisions. It may also offer you the opportunity to step back from micro-managing lesser stakeholders as they take cues on what to challenge and support from the more vocal ones.

A simulation in the challenges of delivering major projects

The experience helped me to understand that the necessity to define rigidly what you want to achieve at the start of a project is becoming less relevant, whereas the ability to veer and haul to changing factors is crucial.

David Jones ChPP, PA Consulting

About the Author

David JonesDavid is a Chartered Project Professional and Management Consultant who has worked in project management for more than 10 years across the UK and Europe in both the public and private sectors. His passion is helping business leaders transform their most complex problems into real-world, working solutions.

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