Differential Approach in Execution of Mega Projects
Parthasarathi Chatterjee
Vice President
L & T Hydrocarbon Engineering Limited

The Mega Projects are inherently complex due to sheer size, scale & scope. Therefore, risks associated with Mega Projects need to be assessed and approached differently when compared to small & medium scale projects. However, Mega Projects, if executed par excellence, have the potential to bring transformative changes for the organization and the stakeholders at large. While executing mega projects internationally, it is observed that approach and mindset required for successful execution of Mega Projects (>1 BUSD) are substantially different vis-à-vis that for small & medium scale projects. Based on validation through real life mega project execution in L & T Hydrocarbon Engineering Limited, author identified in this article the critical success factors for execution of Mega Projects.

Size, scale & scope are the drivers for Mega Projects necessitating differential approach for successful execution. Such differential approach are related to three aspects - People, Process and Leadership. Following critical success factors related to People, Process and Leadership have been validated while executing mega projects successfully.

Differential Approach Related to People:
  • Alignment of Project Team

    Unlike small & medium scale projects, execution of Mega Projects requires large number of team members having diverse expertise and experience. Often such project team will comprise of people from multiple Business Verticals within organization having various nationalities and located across different countries having different time zones. Such project team is akin to the team involving several functions required for running a business as against a project.

    Integration amongst the team members and alignment of the team with project goals become the determining factor for transforming the task force into high performing team. In order to overcome such challenges, approach practiced in mega projects which resulted in an integrated, high-performing team drawing the benefit of diversity as against its perceived drags has been detailed in Figure 1.

  • Figure 1: Alignment of People towards Project Goal

  • People Engagement

    Typically the duration of Mega Projects is two to three times of duration of small projects and therefore, majority of times it becomes a challenge to keep the team members engaged and motivated. Any drop in team morale poses a significant risk to the project performance and delivery.

    In order to tackle this challenge, multiple innovative initiatives were implemented in mega projects. From the beginning of the project, practice of publishing a project specific newsletter was established which highlighted latest happenings in the project, HSSE alerts and stories of accomplishment by project team members. Employee engagement surveys were also conducted on half-yearly basis and the feedback received was utilized to take appropriate steps to enhance the engagement of project team members in their work.

    Project Leadership Team conducted multiple town hall meetings with team members which provided the team members bigger picture of the project performance. The Client's feedback on the team's performance was also shared with team members during such meetings which enabled the team to maintain and further improve their performance.

    With above efforts, the motivation levels and commitment of the team to successful delivery of the project was taken to substantially higher level and maintained throughout the project cycle.
Differential Approach Related to Process:
  • Structured Review and Decision Making Process

    Another major difference between small/medium size projects and Mega Projects is the project organizational setup. Compared to mega projects, small projects organization structure are flatter. Due to multiple layers in Mega Projects, final decision making authority is often more remote from the action resulting in slowdown in decision making process which leads to longer time & higher cost of decisions.

    While executing the Mega Project, a structured review calendar was established wherein Project Leadership Team interacted with execution members on weekly basis. Such approach not only lead to faster decision making and timely resolution of issues but also minimized the cost associated with such decisions. It also ensured better coordination across Project Value Chain. The faster decision making also boosted the morale of the execution team and encouraged them to put more efforts to complete the tasks at hand.

  • Monitoring & Control

    Due to vast scope and large number of concurrent activities in Mega Projects, the focus is often on progress of major activities only while other activities are noticed only when they are delayed and start affecting the project performance thereby providing very little time for course correction.

    In order to avoid such scenario, instead of categorizing and focusing only on key activities, Progress Dashboards approach was adopted to report the progress of each function. Such dashboards were creatively generated for various responsibility levels (e.g. Dashboard for supervisors to Project Leadership to Organisation Leadership). This approach ensured raising of coloured flags depending on the defined criticality (e.g.Green, Amber, Red) and divulged factually the health of the project & also the exceptions.

    The rundown and recovery plan was prepared for each of the delayed activity along with identification of specific crack team to implement such plan. In this manner, any adverse impact of delayed activities on project performance was minimized ensuring project progress as per schedule.

  • Scenario Planning

    While small projects involve limited number of key activities, execution of Mega Projects includes large number of activities and complex interdependencies. Any slippage affects performance of all interlinked activities thereby affecting project performance. The complex nature of project and involvement of multiple agencies also lead to emergence of many risks during project execution. In such scenario, thinking ahead of time and analysis of all probable scenarios involving "known- known", "known - unknown" and also stretching the mind to judge maximum of "unknown - unknown" become necessary.

    In addition to robust risk management process, "What - If Scenario Analysis" workshops were conducted during each critical phase of Mega Project which were structured in manner depicted in Figure 2 to encourage team members to develop & identify Plan B for various scenarios.

    The above approach enabled the project team to react quickly to any challenge which was posed during execution and minimize the impact of any slippage on project performance.

Figure 2: "What-If" Scenario Analysis

Differential Approach Related to Leadership:

  • Collaborative Approach with Partners

    Large number of vendors and subcontractors are involved in execution of Mega Projects whose performance is directly linked to the successful delivery of the project. In the event, any partner becomes weak link, it may pose serious risk to the entire project. Therefore, it is imperative that special focus is maintained on the progress and performance of such partners who are supplying bought out item and/or providing services to the execution of mega project .

    To ensure effective monitoring of vendor performance, dedicated task force was constituted for Post Order Management. Specific crack team was assigned to each of the bought out items. The project specific procedures developed by the team were shared with subcontractors to ensure their performance is in accordance with the requirements of the client. Progress and financial health of such Vendors and Subcontractors were reviewed periodically by Project Leadership.

    Figure 2: "What-If" Scenario Analysis With the above approach, effective business partnership was established with vendors and subcontractors based on joint problem solving attitude and on the principle of "we win together' leading to enhanced performance by vendors and subcontractors.

  • Leadership

    While established processes and systems may ensure success in execution of small projects, success of Mega Projects is also dependent upon the leadership involved in execution of Mega Projects . In case of Mega Projects, the leader has to consistently analyze the benefits and limitations of established processes & systems and must intervene at appropriate junctures to ensure project success .

    In recent Mega Project, the leadership team not only focused on enhancing the effectiveness of existing processes such as risk management but also developed structured processes for change management, post-order delivery management and progress/exception reporting. While the immediate benefit of the processes was successful execution of Mega Project, consistent focus by leadership team on institutionalization has ensured the processes are implemented in other projects as well resulting in transformative changes which will be lasting beyond the project horizon.