The recently completed upgrade of South Australia’s Queensbury wastewater pump station was not without challenges and carried significant risk. However, a collaborative approach with a strong governance structure and a focus on community engagement saw the station operational in October.
Queensbury pump station upgradeIt’s not glamorous work, but someone needs to handle the removal of effluent from residential areas, and they need to do it well. Prior to the commencement of the Queensbury wastewater pump station upgrade project, residents in the local area complained of odours, ageing equipment could not be replaced because of the unavailability of parts, and OH&S risks were an ongoing issue.
The scope of the project included the design and construction of a new pump station alongside the old one, the demolition of the old pump station once the new one was up and running, resolving odour problems with the construction of an onsite odour-control facility, and site works including security, fencing, landscaping and screening.
As part of the project, SA Water also contributed to an upgrade of the adjoining reserve.
It’s clear that a lack of adequate governance is a quick path to project failure and will make a project an example of what not to do.
Knowing this, SA Water brings stringent high-level oversight to all major projects.
“This was one of our significant projects for the past 12-18 months, so we made sure that we had strong oversight from our project management and procurement (PMP) team,” explains Jim McGuire, General Manager Commercial and Business Development at SA Water. “We have more senior people within the PMP and SA Water who also review the program and the rest of the project to make sure there is objective tracking and strategies to resolve any challenges that may arise.”
This governance not only kept the SA Water abreast of progress, it also provided the contractor, York Civil, the support and guidance it needed on the critical project.
A collaborative approach further entrenched that sense of support and guidance in the relationship between SA Water and York Civil. While it may not be ideal to treat a contractor as an actual part of the contracting organisation’s team, especially when it comes to information that should be kept within an organisation, it is important to be on the same page about what will be delivered, when and how.
“For these sorts of arrangements to work effectively there really needs to be a collaborative approach. It really can’t be an arm’s-length relationship,” McGuire says.
This allows the project team to be absolutely sure they are working towards the same goals, and shared responsibility does not necessarily mean a lack of accountability. Combined with solid governance, a collaborative approach fosters accountability across a team that has a shared commitment to project success, a clear picture of what success looks like, and the ability and motivation to cooperate to resolve problems that come up along the way.
To foster this collaboration, face-to-face meetings are essential at all levels of the teams, not just at the top, and sharing spaces between the contracting organisation and the contractor on-site or off helps build understanding of day-to-day processes and challenges.
“The contract with York was a design and construction contract, and they had their teams that managed that. We had a project manager that sat over York and managed it from an SA Water perspective,” says McGuire.
SA Water’s stakeholder engagement staff, part of the PMP team, had its work cut out for it. On the face of it, this project should have been simple to get the local community on-board with; it would resolve long-running odour problems that had been affecting the residents and would guarantee the area’s ability to deal with wastewater effectively for the coming 80 years.
However, it would also increase the footprint of the pump station, produce the usual impacts that infrastructure construction projects can be expected to impose on suburban life, and encroach on residents’ use of the adjoining reserve by using half of the reserve for storage during the construction period.
“Being conscious of the impact on the community, we entered into discussions with the local council and agreed an arrangement whereby we could assist with the upgrade of the reserve once it was no longer required for the project,” McGuire explains.
Exemplary stakeholder management on this project is a result of the lessons learned in previous large projects.
“What we’ve learned over the years is the importance of proactive stakeholder engagement,” McGuire says. “So for the project there was a plan that was put together, considering what might be impacts on local stakeholders of the project, and that strategy included regular communication, proactive communication, a lot of face-to-face conversations. There were events organised leading into the event explaining what we were going to do and why, and to seek any feedback in terms of what the community would like to see considered as part of the project.”
These face-to-face meetings continued throughout the project. They kept residents up to date with progress to ensure that they knew the end was in sight, and kept the benefits the project would deliver in residents’ minds. They were also opportunities for the local community to provide feedback on the project.
“It’s not a big investment,” says McGuire. “It’s really ensuring that people feel valued and listened to. When you do genuinely approach engagement, you get some great suggestions that you might not have otherwise thought of. It’s a very positive process.”
Appropriate governance, team management and community management are essential components of a successful project. Find out more about them in EEA’s Diploma of Project Management. Combining online and face-to-face modules, the Diploma teaches the project management processes and methodologies that engineers need in order to deliver projects successfully. Find out more here.