Steve Gibson’s success in managing his organisation’s biggest project to date can be put down to careful planning and risk mitigation – initiated well before construction contracts were even called, he says.
Steve Gibson, Project Director at Queensland Urban Utilities (QUU), never took for granted just how much was at stake when installing 5km of new pipelines beneath bustling inner-city Brisbane.
He therefore demonstrated industry best practice when prioritising risk mitigation and stakeholder engagement in his approach to managing the five-year, $82 million Woolloongabba sewerage network upgrade – successfully delivered ahead of schedule and $3.7 million under budget.
In this Q&A, Gibson discusses the project’s biggest challenges and the key lessons learned.
The Woolloongabba sewerage network upgrade is the biggest capital works project QUU has ever undertaken. Could you outline the scale of the project and the key challenges it presented?
By far the most challenging part of managing this project was both the quantity and nature of community and stakeholder relationships. Over five years, more than 5km of gravity-fed sewer pipes were installed through a densely populated area of inner Brisbane, via 35 construction access shafts.
The new sewer pipe ran along three busy roads leading to the CBD, passing three schools and multiple pubs, clubs and restaurants. It ran under a major busway, motorway and rail corridor and over a newly completed tunnel. It also passed under the environmentally sensitive Norman Creek and The Gabba stadium, which is home to international cricket matches and the AFL.
This gives you an idea of the vast range of stakeholders and issues we were dealing with – from waterways, to major transport infrastructure, to the hospitality industry, to the home of international sport.
How did you successfully overcome the challenges and manage all those stakeholders?
Good planning was the key. QUU started identifying and mitigating potential risks two years before construction contracts were even called – we rolled out a highly targeted stakeholder engagement program in order to understand the impacts the project would have on the area. We then formally recorded mitigation measures in the tender documents to ensure the impacts were managed and that promises were carried through.
What were the most important lessons you learned from this project?
There were three main lessons. Firstly, the importance of gaining early approval for access and pre-approved traffic management plans from the local council; secondly, the importance of understanding the constraints of the community; and thirdly, the importance of communicating regular updates to all stakeholders.
This project was delivered ahead of schedule and $3.7 million under budget. What do you put that success down to?
I would put our success down to our carefully planned approach to ‘de-risk’ the project before construction started. This ensured the agreed project cost did not carry an inflated risk allocation and, ultimately, that cost overruns did not occur. I also worked closely with the contractor during the delivery phase, smoothing the way and removing issues that could have caused delay.
Since successful delivery of the project, you’ve been named Australian Project Manager of the Year by the Australian Institute of Project Management. How does it feel to be recognised by your industry peers?
I’ve been working in project management for more than a decade, and this is far and away my number one career highlight. While this is a fantastic personal award to win, I would like to acknowledge the many people within QUU who helped deliver this project, especially Contract Manager Paul Stockwell and Project Director Prakash Shandil.
Steve Gibson and his team demonstrated project management best-practice in the award-winning management and delivery of these works. To learn more about initiating, planning and closing projects, managing teams and stakeholders, and improving project performance, enrol in our 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, with a particular focus on managing schedules, costs and resources to ensure delivery of the intended benefits on time and budget. Find out more here.