PROJECTS ON THE MAP
BY CLAY DILLOW
Living in the shadow
of its bigger neighbor, Australia, and largely isolated geographically from the rest of the world, New Zealand has earned a global reputation for scrappiness and ingenuity. It's something locals refer to as the “number 8 wire” mentality, after a gauge of ubiquitous fencing wire that—as the mythology goes—resourceful Kiwis have historically used to all kinds of clever ends in the absence of better tools and materials.
That inventiveness may help explain why, while much of the world is still regaining its footing following the global recession, New Zealand's economy seems downright peppy. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development expects New Zealand to grow by 3.3 percent this year, compared with 2.9 percent for the United States and a scant 1 percent in Europe. Project activity is on the rise, buoyed by a thriving IT services industry, energy projects ranging from deepwater petroleum extraction to new geothermal energy installations, and post-earthquake reconstruction. More than half of organizations completed more than 21 projects over the past year, according to a 2013 KPMG report. In 2010, just 2 percent of organizations reported completing more than five projects.
Yet amid that flurry of project activity, project success rates are not high, as organizations struggle to leverage ad hoc methodologies across a larger portfolio. In KPMG's survey, only 35 percent of projects delivered on scope, 33 percent delivered on budget and 29 percent delivered on schedule.
“We're holding ourselves back as a nation,” says Gina Barlow, director, advisory team, KPMG, a PMI Global Executive Council member, in Wellington, New Zealand. “If we don't step up to the mark and start delivering our projects more effectively, this will have a huge impact on our future economy.”
More than NZ$40 billion worth of infrastructure projects have gone into rebuilding Christchurch, the country's second-largest city, since its 2010-2011 earthquakes. Yet construction makes up a mere slice of New Zealand's booming growth. The country is expanding its energy sector, thanks to high interest from global investors and despite the concerns of some environmentalists.
In December 2013, the government awarded 10 exploration permits for 13 offshore wells and 30 onshore wells, representing about NZ$62 million in total projects. If the exploration projects prove successful, the government predicts they could yield an additional NZ$720 million in oil and gas projects. In January, the international oil-and-gas recruitment firm Air Energi opened shop in the country, citing big project opportunities in the next three to five years, particularly around deepwater drilling. Shell New Zealand is thick in the planning phase on one such project. The company will begin drilling in the Great South Basin, off the coast of South Island, in late 2016.
Less controversial is the surge in New Zealand's IT scene. The sector's R&D investment has grown nearly 20 percent since 2011. More than 3,300 computer-system design firms have started in the last dozen years. And exports of computer and information services have risen 85 percent since 2006. The national government's New Zealand Venture Investment Fund is increasing access to capital to small, high-growth businesses.
“You've got lots of small- to medium-sized businesses that are trying to do big things,” says Mark Herbstein, PMP, senior program manager for On the Mark Consulting, Auckland. “And, more and more, they're trying to use formal project management practices to do so.”
FEET ON THE GROUND
The relatively small size of enterprises in New Zealand as well as the largely international business climate makes for an environment where skilled project managers can find a lot of opportunity while new practitioners can quickly get their hands dirty.
“I think there will be an increased demand for program and portfolio managers in New Zealand moving forward, as companies discover the value they add with their focus on strategic benefits. I also think that without a strong focus on the project life cycle, it's too easy to make short-term decisions that negatively impact the long-term benefits. That's where documentation proves its value, if done properly: Early in the process, everyone debates and agrees on what benefits the project is to deliver.”
—Gillian Dudfield-Hendren, PMP, director, Gillich Consulting Ltd., Wellington
“Project management is becoming more mature in New Zealand. Still, leadership among project managers is one area that is undervalued. Project managers are seen as playing a greater role in scope alignment and leading a cross-functional team. But they need to bring outstanding leadership qualities to resolve issues during project implementation, and have great initiative and judgment to get the project across the line.”
—K.S. Muralidhar, PMP, project manager, Fletcher Construction Co., Auckland
“Although the New Zealand economy is recovering from the global financial crisis relatively strongly compared with many other nations, we lag behind many comparable nations in our productivity performance. There is a particular challenge in lifting performance by achieving more with less. This means we need to be much smarter with our project initiation and selection, making sure that the project business case is sound and that we pursue the right projects.”
—Calum Robertson, PMP, principal portfolio analyst, EPMO, Auckland Council, Auckland
“Project managers need political savvy. Project environments in New Zealand tend to be less formal and hierarchically structured. In this more open environment, project managers require a well-developed sense of identifying influencers, supporters and opponents and knowing how to access support for their projects.”
—Diane Bussey, PMP, PgMP, director, FACT Solutions Ltd., Auckland
“With the business culture in New Zealand, it is especially useful to network beyond the projects you are working on—with other project managers, leaders in business units outside of the key stakeholder group, frontline staff. Project managers need to have a wider view of the world, and those formal and informal business relationships provide an invaluable understanding of the drivers, risks, benefits and success factors for projects.”
—Pramod Regonayak, PMP, project manager, Bank of New Zealand, Auckland
“Kiwi project managers need to be prepared to develop multi-disciplinary skills, as our team sizes are fairly small and people must be prepared to pitch in as needed to get things done.”
—Anca Sluşanschi, PMP, program manager, Ministry for Primary Industries, Wellington
“I think agile, lean and Kanban will be more widely used throughout project management in the next five years. But while understanding frameworks and processes is great, applying them with common sense and flexibility is key. These skills, along with a can-do attitude, will help you immensely in New Zealand.”
—Craig Turner, PMP, program manager, EROAD Ltd., Auckland
“The number of qualified project managers is still limited here in New Zealand, thus bringing more opportunities for skilled professionals.” says Jeanine Almeida, PMP, senior project manager at Unisys in Wellington.
The median project practitioner salary in New Zealand is US$93,513, according to PMI's Salary Survey—Eighth Edition, ranking it the seventh-highest globally. The median salary for a portfolio manager is US$113,842.
For organizations looking to improve their project success rates, recruiting skilled project managers—or developing talent internally—is the next challenge.
“The ongoing development and training has been very lacking,” says Ron Bush, PMP, radio access network program manager for 2 Degrees Mobile Ltd. in Auckland. “As more organizations are starting to recognize the benefits of having qualified project managers, they're starting to develop talent internally, often mentored by experienced project managers.”
There can be upsides to being at the forefront of an expanding profession in the country. Many bigger companies in New Zealand are foreign-owned, giving practitioners experience in working with people from around the world. “Although our projects are not as large as those in other countries, they are multicultural in terms of stakeholders and team members, which contributes to opportunities for knowledge exchange and professional development, especially in terms of stakeholder management,” says Ms. Almeida.
“The vast majority of projects are in the small-to-medium range, which is related to the size of our economy and infrastructure,” says Mr. Bush. “This also means our project managers are closer to the action. From what I have experienced, our teams are smaller, therefore we have more interaction and togetherness as a team, both in the workplace and outside.” PM
PROJECT POWER Kiwi initiatives in the works
TE MIHI GEOTHERMAL PROJECT
Completed last year, the Te Mihi power station northwest of Taupo on the North Island consists of two new 83-megawatt steam turbine generators to replace the nearby 56-year-old Wairakei geothermal station. After the Wairakei station is eventually powered down, the new Te Mihi station will produce a net addition of 114 virtually emissions-free megawatts to New Zealand's grid, enough to power some 100,000 homes. The US$623 million, three-year project is part of an ongoing effort to take advantage of New Zealand's volcanic geology while updating and replacing older geothermal infrastructure. As Te Mihi comes online, a second-phase 250-megawatt station at the nearby Tauhara steamfield is already in the early stages of development.
NATIONAL ELECTRONIC HEALTH RECORDS ROLLOUT
New Zealand's National Health IT Board is racing to implement a cornerstone of the country's national health IT technology plan agreed upon back in 2010: Provide all New Zealanders with online access to their baseline medical information. That includes a summary of general practitioner visits, prescriptions, test results and specialist or hospital treatments. But like many similar electronic health records rollouts unfolding around the world, stakeholder buy-in can be a huge challenge, due to privacy concerns and slow tech adoption. The technical building blocks are in place to meet the end-of-year deadline, but achieving universal adoption of electronic health records nationwide by then could prove difficult.
GOOGLE'S PROJECT LOON
In 2013, Google launched a pilot project testing a new technology that could provide Internet access to people living in far-flung, rural places or in areas affected by natural disasters. Dubbed Project Loon, it involved lofting 30 balloons high into the atmosphere over the Canterbury region surrounding Christchurch, with each balloon capable of beaming the Internet to a pilot tester on the ground below (30 homes and businesses participated). The data collected are now being used to refine the technology. Google is reportedly in high-level talks with Australian telecommunications firm TELSTRA to develop a solution to provide 3G-like Internet speeds to hard-to-reach areas in Australia.
TRANSMISSION GULLY MOTORWAY
When it's completed in 2020, the 27-kilometer (16.7-mile), NZ$1.3 billion Transmission Gully Motorway will link the capital of Wellington with Levin to the north. The project will shave 40 minutes off the commute between the two and open a key second route of ingress/egress in the earthquake-prone region, reducing reliance on the coastal highway currently linking the two cities. Part of a larger, NZ$2.5 billion “northern corridor” that will extend all the way to Wellington Airport, the motorway will create thousands of construction jobs via the public-private partnership behind the project. Construction is scheduled to start later this year.
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