Sea change

special report

After nearly a decade of drought in South Australia, the clouds gathered and the skies finally broke open, filling the state's water reservoirs. But as the rains fell in mid-2010, so did public approval for a desalination plant project that had already cost taxpayers more the AU$1 billion. This article discusses the South Australian Water Corp.'s (Adelaide, South Australia, Australia) project to construct a water desalination plant, which received the PMI 2013 Project of the Year award. It overviews the history of the project, noting that it was launched in February 2008 with a budget of roughly AU$1.4 billion. The 50-gigaliter (13-billion-gallon) facility would provide up to 25 percent of the community's drinking water when construction was completed in June 2012. The article explains how the project team found the right people with the right skills to work on the project. It details how project leaders worked with internal and external experts to flag risk factors that could push the project off track. It describes many of the risks that revolved around a powerful stakeholder group: the government leaders who would provide the necessary approvals, noting that a project steering committee was formed to build buy-in from these stakeholders. The article then examines the effect on the project when the drought broke, which resulted in controversy. It details how the project team communicated why the project was still a smart investment for the state and looks at how the project team continued to bring community stakeholders into project discussions. Next, it describes how the organization launched a stakeholder engagement plan to communicate the project's benefits to the surrounding aboriginal community, specifically the Kaurna indigenous population that had long occupied the areas. It explains how the team integrated Kaurna artifacts and information about their cultural history in the on-site visitor's center. In addition, the article examines how the team managed the rapidly growing team and tightly compressed timeline by keeping an eye out for potential bottlenecks. It also looks at how cost overruns were avoided and how costs were monitored. With these processes in place, the project closed 19 days early and within 1 percent of the approved budget of AU$1.8 billion. Accompanying the article is a project timeline.
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