Forward thinking


Edwin Bolwerk, Vanderlande Industries, Veghel, Netherlands

CHANGE IS in the air for Vanderlande Industries.

With airport security regulations in flux, the company has learned to build aggressive change management into its projects to design baggage-handling systems.

The company's nearly €100 million installation project at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands is a prime example.

“We could just sit and wait until the regulations come, and then make changes to the scope of the project,” says Edwin Bolwerk, managing director at Vanderlande. “But instead we work with the customer beforehand, to help them predict potential changes and build those into the project scope.”

That keen focus on project management gives the company a competitive edge, he says. “Project management is in our DNA. We wouldn't be able to service our customers or stay in business if it wasn't.”


Setting rules ensures that no one goes off on their own. But giving them the room to be flexible allows them to adapt to the challenges they might face.

How would you describe Vanderlande's approach to project management?

It's structured but flexible. We have a quality system that defines how project teams value and verify tasks, and a series of steps that begins with design and engineering, and continues through fabrication, installation and testing. We set clear rules for how we deal with things, because without rules, the success of the project becomes dependent on the one person in charge, and that's when results become variable.

At the same time, you can't make a process of everything. We give our project teams room to be creative, because not every customer has the same needs or will work with the team in the same way.

How do your customers’ needs vary across projects?

Some customers are very business-driven. They know what they want, and they want to discuss the project and scope in terms of cost, schedule and how we will get them operational. Other customers are still contemplating a project. They need a lot more information about how they should build their solution, what can be accomplished and whether they're making the right choices.

Those two kinds of customers require different management styles. The first wants a project manager who is disciplined, and clear about what exactly is part of the scope and what issues will impact the results. The second kind of customers require a more complex approach. They need someone who will talk them through their decision-making, bounce ideas around and think creatively about solutions without only focusing on scope and cost.

How does the company handle risk management?

Risk assessment begins at the first sales meeting, is a focus at the kickoff meeting and is part of every milestone review. By capturing lessons learned on previous projects, we know the usual suspects and the measures we need to take to mitigate them.

At Schiphol Airport, for example, our system had to be integrated with a screening machine from another vendor. But because the company had changed its specs without telling us, the integration required a lot of debugging. What should have taken a few days took six weeks.

That team documented its steps and immediately shared them with other teams on site. So when the next system was implemented, we were able to alert the customer ahead of time to the possible delays, build those into the project and cut the delivery time to four weeks. PM

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