Project Management Institute

The Right Moves: Tom Bourgeois

Shell International Exploration & Production, The Hague, Netherlands

Tom Bourgeois, Shell International Exploration & Production, The Hague, Netherlands



In the world of oil exploration, one failed project can cost billions. As new reserves become increasingly elusive, global oil, gas and petrochemical giant Royal Dutch Shell has to focus on the most promising projects. Tom Bourgeois, chief project engineer for Shell International Exploration & Production, says the company's rigorous project management methods allow it to not only “do the right project” but “do the project right.”

How does project management contribute to Royal Dutch Shell's long-term success?

The challenges of access to opportunities, larger projects and more complex projects drive the business imperative for a strong project management system and cadre of professional staff. In our project portfolio we have identified the key projects that will add most value and hence are tackled with priority. It is essential that these are executed properly, applying top project management principles.

Strong project management won't necessarily mean there are no issues to manage, but it does give a project manager an earlier warning.

What value do strong project management methods bring to the company?

All projects face risks that need to be managed, and that's the key role of the project manager. In the past, smaller projects might have been handled pretty casually because they could often be forced back into shape if something goes wrong. However, the larger projects are not forgiving and can get off track, causing unwanted surprises. The larger projects demand a solid plan that is achievable, solid tracking so you get early warning, a good imagination of what can go wrong and how you can mitigate it, and, if that doesn't work, what the backup plan is.

Plus, you need enough experience to know which of the hundreds of risks a person could worry about deserve attention and resources to manage. Strong project management won't necessarily mean there are no issues to manage, but it does give a project manager an earlier warning so contingency plans are more likely to mitigate the issues. You want the systems in place for early warning because brute force doesn't work to shift projects back on track.

Are project management methods systematically applied across the organization?

Shell Exploration and Production has a standardized approach to developing and executing projects. But, given the variety of locations and complexity of development options, it calls for some flexibility in the approach to each project.

How do you develop the project management skills of your team?

Whether on small or large projects, the systems and approaches are similar. The staff members develop leadership skills and processes and use those skills on the smaller projects so they have the ability to grow into handling the larger projects.

All project staff members are enrolled in the Shell Project Academy, which allows us to teach both the basic project management skills and higher-level skills to the entire community. PM

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