The views expressed in this article are strictly those of Max Wideman.
The contents of the book under review are the copyright property of the author.
Published here December 2016

Introduction | Book Structure | What We Liked — The Humor
What We Liked — The Serious Stuff | Conclusion

What We Liked — The Serious Stuff

At this point in our review we normally discuss the "Downside" of the book. However, this book is essentially about "Lessons learned", and not just that, but also how to expect them, what their impacts on Mega-Projects look like, and what you can do to avoid the same mistakes. Who can find fault with that?

So, let's get back to the serious stuff.

As the title of the book states, it is all about procurement. On smaller projects, the issue of project management procurement tends to take a lesser role, or even no role at all. On Mega-Projects, however, it is evident that "procurement" is the project and, as such, requires the complete and detailed attention that project management can offer. Of the many "good advices" that we flagged as we read the book, here follows a sampling picked more or less at random.

"[The contract] People seem happy to accept that there will be significant design and development required for a fleet of trains, or a bridge, or whatever the underlying project is, but somehow expect that a contract will miraculously spring into being fully formed. The truth is, contracts also need a design and development phase, which requires just as much thought as the design and development of the underlying project. There is also a tendency to think that since the final detail of the contract will have to be negotiated with the selected tenderer, it does not matter if the contract issued with the Request for Tenders is an early draft. It matters a lot. You won't enter the delivery phase with a litigation-proof contract if you don't enter the procurement phase with one."[14]

"[Specification Interfaces] Collaboration is a beautiful thing, but not always easy to achieve. Every interface between Government and the contractor is a potential dispute. If you can ring-fence the project away from the Agency's day-to-day operations, you eliminate the risk of Agency people in the delivery phase treating day-to-day operations as more important than the project, without regard for the impact on the contractor."[15]

"[Agency Contributors] When you want people in other department to do things for you, you need to agree the scope of work with them in writing and also to provide them with sufficient context to understand the interdependencies. If a project manager delivering enabling works has no idea that delay to these works could cause the Government to be liable in damages to your contractor, you have no grounds for complaint if the works are rescheduled at someone else's convenience."[16]

"[Boilerplate Clauses] Contracts generally contain a lot of clauses that pop out of the lawyer' precedent bank and are slotted into every contract they produce in virtually identical terms. These clauses are known as 'boilerplate' and many clients don't bother to read them. Sometimes even the lawyers don't bother to read them. This is a mistake. The issue is not about proofreading. ... The issue is, as always, that the standard form of anything is never entirely appropriate for a mega-project."[17]

"[Technical Advisers and Contract variations] When you are preparing to set up the contract, technical help is primarily required with the specifications: working out what you need to ask for; how to ask for it in a way that means tenderers will understand and give it to you; and whether the bid submissions match the requirements of the specification. It is absolutely critical to get this right. Contract variations put up costs, delay delivery and diminish accountability, yet they usually result from things people could have sorted out when the specification was drafted, if only they had made the effort."[18]

"[Governance] Project governance is about keeping a project under control (or at least noticing when it isn't). Evaluation governance is about rendering the tendering process bulletproof, which involves keeping a clear distinction between evaluation and decision-making. A separate Evaluation Committee, normally chaired by you, produces an evaluation report, which must then go to the decision makers. ... The committees will be under the impression that they are there to see you do your job properly. This is true, but from your point of view it is more important that they do their job properly. ... Where physical works are being undertaken as a part of the project, include photographs in reports as evidence of progress and as a way to make reports more interesting. ... Avoid dull. If you really can't find anything interesting to put up for discussion, at least provide party pies so committee members do not feel that their time has been entirely wasted."[19]

In this review we have not tackled Part IV — The Procurement Process, which is, after all, at the heart of the book's coverage. This part is every bit as informative and entertaining as the previous sections we have commented on. After all:

"[Fair Process] Fairness is not enough. You want to procure a successful project. When you follow a fair process, and have evidence of your virtue in this regard, you are most unlikely to end up in court defending the award of contract. [But] that will be small comfort if you have awarded an undeliverable contract to a high priced incompetent. … You have some more work to do."[20]

Buy the book to find out what.

What We Liked - The Humor  What We Liked — The Humor

14. Ibid, p5
15. Ibid, p39
16. Ibid, p110
17. Ibid, p75
18. Ibid, p141
19. Ibid, pp154, 158, 159
20. Ibid, p184-185
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