Most transit and metropolitan planning agencies are tasked with the monumental goal of developing, shaping, scoping, progressing and sponsoring projects. This ranges from the early planning stages through design, procurement, funding and financing, implementation and, ultimately, to operation and maintenance. Given the long lead times, the complexity of the projects and the outreach and permitting processes, this is rarely a straightforward path, so what can be done to keep projects moving forward through inevitable transitions?
The challenges can often be exacerbated by the changing skill sets needed through the different phases of this life cycle, resulting in changes to project personnel both internal to the agency and from supporting consultants, not to mention the wider political and economic environment. As the team changes, the original project objective, desired outcomes and rationale behind decision-making can often be lost.
Further, major projects are complex and involve the integration of many different disciplines with associated dependencies. This often adds to the communication challenges of setting out a clear and compelling story of what the project is about, and why the project is what it is, in order to deliver all the benefits and outcomes.
These issues can often result in material changes to the project (and its outcomes) without an understanding of the previous work and decision-making that resulted in the original proposal or design. It can also result in unintended effects on other projects and investments further impacting the design, leading to rework, increased cost, and potentially, a failure to deliver the original desired outcome or purpose. It can, ultimately, lead to an increased level of effort to understand and return to the original proposal. All of which can negatively impact budget, schedule or, worse, public, stakeholder and funder buy-in.
There is also immense pressure on agency project managers to ensure that there is cohesion between their consultants, across their organizations, and often with wider stakeholders. In short, project integration is not simple or a task to be undertaken lightly. However, its success can help push projects forward.
At Steer, we help our clients manage these project transitions by focusing on the underpinning rationale for the project and rigorous analysis to test and confirm the (changing) project’s ability to deliver the wider policy objectives through the project outcomes.
Steer has been working for more than a decade in the Canadian rapid transit market to help agencies identify and develop their major projects to successful outcomes. Many of these assignments have started as planning projects but, with our experience across the full project development life cycle, have resulted in the team being retained to support our clients move the projects forward through to procurement and, ultimately, implementation.
Our long-running involvement not only provides our clients with a full multidisciplinary perspective on the project’s objectives, risks, benefits and opportunities, but also helps agencies maintain the institutional and historical knowledge of the projects as client staff may change or projects move between departments. Our more recent project experience includes:
• working with TransLink in Vancouver to transition Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT from planning to procurement;
• supporting Metrolinx and the local cities develop both the Hamilton and Hurontario LRT projects (both currently in procurement);
• helping the City of Edmonton to develop their long-range LRT network plan; and
• acting as a Project Sponsor for Metrolinx in Toronto.
Introducing Project Sponsorship roles is one key way of ensuring that the original goals are realized in the final phase of the project. This validates the need to have more continuity throughout projects and has resonated with several of our clients, including Sound Transit in Seattle. Peter Rogoff, CEO of Sound Transit, recently presented at our Movement Matters session in Toronto, noting that the agency has changed the way they develop projects to enhance communication and collaboration through the project life cycle. They include planning, engineering, construction and operator staff as participating project team members during all project phases, ensuring that these perspectives are a continuous thread even during transitions.
By Laura Sidi