In 2008, the Australian government joined many others around the world in launching a far-reaching economic stimulus plan designed to support jobs and restart economic growth. The Aus$42 billion ‘Nation Building – Economic Stimulus Plan’ set out to boost GDP, strengthen local infrastructure and support jobs through an ambitious plan for school building and refurbishment, social housing, highways, home insulation and power, payments and tax break help for families and the lower paid, and many other elements.
The investment in education will benefit Australians for generations to come, and spans the primary and secondary sectors. Building the Education Revolution (BER) is a Aus$16.2 billion investment that will provide world-class educational facilities through new infrastructure and refurbishments to eligible schools across the country. Under BER the government has committed to provide a new 21st century school library, multipurpose hall or classroom modernisation for every single primary school in Australia – an absolutely mammoth construction and refurbishment task. It has allocated more than Aus$14 billion in funding for almost 8,000 schools for over 10,000 projects in all. It has set an aggressive target deadline of December 2010 and set the bar extremely high for its construction contractors and consultants.
Hansen Yuncken is one of Australia’s largest privately owned construction companies, and was engaged as the Managing Contractor for the Aus$414 million BER programme in the South Western Sydney region in New South Wales. It is one of seven companies which share one of the most complex construction industry challenges ever seen in Australia. The BER programme in New South Wales has been described, in what has become a popular political catchphrase, as no less than “double the work of the Olympics, in less than half the time, at more than 100 times the sites” and the South Western Sydney area represents the largest package within the BER programme.
An immense challenge
Andrew Campbell is the Construction Manager for Hansen Yuncken and charged with the success of the company’s programme. Matt O’Grady is Program Manager and shares the challenge. They explain how they considered some of the particular challenges to be faced and which would determine the management tools that they would need.
Andrew explains that the first challenge is one of scale and complexity: “Our programme covers 309 projects at 204 schools, and although the majority is building new facilities such as new halls, libraries, classrooms and administration blocks we also have more than Aus$100 million of refurbishments to existing facilities, which applies to around one third of the programmes.”
The aim of the stimulus plan is to benefit the economy as rapidly as possible. The short timeframe for planning, construction and completion of the overall programme means that time is of the essence. Each site has to be visited, assessed and all the information captured to enable the Hansen Yuncken team to plan the siting, building and servicing of the new facility from standardised components.
The challenges of each individual project are highly unique. All work has to be planned around existing buildings and sites, which are already occupied by children from kindergarten age to year 6, forming communities of children and teachers who have their own calendar and routines.
Such a large undertaking also requires a large number of staff. The Hansen Yuncken team already numbers more than 150 and will grow to around 180. Collecting and collating project information from multiple planners and project managers is exacerbated by the wide geographic distribution of projects across the South Western Sydney area. To this would be added large numbers of sub-contractors spanning every trade, which each need to be assessed and then managed throughout the delivery of each project and work stream.
This extensive programme presents a huge information management task but an even bigger challenge is in the presentation of that information to a range of management and government stakeholders. The BER programme has clear information reporting requirements that ultimately enable the government to roll up and present progress to the citizens, in addition to the usual contractual reporting requirements for any major construction project.
Hansen Yuncken recognized that for this programme they would need to deploy stronger project management methods and tools. Andrew says: “With the magnitude of this programme we recognised that existing systems, processes and procedures would be tested and were likely to have some inadequacies. While the foundation of the well established processes and procedures were sound, the efficiency and effectiveness that well structured systems can provide would be needed.”
Choosing the right solution
To meet their needs, Hansen Yuncken required a project management solution that would enable them to build on existing processes and procedures and create an IT framework which would be intuitive for a very diverse set of users. It searched the marketplace for potential tools that would help it capture, manipulate, extract, represent and report on the various phases of the programme. Solid Support PTY Ltd had been appointed as Programme Management consultants to Hansen Yuncken and recommended that Asta Powerproject Enterprise be included in the consideration.
Matt explains: “We had not come across Asta Powerproject Enterprise before, and were assessing a couple of other tools including Primavera and MS Project. When we first saw Asta Powerproject Enterprise , it looked like a good tool straight away, which was quite exciting. We gave each company a couple of sample programmes and looked at how each system could turn these around to compare their capabilities. We chose Asta Powerproject Enterprise ultimately because it was more user-friendly compared to the other tools we were looking at, and because of how we could use it as a management tool.”
Andrew continued: “The outputs we were able to get from Asta Powerproject Enterprise were very impressive. The flexibility in being able to tailor reports in the formats we require was important, the report had to be able to be understood by all stakeholders, as well as provide the info we were obliged to supply contractually. Asta Powerproject Enterprise’s ability to help us manage the resourcing also really impressed us. We were concerned about resourcing especially around all the individual trades like plumbers, concreters and electricians because we had to assess whether each company had the capability to deliver and where they might be stretched. This was very possible with APPE.”
Managing the supply chain was a further concern. “It was important that our tool would have the ability to integrate and interface with a number of independently developed systems including Asta Powerproject, LEARNT timesheets and a GIS (Geographic Information System) without directly impacting performance of service level agreements with the various vendors. These are criteria rarely acknowledged in development projects.”
Matt finished off by saying: “The other thing that swung the vote is that Asta Powerproject Enterprise came deployed over Citrix giving us web-based access. I am able to bring it up on my computer and show the client or management the situation live. This gave it a real advantage over other systems.”
Visibility despite complexity
Asta Powerproject Enterprise has been deployed by Hansen Yuncken at head office and across its three satellite offices. It is managing project information spanning some 25,000 live tasks at any time, and was deployed over Citrix to provide web access for project management teams and site managers no matter whether they were at home, on site or in one of the Hansen Yuncken offices. The Solid Support and Asta Development team has worked with Hansen Yuncken and its consultants to create innovative reporting and information display formats which are tailored to the particular needs of this extensive programme.
Because all information is collated into a central database, APPE enables staff distributed across three sub-regions in Campbelltown, Bankstown and Liverpool to work together. There are up to 35 users inputting progress information including three regional Project Managers under each of which sits a team including Project and Site Engineers, Site Managers, Foremen, Sub-foremen, and Safety Officers. At head office there are between 10 and 15 administrators as well. At any one time there may be up to 15 people using the system and this can double during major progress meetings.
Solid Support and Asta Development worked with Hyder Consulting to provide a GIS solution to show a simple yet powerful complete snapshot view of the status of all 205 projects across the region using a traffic-light system. Matt explains “By collating information into a central database and then automatically exporting it to the GIS on a real-time basis we can get a one-page view to see how all our projects are going.” Andrew adds that “The GIS implementation is a great management tool for me to understand how programmes are travelling, which would otherwise be nigh on impossible. We can quickly focus on the red items, dive into the problems and try to resolve them instead of spending hours reviewing all programmes.”
APPE also helps Hansen Yuncken to adapt its activities to match shifting deadlines on site. Working on occupied school sites throws up a number of challenges as Andrew explained: “We not only have to consider the health, safety and security of students and teachers at all times, but a lot of the programming and planning has to be coordinated with the school. We often have to create trenches across the school sites and have to do this over holiday periods, and we must co-ordinate any power shutdown periods with schools. The general school calendar means that at times there is some work we must delay.”
Demanding reporting requirements are an inescapable feature of any government-backed programme. The company has a rigorous reporting calendar that includes two monthly reports, a weekly report and an additional fortnightly programme report, requiring a highly tailored view of information. Andrew explains “Government stakeholders are looking for information about construction starts, finishes, the number of people employed, job analysis information, information about the companies employed, figures about aboriginal participation, man-hours, occupational health & safety data and many other factors.”
This meant a need for extremely focused reporting. He continues: “We try to make the systems and tools that we use as efficient as possible, and as easy as possible to use across the team. We also make sure that we understand what the client is after, and then can ensure that we collect and work with the right information from the start instead of having to take data out of one system and put it into another. Asta Powerproject Enterprise is now providing a lot of the right data in exactly the format that the client wants it, which saves us a huge number of man hours, but also reduces the chances that it will be misinterpreted wrongly.”
Detailed and very frequent reporting needs can potentially cascade a real burden down to individual project managers, meaning that the system has to be very easy to use. Andrew explains “What’s great about it from our perspective is that we’ve been able to limit the information we need from the teams so it is manageable and easy for them to update. It’s very user-friendly and not that dissimilar in look to something like MS Project which just about everyone has some experience with, although that just would not cope on this scale.”
He continues: “We were also able to split the programmes easily into regions which allow the project managers to review just their own programmes, not have to see them all. It is really able to be a management tool and with the traffic light system we can identify issues quicker and then look into them and resolve them. APPE also helps us to see where procurement is up to. It’s simply more efficient for us.”
Matt says: “We have been able to define the information we put in to exactly that information which gives us the status update on a programme. Then we can quickly and efficiently review how they are travelling. We can wrap up the status for particular groups, sub-regions, or region. We’ve been able to get tailored reports at the click of a button for our own targets as well as the contractual programme targets. We can assess where any concerns may be and address them, which under this programme will entitle us to incentives – that is a great result.”
Easy-to-understand reporting is extremely important to Hansen Yuncken. He continues “We needed to create a methodology to report information easily for stakeholders on this program, which includes School Principals, School Education Directors, Regional Directors, through to the Department of Education & Training representatives and the Government Taskforce. It is important to us that we can present information to these stakeholders in a form that they can easily interpret. Being able to import our information from the database into a graphical interface with clear milestones and simple symbols that people can understand (like R for roof!) meant that people could understand at a glance how the programme was travelling. We did some smart work with the team here from Solid Support and Asta Development to take it in the direction we needed.”
Asta Powerproject Enterprise has helped Hansen Yuncken to establish the project management framework and central information management that is perfectly fit for the purpose of this complex programme. It is helping ensure programme efficiency through better planning and resource management, adaptation to changing site demands and constraints, and effective reporting that is tailored to the needs and understanding of its recipients. The company has a complete, real-time view of its programme progress that gives it the actionable management information it needs, and its users find the system easy and intuitive to use. An excellent working relationship has been established between Hansen Yuncken, its consultants and Asta Development which is driving innovation and the development of new best practices for large, complex and geographically diverse construction projects.
Hansen Yuncken has already been responsible for 25 percent of the goals achieved across the entire New South Wales schools programme to date. It is able to identify direct time savings at management level from the easy output of information and at site level from the ease of use. Matt says: “The way we set it up on site takes them only maybe 15 minutes per week each to update. This gives us all the information we need to continually assess their projects and the programme. It is as efficient as you could run any programme of works like this. The way this system is set up and reports we can produce from the information gathered is brilliant, and does exactly the job we need.”
Summing up, Andrew says: “By bringing together consultant resources from across the industry and the world, Hansen Yuncken has not only been able to envisage unique ways of presenting programme information to our clients, but to implement these ideas within an incredibly short time frame. With the help of Asta Powerproject Enterprise we are definitely monitoring the project better than we would have been able to otherwise. We have found it to be user-friendly, dynamic, and able to present outputs that help to distinguish Hansen Yuncken from its competitors.”