Project planning within the energy sector (part 1 of 3)


This post is part one of a three part series looking into project planning within the energy sector.  Part one gives an intro to the topic and outlines a bit of my background, and why project planning is important.  Part two looks at procurement within the public sector (South Africa’s public sector for the most part), and some of the challenges that exist.  Part three looks at project planning within the private sector, and what some of the key things to consider are when entering into a project as a consultant.

Why am I writing all of this?  A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed as part of the Engineers Without Borders Australia’s Leadership Rewired course.  The focus was on project planning, within the engineering sector in general, but my input naturally leaned towards energy projects.  Some of the questions that came out were interesting, and made me stop to consider some of the projects that I had worked on, some of the challenges I had experienced and what some of the main lessons were that I could share.  So these posts provide a little taster of some of what we discussed, and some of my thoughts.

Quick snippet on my background

It’s probably best to start with a little bit of context so you know where this is coming from.  Most of the projects I’ve worked on in energy have been while I was at either the City of Cape Town’s Energy and Climate Change unit, or within Arup’s energy consulting team, also in Cape Town.  In both positions I was employed as an engineer, although the focus of my roles at both were incredibly varied.  Before this, in London, I worked as a management accountant, while completing my CIMA studies.  So I have worked within roles that have had me doing operational based work (same type of tasks month-on-month) and roles that focus almost entirely on projects.

Projects win.  Hands down.

They provide interesting learning opportunities, introduce you to new people, and are constantly changing and challenging you.  I then completed my Project Management Professional certification.  It’s really a fancy piece of paper which says you have enough experience to merit having a fancy piece of paper, but it does give you a solid grounding in project management principles.

Why is project planning important?

If you’re at all familiar with the PMP course content, you’ll know that the vast majority of the information to be digested and regurgitated relates to the planning phase of a project.  So much goes into project planning.  And the more effort that’s put into defining the project properly upfront, the easier the actual implementation and control of the project are.

During project planning you’re developing the project scope of works, the schedule, the estimated project cost, and the project plans (communication, HR, quality, procurement).  You’re identifying key project stakeholders and identifying and assessing project risks.

Once the project is underway, you are monitoring the project’s execution against the schedules, specifications, budgets and plans developed during project planning.

There are naturally many types of project planning and execution methodologies out there.  My experience is largely with fixed price contracts, where the development of the scope is incredibly important, and there is a lot of value gained from solid and extensive upfront planning.  Other projects, which allow contractors to invoice on a time basis may need less planning work upfront, as a portion of the project work may be the development of the project objectives.  Or the project goals and deliverables may unfold, in stages, as the project progresses.

However, project planning doesn’t just happen at the beginning and then never happen again.  If a project is carried out in stages, each stage merits its own planning phase.  What are we looking to do here?  How are we going to do it?  Who is involved?  When does it need to be done by?  How much will it cost?  How will we know if we are shanking it?

Not asking these questions can lead a team down a winding path to nowhere.  Or rather, a winding path to Expensiveville.  Or its neighbour, Overduetown.