High profile projects attract a high level of scrutiny and this major Sydney infrastructure project is no exception.
NSW is in the midst of a once-in-a-generation boom in infrastructure projects and as major projects reshape the Sydney landscape, there is an equal level of scrutiny of their progress, planned budgets, and completion dates. Despite the boom, no project has a higher profile than WestConnex as it transforms the Sydney motorway system with the aim of solving many of the city’s congestion problems.
So how well is WestConnex progressing? We decided to take a look at the information that is – and isn’t – being shared with the public and ask: Are we suitably informed on how the project is tracking to plan or is the information flow an exercise in managing the message over managing the project?
Information Flow – Is the Balance Right?
On the surface, WestConnex has hit some high points on the vehicles it has built to deliver its public information flow: Its website is extremely user friendly, it’s easy to find and download relevant information, and the explainer content, i.e. the videos showing how WestConnex will evolve look impressive.
But scratch a little deeper below the surface and it’s not hard to see an imbalance, especially between the information available on what has been achieved so far versus what is to come. While that’s not to say there isn’t information about completion dates on the website – there are – but there is virtually no corresponding detail underpinning these dates to enable interested parties to track progress from outside of the program.
The M4 East is a good case to illustrate the point. The project achievements to date track 49 different deliverables met, some in significant detail, spanning the time period November 2013 – May 2018.
This is all well and good on one level and is an excellent example of transparency. Anybody who has sat on a steering committee or been a stakeholder for a project will appreciate a retrospective view and an update on what has been achieved to date.
But the far more pressing information is what is yet to come: What are the activities still to be completed? Are they on track (in terms of time, costs an quality) and what are the critical dependencies and risks? At present the information provided for the M4 East there is a very high level completion date of 2019 with no corresponding detail of the critical activities of milestones needed to reach this end date.
Granularity vs the Bigger Picture
Clearly when reviewing the information on offer there is a significant gulf between the information reporting on the past and reporting on the future provided by WestConnex. There is a substantial level of detail and granularity provided on what has been achieved but very little on what still needs to be achieved.
There is, however, the sharing of ‘’Work notifications’’ on the website showing various activities that are currently being undertaken. The problem, however, is that these documents are quite detailed and the provision of them without an overarching project plan to track them back against lacks context and does not enable the readers to discern a critical path for the project.
If we were to take a cynical view, it would be easy to conclude that the information being shared by WestConnex is all about managing the message – focused primarily only on what is perceived as the good news– whilst providing little or no critical information on what is still to come that allows the stakeholders (in this instance the tax payers of NSW) a clear view on how the project is tracking against the plan.
Is it Really Transparent?
It is difficult to mount an argument that in the example of WestConnex there is complete transparency. In our opinion, the information provided offers only half of the story.
Furthermore it is provided in such a way that it lacks critical context, i.e. is by not providing the upcoming milestones, it is impossible to assess if any of the 49 activities claimed as complete are on time, ahead of time or in fact behind time.
Why is This Important?
Projects, particularly those that are run by government for the benefit of the whole community, should have a level of transparency that align with basic projects fundamentals and supports the right of the stakeholders to know how things are progressing.
Sharing only the ‘good news’ is not a transparent update on progress. It only invites an understandable cynicism and will ultimately reduce in the future the buy-in and support from the stakeholders and the community at large.
Context is the Key
We have no doubt that a significant amount of thought has gone into the WestConnex website and what is – and what is not – to be shared with NSW residents and the communities impacted by the changes occurring in our urban landscape.
Our view is that this focus on only really sharing details on milestones achieved without suitable context (i.e. when were they planned to be completed?) and virtually no information on what is in plan for the future is not following sound project fundamentals. It also drives heightened community concern when it’s not clear on what the local impacts will be.
In projects, it is often said that there should be no good news or bad news, just news and it needs to be shared and dealt with in a professional manner. The way the information is currently shared by WestConnex and the imbalance between the granularity of what has been achieved versus the very limited information of what is to come in our opinion fails this basic test.
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