Project Management and Resourcing

So the client has requested you nominate your proposed project team for a critical bid. And despite already being noted on three other tenders in the last fortnight, as well as managing an ongoing project, your best Project Manager's name makes the org chart once again. Nominating your A Team again to impress the judges! Fingers crossed, that's when you win the job you can either find another Bob Smith, or maybe the client won't be too disappointed when you substitute in John Citizen...But wouldn't you be slightly miffed if a contractor started making excuses on day one? Would you feel like the relationship was getting off to a rocky start?

This isn't a new trend. As contractors, we've all been guilty of a little staffing sleight of hand. But the process can do a lot more harm than good. I bring up this topic based on a number of alarming observations recently while browsing through LinkedIn and other industry and recruitment forums. While we generally try to avoid interaction with the majority of recruiters and head hunters, there are a few we include in our circles as acquaintances and friends. At RedAnt we've noticed in the past few months a number of recruitment posts and job ads seeking to fill critical project roles for projects recently won, with shovels ready to be sunk.

And my question is; how are contractors winning work without the available capacity to deliver it?

Is this smart, responsible or sustainable?

There may obviously be a few things at play here which I'd like to dig a little deeper into. But first, I think it's important not to understate the Client's expectations in this situation.

Take off your hardhat for a moment and put yourself in the client's position. Any time you're bidding for work, this should be the first thing you do anyway. What is the client trying to achieve with the project? Based on all the available information (tender documents, project briefings, conversations with the client etc), what is the client telling you, explicity or implicitly, is important to them? Are there weighted selection criteria that will apply when assessing your bid?

Now imagine you've walked into a car dealership to buy a new work ute. The salesperson tells you, "no problems, we'll have a fully spec'd, top of the range 4wd in your driveway in three days".

How are you going to feel when they call two days later apologising as they can now only offer you a Daihatsu Charade?

Are contractors being deliberately deceptive to win work, just hoping that everything will work out in the end? Well no, not exactly.

Based on our experience, the simplest explanation isn't necessarily the best explanation in this instance. There are a number of factors at play that are contributing to this effect:

  • In extremely active and buoyant markets, Clients are releasing significant volumes of work to tender concurrently. This is particularly evident with RMS in New South Wales at the moment, and previously with disaster recovery works in Queensland. Not only does this place a strain on the workforce, but it also disincentivises innovation and competition.

  • Contractors are making the most of the good times, but ignoring the important principles of long term business sustainability. With so many opportunities in some regions, many Contractors are targeting unsustainable growth and profits, without a parachute plan for when markets return to normal conditions. Sadly, despite the well publicised collapse of a number of respected resources dependent companies recently, there are still a number of contractors reluctant to plan, diversify and grow responsibly.

  • The industry is still suffering from a skills shortage and hasn't taken serious steps towards retention, training and development of staff into key roles. This is a whole other post that I won't get jnto here...

  • Expectations and standards of project delivery and metrics for determining project success have increased over time. Consider the changes over the years in the minimum safety standards we apply on our projects, and the changing expectations of our Clients and workforce as an example. While this has been an overwhelmingly positive change, it has come at a cost and requires a significantly greater effort to implement. This is now the same for commercial management (nastier, riskier contracts), environmental management (when was the last greenfields project you worked on?), and engineering input (with projects being rushed to market at all stages of design development).

So this leaves us with the question, "what can we do if this isn't the right way?" For some, the answer will be, "not a lot".

For those willing to put in the effort, it requires a whole of business approach to planning resource utilisation. It means having a project development process that identifies project opportunities well in advance, integrating with project delivery and aligning with your overall business goals. It's not impossible, but it's bloody hard work.'

Maybe the answer is entirely out of the Contractors hands, with responsibility for smart workforce engagement resting with Clients. Maybe Clients should understand the implication of their procurement processes and the impact their purchasing patterns have on their local (and not so local) markets. Unfortunately, when government is involved, these purchasing patterns are inextricably linked to budget funding, which as we all know sometimes is unduly influenced by what I like to call 'poplitics' (no, I'm not expecting that newspeak for popular politics to catch on!)...

But then again, maybe the simplest explanation IS the right one. Is this just another case of unscrupulous recruiters scraping together lists of candidates for roles that don't really exist? A glorified expression of interest of sorts? Whatever the reason, it's not something I expect to find a solution for anytime soon, and I sympathize with all our contractor friends (and those clients having to make their choices on project teams they've seen nominated on multiple bids!).

Everyone deserves to have an A Team!