Project Management and Maintenance Services are meant to enhance the liveability of the city for all Edmontonians by supporting the delivery of capital projects by managing design and construction of buildings, facilities, attractions, parks and open spaces, maintaining the existing assets, and stewarding corporate project management knowledge and processes.
Unfortunately, there is a perception that all capital projects are behind schedule and over budget. I can understand why that perception exists. It’s not common to see a story on a project that came in on schedule and budget. There was no story when the alley renewal work was completed on time and on budget in Belmead and La Perle. There was no story when the majority of our reconstructed transit centres, including Meadowlark, opened on time and on budget. There is no story that the EPS West Division Rehabilitation is finishing on schedule and coming in $2 million under budget. These are just a few examples of the capital projects that have come in on or ahead of schedule and on or under budget.
During the 2015-2018 Capital Budget, the City of Edmonton has finished with over 80% of our significant capital projects on or ahead of schedule and over 95% of our capital projects on or under budget. For reference, a significant capital project would include any project over $20 million in value along with a select number of projects that fall below that threshold but would be considered significant to the community (ex: Neighbourhood Renewal).
Seeing important projects stay on time and on budget is an important issue for many residents. While the results in the above paragraph are encouraging, it’s not well known what has changed since 2015 as there were a number of issues on three significant capital projects (Groat Road Bridge, Walterdale Bridge, and the Metro Line). There were some audits completed in 2015 which provided some clear recommendations on changes that needed to be made. As project management is an ongoing conversation, I think it is important to look back on these changes to see how the City is following through on them and how to work toward greater efficiencies within the project management system of our city.
Staffing changes: Many people heard about the change the City Council made with regards to the City Manager in September 2015. What didn’t receive a lot of attention in the August 2015 Audit Committee meeting was when the former General Manager (GM) of Transportation, who started with the City in September 2013, told the Audit Committee 70% of the personnel in leadership positions within the Transportation Department have changed. This was the department that had the majority of issues with some fairly high profile projects. I have heard from people over the last few years that no one was ever held accountable for some of those issues. This shows that people were in fact held accountable but there wasn’t any coverage about the other staffing changes.
Process changes: Using existing staffing resources, The City of Edmonton reorganized project management into one single department, known as Integrated Infrastructure Services. Prior to this, each department responsible for their own project management which meant there was not a set standard for project management. Some of you may remember that a few decades ago, the City used to have a Chief Engineer. They would ensure that no matter what was being built, that there were consistent standards in place to manage each project. The Integrated Infrastructure Services Department is a modern day equivalent of that, helping to provide more consistent oversight to our capital projects.
Corporate Restructuring: The Integrated Infrastructure Department was announced back in October 2015. Specifically the department signifies a fundamental shift in how the City will develop and deliver capital projects. Aligned with the broader corporate organizational restructuring, the creation of Infrastructure Services integrates concept, design and build functions for all types of infrastructure, including facilities, open spaces, transportation, and utilities, which were previously managed in separate departments. Prior to the creation of the Integrated Infrastructure Services Department, a number of staffing, process and reporting changes had already been implemented as mentioned. If you combine those changes with the work being done by the new department, this new approach enables Council to monitor projects more effectively, improve communication between departments and Council, and provide better information to residents of Edmonton on the progress of our crucial capital projects.
Reporting changes: The results of the audit showed that changes weren’t only required by our City Administration. There was a need to change the reporting to City Council in order to provide the necessary oversight. Prior to mid-2015, far too much of the critical reporting was verbal and therefore it wasn’t always making it to the previous General Manager of Transportation, let alone the City Manager or City Council. We made a change so that we would have quarterly updates on all capital projects that are $20 million and more, along with a few critical projects that fall below that $20 million mark. This reporting is public and it allows Council to ask questions about these projects because while we don’t want to be micromanaging our City Administration, we do want to provide the necessary oversight that I believe Edmontonians expect we should be providing. If you want to see the status of various projects, you can visit the Building Edmonton website and take a closer look at any project that interests you.
Project Approval Process: There are multiple phases of a project: Preliminary Design, Detailed Design, Construction. While there are additional steps that occur other than those three, those are the main checkpoints. In the past, City Council would approve the project schedule and budget after the preliminary design. To put that in perspective, imagine if someone was going to renovate their basement in an older home. While they might get a preliminary quote after a contractor takes a look around, ideally they wouldn’t want to finalize their budget or schedule until they take a look behind the walls because maybe there is a crack in the foundation that needs repairing.
To be confident in a project’s schedule and budget, it makes far more sense to complete that detailed design work before approved the construction schedule and budget. That change took effect for this four year Capital Budget cycle (2019-2022).
Current Performance: The purpose of these changes is to minimize the opportunity for mistakes to be made and if they are made, to ensure everyone, including the public, is made well aware of any issues and what is being done to resolve them. I wish I could say there would never be a project that falls behind schedule or goes over budget but that is an impossible thing to guarantee. What I feel confident in is that all of these changes provide us with the best opportunity to see each capital project succeed. In our most recent capital projects report (September 30th), we separated our legacy projects (those from our 2015-18 budget cycle) and our current projects (2019-22 budget cycle) which fully incorporated all the changes listed above. What we are seeing so far is very encouraging.
As noted above, a new PDDM (Project Development and Delivery Model) was implemented and currently, PDDM projects within composites are in early stages and 99.1% of the projects, weighted by approved budget, are projecting to be within an acceptable tolerance for budget, and 99.0% for schedule.There are 13 significant standalone capital profiles, out of the 50 being reported on, that are being delivered under PDDM. Of these 13, all are reporting within an acceptable tolerance for budget and 12 are within acceptable tolerance for schedule.
These shifts in our project management process work towards the goal of inspiring the trust of Edmontonians and City Council in the delivery of capital infrastructure projects. There has been a focus on improvements in transparent communication with City Council, the management of strategic risks, and enhancing relationships with industry partners. I will continue to provide updates on a regular basis so that you can be aware of the status of our capital projects. Thanks for taking the time to review this information and if you have any questions or feedback, please share that in the comments below.
Written by R. Maggay, K. Machin, A. Knack