Interviews

Working Against the Clock…

Speaking following the full and on-time completion of Majid al Futtaim’s Mirdif City Centre development in Dubai, Mace Group project director Mark Kennedy says a hands-on approach is essential to delivering bang on schedule. Mirdif City Centre (MC ) opened to its March 16, 2010 deadline set two years ago, was that difficult to achieve? […]

Speaking following the full and on-time completion of Majid al Futtaim’s Mirdif City Centre development in Dubai, Mace Group project director Mark Kennedy says a hands-on approach is essential to delivering bang on schedule.

Mirdif City Centre (MC ) opened to its March 16, 2010 deadline set two years ago, was that difficult to achieve?

It is very important for retail projects to fix a completion date that ties in with the retailers trading seasons.

Retailers need to be able to plan ahead to open stores, once their plan is in place and stocks are ordered it can be very disruptive and sometimes costly to a retailer’s business to change an opening date.

We also need to remember each unit within a mall has its own construction fit-out project to plan and execute in parallel with the main mall works. It is important for the project manger to understand the retailers’ needs as well as the retailers’ customer needs when developing and delivering a mall.

Does publicly announcing a specific opening date increase pressure on construction teams?

Once announced, a mall opening date is immovable. So, on one hand you could say the pressure is increased, but on the other fixing a project end date also fixes the critical path for decision making and accommodating change, which assists in driving a project forward.

Fixing a date gives everyone involved from delivery to sales and marketing a fixed target from which to plan. As project managers, we consider fixed dates (so long as they are realistic) as positive pressure not negative.

When setting a works schedule, what time factors and potential for delays must be considered?

Part of Maces role is to provide timelines for design, procurement, construction and fit-out phases.

Almost all projects are unique and dynamic; it would therefore be foolish not to understand the potential risks and have float and redundancy built into the programme in order to accommodate them. Having said that, from time to time issues will arise that have the potential to significantly impact a project completion plan.

We capture these early in our risk register, so all stakeholders are aware of the potential risks and mitigation measures early. In cases where risks do materialize and become reality, clear and quick communication is called for.

Getting the issues across to the key stakeholders and decision makers and offering viable options to eliminate the risk is essential to the ultimate success of a project.

What are the consequences of delays?

On retail projects such as MCC, it is very important to deliver on time. Failure to do so means retail partners and — for a time — your customer (the shopper) lose confidence in the product.

However, time is not always the key driver on all projects. Sometimes a client may be happy to take more time on a project to increase or ensure quality. On other projects, cost or cash flow may also be a driving factor in the success criteria.

As project managers, we need to establish early with clients what their key success criteria is. If time is a key driver then, yes of course, it is very important to ensure you meet the clients’ expectations.

MCC was launched just before the onset of the global economic downturn, what challenges did this cause?

Obviously the economic downturn had a significant impact on funding within the market and cash flow for the supply chain. The impact on MCC was minimal (almost nonexistent) as we have a very strong client in Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) and cash flow has never been a risk or issue. In addition, we have a strong team of designers, cost consultants and project managers.

The project was 100% complete on opening, was this a specific requirement of the client?

The mall is fully open to the public and 85% of leased tenancies traded on day one. The project being complete upon opening was one of MAF’s key success criteria and set a new benchmark for shopping mall openings in the MENA region. Of course there were challenges along the way, but we never planned for a phased opening.

What sustainable aspects have been incorporated into the mall development?

MCC will achieve LEED Gold status, which we believe to be a first for a mall in MENA. The team had to work hard to achieve a Gold standard.

In years to come, innovation in technology and a more established- and informed supply chain will make this far easier to achieve. By then I suspect leading clients like MAF will have raised the bar even higher.

As project manager, what initial steps do you take when taking on a project such as Mirdif City Centre to ensure a smooth and efficient delivery?

Firstly we need to understand the client’s needs, establish the brief and our client’s key success criteria.

Secondly we develop the time line, critical path and key milestones, and decision-making points. Thirdly we look at the project risks and establish mechanisms for eliminating them or reducing them to acceptable levels.

Once we have the above in place we establish a design, procurement and delivery strategy for achieving the above criteria. From then on it’s about employing the right people (consultants, contractors and suppliers).

For all successful projects it’s about knowing what a client wants and needs, having the experience to know how to deliver that and having the right people on board with the right skills and experience to deliver it.

What are your ongoing responsibilities throughout a project?

Mace is responsible for the management of the whole process, procurement of consultants and ongoing coordination of the design process. We are also responsible for procuring contractors and suppliers and monitoring delivery progress. We manage the continual elimination and mitigation of risk and provide real-time reporting on time, cost and quality, as well as assisting the client in dealing with and facilitating changes in requirements.

What is your relationship with engineers, consultants and clients?

We have excellent relationships with all of the consultants appointed for the MCC development, which have been built up over many years. We all co-locate in the same project office, which helps to achieve the team approach and facilitates easy communication, which is necessary for successful delivery.

Good relationships between parties within the team are key to a project’s success and we work hard to ensure everyone is pulling together in the same direction. Negative conflict needs to be dealt with swiftly.

How has the project manager role changed over the years?

Many top clients are now looking for a more hands-on approach from their project manager. Plus, good qualifications will not suffice; industry experience is key with a wide skill base from planning to cost- and value management, logistic and construction methodology, and an ability to challenge product and material choices.

Years ago, the project manager could have been a fairly aloof and elusive figure at the face of the project, but now clients are expecting the project manger to be deeply involved in all aspects of the project and leading from the front.

To sum up, what are the key factors for timely and successful project delivery?

Firstly, to employ an experienced project manger right at the beginning of a project.

Good project managers with relevant industry experience can add real value to projects in the initial stages. Very often we [project managers] are brought in too late to get the best results without impacting on already fixed or preconceived timeframes and budgets.

Secondly, for those clients that have large portfolios and a number of developments on their books; to ensure they embrace partnerships with consultants as well as the supply chain will — over time — deliver excellent results for a client.

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