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Q&A: Greater than the sum of its parts—insights into successful programme planning

August 19, 2021

The successful delivery of the Milford Sound Project masterplan required carefully navigating multiple stakeholders to arrive at a shared outcome

What makes a project programme succeed? How do you achieve a shared outcome with multiple and diverse contributors?

The recent release of the Milford Opportunities Project masterplan is the culmination of four years of work by the Milford Opportunities Project governance group and their masterplan consultant team. The masterplan offers bold and challenging solutions to address overcrowded, disconnected tourism and environmental concerns at Milford Sound Piopiotahi. 

As lead consultant for the masterplan process, Stantec's Russell Halliday was programme manager for the project and acted as the key liaison between the consultant and governance groups.

In the second part of our Q&A series on this transformative project, we asked Russell to elaborate on the best practices and key takeaways he gathered in helping to deliver such an iconic, challenging, and impactful programme.

The Milford Opportunities Project masterplan has now been released. Stantec was lead consultant for the masterplan consultant group and you were the programme manager.  Where do you start pulling together the programme for such an iconic and challenging project?

Understanding the programme's true essence and delivery needs must be determined upfront. With clear and intentional goals set, an honest evaluation of the skills required—including personality and attitude—is necessary to ensure everyone fits into the team. Connections matter. People need to be chosen not just for their skills but also to determine how everyone connects as a whole. How these connections piece together is equally as meaningful as having the right skills in place.

The masterplan was the culmination of a diverse consultant group joining forces to produce unique and inventive solutions to reimagine tourism in Milford Sound Piopiotahi, Te Anau, and the wider Southland Murihiku area. As programme manager and key liaison between the consultant and governance groups, how did you identify, distil, and agree on what would form the masterplan?

Identifying, distilling, and agreeing on what would form the masterplan necessitated clear communication with the client. For this project, the client wasn't just one person from one agency; multiple voices came from different directions with varying levels of similarity or difference in expectation. It was essential to be intentional and authentic in our support of mana whenua to acknowledge the principles and obligations of Te Tiriti o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi. Working in this way meant we walked together through the process rather than simply seeking client approval at the completion. Understanding, filtering, and distilling common and connectable ideas from all parties was key while identifying any potential gaps and process issues.

Connections matter. People need to be chosen not just for their skills but also to determine how everyone connects as a whole.

From a programme perspective, what were some of the biggest challenges in coordinating a large and diverse group of consultants?

Specific challenges included time and cost constraints and the difficulties of navigating COVID-19 restrictions. Equally, the group's diversity meant that everyone came with distinct abilities and specialist industry insight. Clear communication that bridged these individual industry perspectives was harnessed. However, underpinning technical expertise through a robust value structure meant everyone's best intentions resulted in a desire to land on the best possible solutions for the community and region. Delivering a successful masterplan required regularly bringing the team back to that shared value.

It’s necessary to remember that the client group was part of the solution and, therefore, part of the consultant group. This acknowledgement ensures that everyone understands the partnership philosophy throughout the process and that those connections reach a shared vision of the masterplan. Leveraging personal contacts and respecting people for their ideas, thoughts and opinions all contribute to establishing effective relationships that bring diverse people together. These connections create shared outcomes. And that is the secret sauce to successful project delivery.

Describe any unique or inventive methods or solutions you employed as part of the programme process?

When there’s a lot of information to communicate to different audiences, it’s essential that it’s easily digestible and provides the appropriate level of detail. For example, our team used a risk matrix that modelled levels of risk throughout the project process that was continuously linked to cost and time implications. With this matrix, we could assure that risks identified could be addressed as the programme developed, and residual risk was ever decreasing.

Are there any lessons you can share that will provide insight and discernment for similar programmes/projects in the future?

The programme is the glue between the parts—people, tasks, outcome. Joining people together for a common purpose with robust systems and tools to agree on task responsibility and project accountability is essential for programme planning and execution.

Russell offers this final piece of advice:

“Working with people respectfully is fundamental to any programme undertaken regardless of its components. Principally the structure of a programme looks for connections between people and tasks in order to accomplish the goal.”

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