Amazon, Apple, Google and others have recently announced huge developments and investments for their new headquarters. However, with such huge requirements in terms of land, materials, and technology, it’s often staggering to comprehend just how these projects come to fruition and how we, as project managers, can even start overseeing such huge scale schemes. How important is it to take into consideration technological solutions from the beginning, what are the benefits and what can you achieve?
Firstly, let’s focus on the challenges.
Essentially, within mega structures and developments, there will be many more workstreams involved compared to a normal project. Mega structures will follow a stage/phased approach, similar to what is used in a smaller scheme (the brief, design, procurement, construction and handover phases) however on a larger site, there will be multiple projects, stacked or nested with interdependencies; this will add further complexity to the process. All projects are based on a phased approach with tollgates, decision and approval points, so actions need to be completed before the developments can pass through to the next stage. However, with multiple projects, these phases overlap and are co-dependent.
Mega HQs can be developed as campuses with multiple buildings in a single site, such as Microsoft, in Thames Valley Park, Reading, or multiple buildings in close proximity in an urban environment, like Google, in Kings Cross, London. The multi-site and project nature of mega HQs also drives the need for master planning, architecturally and from a programme perspective. Campus HQs for instance are most effectively designed when the whole site is considered holistically. For example, catering facilities can drive occupant traffic around the estate, however, there will be optimum travel distances before people will become frustrated. Therefore, the catering design needs to be considered across all areas and buildings on the campus, not just individually.
In addition, new build mega HQs can present challenges as the structure and building envelope will be designed on a workplace scheme that may become out of date by the time the building is delivered. Therefore, it is essential for the project manager to recheck the strategic brief, occupancy details and emerging workplace best practice, to ensure that a mega HQ will be fit for purpose . Elements which need to be continuously revisited could include assessing whether the agile working and flexible workspace requirements are evolving alongside the business’ objectives.
Furthermore, one of the key issues that you tend to get in a much larger scheme is that there are many more stakeholders involved, each with diverging requirements for the building and ranging opinions on what should and shouldn’t be done. This part of the process can ultimately cause re-works, delays and issues, which is where the project manager needs to ‘step in’ and streamline the decision making process.
Lastly, with mega HQs or indeed just general projects on this scale, there will be far greater team resource requirements. However, with a larger group of people working on a scheme, there will also undoubtedly be issues, such as longer decision making and sign off processes due to the multiple communication lines involved; difficulties for team members to access the latest information due to different individuals working on various sub-projects and the unreliability of colleagues to input their data onto an accessible data system. These problems are all underpinned with a contract process that needs to be strictly followed. Which leads me on to the solutions – how can these be obstacles be resolved to ensure that the project stays on track and the end result is delivered in line with the strategic brief?
Project intranet sites and systems such as Sharepoint (a web-based collaborative document management and storage platform that integrates with Microsoft Office) are particularly useful for ensuring transparency across projects and make it easier to manage the process. In addition, bespoke workflow software helps all parties concerned keep track of critical activities, as it is essential to ensure the project is delivered on time.
From a design perspective, BIM (Building Information Modelling), an intelligent 3D model-based process that provides architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals the insight and tools to more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure, is useful to helping minimise waste and avoid re-work during the project.
Project Management Offices (PMO) can also be invaluable as they drive consistency in approach across multiple projects; support the agreed governance in terms of approvals, communication plan and stakeholder engagement; track and proactively manage actions, issues and risks and they also co-ordinate the programme in question, managing its critical path.
To conclude, many of the tools and techniques that are commonly used for the development of mega HQs can remove risk and optimise the outcome for every size of project. Stakeholder management, having a clear governance and decision making framework and a well-executed value and risk management process are all aspects which should be deployed by project management teams to mitigate difficulties along the way. This will ensure that the client is engaged throughout the process and guarantee the successful final delivery of the development.