How can organizations plan large projects in the face of change?
Earlier this week The Bulldog asked if Ottawa’s light-rail project was obsolete. That’s fair because we see the combination of rapidly evolving alternative technological solutions. Ottawa is not alone in this quandary.
Manufacturers must take into account new technologies and competitors as they develop plans for factories. Retailers and the owners of malls need to factor in the evolving e-commerce space, and distribution models. Large capital projects take time to plan, construct and be paid for all while the underlying assumptions behind the project are subjected to forces beyond the control, or even imaginations, of those who are responsible for it.
Between the already-present shift to telecommuting and the somewhat imminent self-driving vehicle, the number of people who need to commute will change. In the meantime, Ottawa has committed $2.1 billion of municipal funds on a short-line LRT, the utility of which will only be achieved (if at all) once the LRT extends to the outer edges of the suburbs. Phase 2 of the LRT doesn’t reach the outer edges of any of Ottawa’s distant suburbs.
Mayor Jim Watson touting Phase 2 of Ottawa’s light-rail plan.
At best it touches the inner edge of Orleans, and that won’t be until 2023 or 2024 or, well they really don’t know because the city has extended the bid deadline due to the complexity of the RFP. The city dares not speak of when Phase 3 will reach Barrhaven or Kanata.
By the time Phase 3 is implemented, the total cost of the LRT will be measured in the 10s of billions of dollars, with the city of Ottawa’s share being in the $10-billion range. The old Texan adage of “it isn’t much if you say it fast” comes to mind.
Let’s focus on some of the inherent problems that are under the city’s influence.
First start by articulating a vision. It could be “the LRT will move a large number of people a long distance in less time than the current alternatives.”
The city has no LRT vision. Instead, we have heard Mayor Jim Watson repeat that Phase 1 is on time, on budget and how iron-clad the contract is regarding cost overruns. Instead from the vision, the city could plan how the result looks.
Second, execution matters. The longer it takes to execute, the more the organization is exposed to changing conditions and delays in generating revenue. The speed of execution of the LRT project has been abysmal.
Building the LRT in small increments is politically expedient for a mayor who appears to consider that most important. By building the LRT as a series of short lines, the city has delayed the effectiveness of the entire project. It’s so far off that no one will talk about it. We can only hope the lead digit in the year is a two.
Each phase of the LRT means a repetition of many of the same steps. Project plan, project definition, begging for additional funding from the federal and provincial governments, the bid process, the bid evaluation, negotiating the contracts (one can only hope that the city administration has learned from the errors on the Rideau Transit Group contract), and interacting with the project lead on another long construction period. You have to be a glutton for punishment to repeat this process.
It is too late to take corrective, leadership action for Phase 1. It might be too late for Phase 2, unless someone shows some initiative on the issue. It is not too late for Phase 3.
On to the next big capital project – a new central library.
How have changes in demographics, behaviour and technology changed the old bricks-and-mortar type of library? A lot, but apparently not enough to deter Watson from wanting a new, architectural wonder on the western side of downtown to add to his legacy. Perhaps it could be on Jim Watson Drive.
The need for it has been as clearly articulated as the LRT’s.
Halifax and Calgary each have a new one so we do too as per Councillor Keith Egli. The metrics on what this new library will achieve have the same level of clarity as the non-existent LRT ridership study.
With the same leadership team, what could go wrong?
Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association executive for the better part of three decades.
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