Will the Wellington Library project blow its schedule and budget? Yes!

Show me the plan! Demonstrate we, as ratepayers, can trust you to deliver to the business case.

The Wellington Library rebuild / replacement is already proving controversial. There’s no doubt it is a hugely important facility for Wellington families and we want it back sooner rather than later but there’s little consensus on the right strategy or solution. It has to be of concern that the Mayor is already resorting to lawyers to manage the behaviour of councillors. With discontent already raging it’s hard to see how ratepayers will be able to take an informed position. We should be concerned when people start raising the urgency driver – we have to get on with it. Should we trust the Council to get it right? I think they’re going have to up their game otherwise there’s little doubt it’ll cost more than stated and will take longer than planned.

Let’s take a couple of steps back for a moment.

It’s a ‘megaproject.’ Any initiative of this type falls into the category of a ‘megaproject’ – expensive, complex, multi-year. The failure rate of megaprojects internationally is over 90% and shows no sign of improving. This is often because the originating business case doesn’t survive early contact with reality. In other words, costs invariably outstrip benefits but you’ve started so it’s hard to stop. You’ll spend the rest of the project justifying cost increases. So, beware the glossy business cases that are light on detail.

The failure rate of megaprojects internationally is over 90% and shows no sign of improving. This is often because the originating business case doesn’t survive early contact with reality.

Own the ‘initiative’. Ironically, megaprojects often fail because teams look for the answers in project management. This is wrong. A ‘megaproject’ is a business within a business. Provision of a Library is a public good owned by the Wellington City Council on behalf of ratepayers and it must comply with WCC strategies. This must be owned by the Council. Designing, building or strengthening the facility will be done by a number of commercial providers who are accountable at every step to the Council. They’ll have their own plans but they must be prepared to report against the WCC ‘superplan’ – the single source of the truth.

Show me the plan. Most organizations fail to deliver to strategy. Basically, business planning is poor at a time when it must be flexible, fit-for-purpose and first-class. Many teams are very quickly overwhelmed by the exponential growth in activity once they start the delivery phases of the project. Poor planning also puts governance and oversight at risk. Business cases should never be approved without a detailed business plan to support them. Provision of such plans rarely happens.

Business cases should never be approved without a detailed business plan to support them. Provision of such plans rarely happens.

Diversity rocks. The current library building feels like a place designed to support diversity in any number of ways. It’s always been a place to go to, repair and energize. I like the school of thought that says your management teams should be diverse and not just stacked with suits. Bring in designers, dancers, musicians alongside hard-boiled project practitioners. Listen to parents, kids, the disaffected in society who go there for warmth on inclement days; embrace those with special needs, and a bunch of ratepayers for positivity. Replace politics with pragmatism.

Bring in designers, dancers, musicians alongside hard-boiled project practitioners. Listen to parents, kids, the disaffected in society who go there for warmth on inclement days; embrace those with special needs, and a bunch of ratepayers for positivity. Replace politics with pragmatism.

Truth in plain sight. Teams managing initiatives such as this are not renowned for telling the truth. This is often because they seldom have the right information available at the time questions are asked, or they’re always playing catch-up because of the archaic nature of traditional rear-vision reporting, or because most organizations and their stakeholders simply aren’t used to truth-in-plain-sight. I don’t think this initiative should be approved unless everyone commits to truth-in-plain-sight. Any stakeholders should have access to information that paints the true story of how things are going and when it’ll deliver, and be able to ask sensible questions of the delivery teams.

Bring on the consultation and the debates. It’s our city. It’s our library. Let’s show the world it’s possible to deliver an amazing initiative; a stunning Library facility, within acceptable costs and timeframes. Let’s do the thinking now. And let’s have truth-in-plain-sight from Day 1.

Share this article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *