Will your Actions Halt Your Project?

If I were to ask you what the greatest risks to industrial projects were, where would your thoughts go?  Have you had any unplanned or under-appreciated risks come to fruition during execution of your well-laid plans?

Were they technical?  Surely not - there are plenty of experts who can come up with a solution if only they are given the time, money and a bit of flexibility to be creative, innovative.  These are usually solved through bench and pilot testing, and adjusted before implementation.

Did they have to do with the environment your project is situated in?  We've definitely heard of a lot of environmental mishaps over time.  But likely this is not it either - these typically happen later in the development's lifecycle - more likely during commissioning, operations, or even much later.  These inherent risks tend to stem from misunderstanding of the physical receiving environment, or an undervaluation of the power of water and climate on under-designed infrastructure.

But maybe your biggest challenges happened to involve people?  The unpredictability of what your external stakeholders might want, demand, or just outright oppose?  Highly likely indeed.

Risks for Industrial Developments

A while back, I started writing about risks for industrial projects, and I started to dive into details specific to mining alone.  Today I want to climb back up a few thousand feet and talk about the general links between risks, sustainability and stakeholders.  Because I believe they are all tied at the hip.

Time and again, we are being shown that our biggest risks are NOT associated with the technical challenges we might start out with.  Instead, we know that two very critical aspects surface time and again.

How familiar are you with these:

#ShellNO #NoKXL #pipeline #crudeawakening

#RezpectOurWater #NoDAPL #StopEnergyEast

#StopMining  #noLNG  #tailings

There are many, many more campaigns against natural resource and related developments.

Have you asked yourself what is behind these calls to action, these protests?  You might say water protection, species protection, climate change, and with these you are partially right.  

But behind that? Lack of trust based on poor past performance and concerns about safety, human health impacts, and perhaps most importantly, owners' rights and respect - for the governance of their land, and their beliefs - regardless of whether they jive with your own.

Sustainability - what?

These social barriers to your project success are all sustainability issues, and the details of each are unique for every single industrial development.  Like every individual is unique, like every piece of land upon which a development may be situated carries its own characteristics, so is the means through which we need to engage on each project - there is no true "cookie cutter" approach, only general (common sense) rules.

In order to manage (or even identify) all of the potential risks associated with sustainability issues, we must understand them first.  They can include an entire spectrum of environment and socially-based aspects.

And to understand them, we must investigate and engage, participate in a true, honest and open dialogue.  And we need to remain flexible, going in with the expectation that we won't learn everything right at the start - that is the nature of getting to know your collaborators, your stakeholders, and the environment in which you'll play.

Every person, every community involved will have their own perspectives, concerns, wants.  Every proposed development site will have different characteristics.  We will learn things as we go, taking baby steps to glean bits of information, and then build upon what we find.  An agile approach to finding a solution suitable to all. 

And yet, although this is the way it has been done for a long time by many - gathering bits of information, and solving our challenges one at a time - we are continuing to see projects halted by protesters.  

So why are failure rates of industrial projects not diminishing?

Do project and risk management practices and teachings need to evolve to include more focus on sustainability, stakeholder engagement and communications?  (I'd suggest this would help!)

Do stakeholders need to become more versed in project phases and risk management processes - to better understand at what stages to get involved with a proposed project? Perhaps a little understanding of processes between stakeholders, engagement practitioners, and project practitioners would help break down some silos and improve collaboration for the solutions needed.

Or do we just need to get better at engagement and communications altogether? Perhaps be more open and honest, and not so worried about engaging at earlier stages when we might not have all the answers just yet?

I'd love to hear your thoughts below.  

Or better yet, contact me to schedule a live dialogue! We can debate one on one, or invite a few others to join us.  A good discussion is always fun, and then I can share our collective thoughts in another post...add a few more opinions to the mix!