The perfect storm of opportunity – with Gavin Shaw

Gavin Shaw played a key role for Beca in the Wynyard Edge Alliance that transformed Auckland’s waterfront in time for the 36th America’s Cup. Starting with an unknown scope, unknown owner and funding structure, a complex range of stakeholders and an immovable deadline, it was a project  that simply had to succeed.

Gavin Shaw

“We set up an infrastructure project that managed to exceed all of the planned outcomes,” Shaw says. “Not only did we create a legacy that Auckland and New Zealand can be proud of, but we did it in a way that exemplified the principles of the Construction Sector Accord, well before the accord was formed.”

He’s using the lessons from that project and other large programmes of work to shape a new role as Beca’s Business Director of Construction Sector Advisory. It's a strategic role that sits within the organsation’s advisory practice and Shaw will be working with specialists across the business.

“For more than 100 years Beca has built rich experience in delivering capital projects across New Zealand industries so we have a huge amount of insight. We want to leverage that knowledge and draw out the features that repeatedly set major investment programmes up for success and bring it together to offer a better experience for our clients.

“As our clients and communities need us to deliver more complex outcomes, we need to really consider how each of these outcomes are progressed, and this role is intended to ensure we do it much more deliberately. We want to have a genuinely positive impact on the outcomes clients are seeking, and do it in a way that the industry can have confidence in repeatable sustainable outcomes.”

So, how do you set up a project for success, and deliver that experience time and again?

“There's no cookie cutter approach because every project is unique. But there are projects where the parties have a high degree of trust, a real sense of partnership, and they focus on the outcomes the project is trying to achieve rather than the specific individual scope they have been procured for. When we get all parties working towards the shared and articulated outcomes, that's when we see great project experiences.

“Some would say the alliance model does that, however there are many other projects that don't have that alliance model and still have those features and level of success.”

Shaw says we can observe projects where the features that motivate or invite a trust approach are missing, where people overthink how they allocate risk to each other, and try to tighten up the way that risk is allocated rather than managed. In doing so we start from a basis of low trust and low collaboration, with little focus on the outcomes and high focus on fragmented accountability, which means the complexity of outcomes can be lost.

“You almost work better when you're in a bit of a pressure cooker – when the timelines are tighter those relationships have to move faster and building trust isn’t optional. You can all see that your individual success relies on everyone’s performance.

“Being more open to these observations can help us to approach projects and problems in a different way and not use partnership as a lip service phrase which we see all the time.”

Shaw says typically participants come at a project with their own economic and commercial drivers, and the challenge is to be open and honest about them so everyone can understand them.

“For example, we need to understand what constrains a client’s ability to share risk and make rapid decisions, and what constrains designers or consultants, what constrains a contractor’s appetite towards collaboration. Until we can understand those things then we won't achieve the step-change we're looking for. So this new role will allow me to support clients and industry to explore that.”

Shaw says he is increasingly noticing the desire to do things differently, and a shift towards more purpose-driven decision making.

“There’s constant change in our sector and the rate of change and the mood for doing things differently is getting louder and louder. We all want to achieve a greater purpose. We’re thinking about climate change and adaptation, digitalisation, sustainability and incorporating te ao Māori into everything that we do.

“All of these shifts are happening at once and they’re coming together in a big perfect storm of opportunity to create an environment in which people can see the need for new ways of doing things and partnering to achieve them.”

“We’ve seen plenty of examples of how to deliver projects well, and we can do a lot more to share and collaborate on these lessons to make that repeatable. There is plenty of change needed and we will need to work collectively to maximise this opportunity.

“Across all levels of our sector – suppliers, constructors, designers, clients, funders – we’re all looking for greater certainty of outcomes. When we try to do that individually we’re less likely to achieve it, but when we look at it collectively, we can achieve something bigger together.”

Connect with Gavin Shaw on LinkedIn