Albert Einstein made his greatest breakthroughs in the ‘Theory of Relativity’ in thought experiments. It provided him the opportunity to contemplate the extreme extends of a simple question: ‘What do I see, when I sit on a beam of light?’ How much more new insight does it generate, when a group of 200 experts in the dredging industry comes together to meditate on a thought experiment of a fictional dredging project in an imaginary country? Sure, the cases presented were very familiar, but that enabled the audience to engage in the action immediately.
In this imaginary world, there was a client, a consultant and a contractor. The client wanted a new quay wall which had to be filled with material from the river and entrance. The consultant drew up a plan and the contractor had to execute it. All three started out with good intentions, but during the project, they fell apart and got entangled in an inextricable knot of legal battles. The back fill material was not right, the dredging equipment was not adequate, the situation in the harbour was different and as problems stacked up to unsurmountable heights, several bad management decisions were taken, bringing the project further in dire straits. Apparently, the parties did not consult the CEDA’s Checklist for Successful Dredging Management!
It was up to the audience to recognise the management pitfalls and discuss the associated problems and solutions. Mike van der Vijver was there to moderate the discussions between the participants and the expert panel. The available expert panel from the CEDA Dredging Management Commission1 was able to provide background information or an alternative viewpoint on the case.
Considering the lively discussion, the concept really drew the audience into the thought experiment and the positive reviews proved they remembered the event long after, hopefully bringing their experience into future dredging projects. The positive effect of the Interactive Session, was that this is one of the few occasions where there is a representative selection of the dredging industry. This enabled some parties, that normally never meet each other in a project, to understand what effects of decisions in the beginning will have further down the timeline. Or the other way around: understand how some stupid contractual clauses were written in the contract, although in hindsight those were bad agreements. My personal opinion is, that the parties shouldn’t have agreed to the contract in the first place.
The Interactive Session was initiated by the CEDA Dredging Management Commission to introduce themselves and the concept of the ‘Checklist for Successful Dredging Management’2. This checklist was introduced the previous day and currently available in a paper version. However, the list will never be complete and is intended to grow and adapt as lessons are learned. So, even on this occasion there were some new issues that might be incorporated. In order to capture the discussion, there was an artist present, who made a graphic recording of the session. Most of the arguments in the audience revolved around the practical and legal side of the case, but I think, somewhere some people in the fictional case should have had the wisdom and courage to say: ‘NO!’
Oops!…I did it again. Nobody ever made money exclaiming that phrase. Unless you are a famous pop idol. If only you could be that wise and make mistakes only once. Even better: don’t make the mistake in the first place. But who would be so wise to never make a mistake? Well I am not one of those people. But I do try to prevent other people from making the same mistake again. So, that is why I participated in the CEDA Dredging Management Commission.
In the commission we are discussing how we can help people in the dredging industry to efficiently and safely manage dredging projects. One of the items that came up was a list with all the failures and problems in managing a dredging project. This could at least categorise the problems. It also provided a framework to advise people. i.e. It became the CEDA’s Checklist for Successful Dredging Management1. Today, this checklist was presented by Kathleen de Wit at the CEDA Dredging Days2.
The checklist tries to capture various problems, that mostly have multiple aspects. This is immediately the problem of making a comprehensive list. It was decided, to discern problems to topics involved and stages in the project, with an addition of affected parties. It is a long list and let this not intimidate you. Mostly, you will just check out the section you are working on. Just be sure, there is somebody in the project, that checks, that everybody checked their part.
The checklist is not intended to be another contract template. There are enough examples of those. e.g. FIDIC, NEC. It might be more of a starting point for a risk assessment. Or an initial resource planning estimate. Eventually you will have to do the work yourself, this list will only make you start thinking about everything that could go wrong in your project. You will have to provide the solution for it. And that is where your expertise and creativity comes in.
When I was a young innocent and inexperienced graduate student, I had an assignment on an auger dredge. The dredge was not performing well and the operator, contractor and the project owner were battling each other over the contract. It turned out, they had chosen a contract, that had no incentive for the operator to have a high production and the project owner had no way to put a penalty on the delay. No wonder the management of the project was underperforming with the dredge. If only they could have consulted such a checklist, cost and time overruns would have been minimised. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have had such a great graduation project.