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Does Your Company Have a System of Engagement?

 

Fieldwork industry organizations generally have a system of record in place: somewhere to store project information, data, and relevant files.  But what about the other side of the equation, when someone needs to pull information out and use it?

Making information available to internal teams can be a struggle on its own. But sharing information in a useful format becomes even more difficult when requests, such as those for regulatory compliance, land divestiture and contract work, come from external parties. Managers often resort to manual reporting and dissemination of data, which burns valuable hours that could be spent in more profitable ways. This process is frustrating for everyone involved, especially when a crucial piece of information gets lost or goes missing.    

To have value, information must be transparent, easily accessible and understood. Faster understanding means improvements across the board: managers can better plan and execute, executives have what they need to direct and clients gain confidence in the process. A System of Engagement (SoE) is designed for transparency and access; it connects people to the information they need for effective data-driven decision making.

The Importance of Visualization

Maps are uniquely able to convey complex information simply. That's why in Arkit we organize fieldwork visually using project maps. Rather than rows in a spreadsheet, Arkit users navigate to projects through a familiar map-based interface. It's easy for project stakeholders to find the information they need, when the need it, on-demand. Workflows are eased, hours are saved and frustrations reduced. In this way, transparency and access to information go hand-in-hand to drive growth.     

Evolution of Competitive Advantage

Forward-thinking companies are already realizing the advantages of implementing a system of engagement such as Project Relationship Management software.

For more information on how you can go beyond storage and cultivate engagement in your organization to get the most out of your data, visit www.arkit.io.

 




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No Surprises: The Right Way to Talk About Project Risk With Your Clients

Daniel Walsh Environment • Consulting • 5 minute read

You might be surprised by the title of this post – after all, assessing and communicating risks is an important part of working in the environmental consulting industry. We often pride ourselves in our ability to accurately determine environmental risks using the latest empirical and modeling techniques, and we’re paid to communicate these results to our clients.

Rather than focusing on environmental risks associated with contaminant releases, incomplete data, or a poorly understood geologic setting – the stock in trade of the environmental consulting industry – I want to talk about “project risks” – risks associated with unforeseen difficulties that cause a project to fall behind schedule, exceed the desired budget, or produce results that are inconclusive or conflict with a client’s business interests. 

Why communicate project risks?

We would all like projects to go as planned. Unfortunately, in the real world, many things can go wrong. In some cases, a new influx of data may contradict earlier findings, necessitating additional data collection and analysis. In other cases, external forces such as regulatory or legal actions may force a change in course.

Since project delays can have financial implications for clients, the ability to communicate project risks effectively is one of the most valuable skills a consultant can cultivate.

There’s another reason to make sure project risks are effectively communicated: to protect the foundation of mutual trust that consultant-client relationships are built upon.


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If a client is taken by surprise by a delay or complication, their trust will be undermined, putting future collaboration at risk. By communicating project risks effectively, consultants can ensure that their clients have an accurate, realistic understanding of what might go wrong so that they are prepared for challenges.

During my time as a communications consultant, I’ve picked up some tips for effective project risk communication. Here are six I’ve found to be particularly useful:

1. Understand your client’s approach to risk

If you’ve gotten to the point where you’re ready to communicate project risks to a client, you’ve probably developed a good understanding of how the client business operates. Make use of that knowledge!

Is the company looking to expand and willing to take risks? Or is it risk averse – not in a good financial or business position to undertake risky projects? The best way to understand your client’s approach to risk is to have a frank conversation early on in your relationship.

2. Communicate risks positively

When explaining project risks to a client, it’s important to frame them in a positive light – if your company completes 80% of projects within the original timeline, that’s good news!

Explain and quantify possible causes for delays, and make sure to highlight why your company is more adept at reducing risks than your competition.

3. Avoid planting false hope

I’ve seen it many times – a client is behind schedule, poorly organized, or encountering some other kind of difficulty. They want a consultant that can make their troubles go away.

Unfortunately, there’s only so much a consultant can do when a company runs into trouble – and, in these cases, the possibility of project failure due to external factors must be realistically considered and communicated to clients during the planning phase. It’s always better to exceed expectations than to fail to meet them.

4. Question you client’s decisions

If your client wants you to conduct your work in a way that you see as high-risk, don’t be afraid to propose well-reasoned alternatives. Consulting is one field where the customer isn’t always right – if they were, they wouldn’t need to hire you!

Pursuing high-risk projects just to please a client and win a contract doesn’t pay off in the long run. Ultimately, you will be seen as more valuable if you are able to provide innovative advice and consistently reduce risk.

5. Keep your client focused on the right risks

Many clients are busy juggling projects, each of which may involve several contractors. The more risks you present, the less likely your client is to pay attention.

To find the right balance, many successful consultants work with their clients to develop a risk communication plan, which provides criteria for deciding which risks should be presented right away which should be monitored by the consultant but not communicated to the client.

6. Use experts to build credibility

As a liaison between your company and your client, you may find yourself discussing project risks outside your area of expertise – and clients can often tell. Using the wrong jargon or failing to understand the culture of a given specialty may undermine your client’s trust.

To avoid coming across as a jack-of-all-trades, involve relevant experts within your company in the risk communication process. Nothing convinces like words spoken by a professional!

Further reading

If you want to dive deeper, take a look at these links for further reading - “Communicating Project Risks” from the Project Management Institute, and “Communicating Risks in Managing Projects” from the Sound Idea Digital Blog.

There’s a lot more to be said about project risk communication, but I hope these six tips got you thinking a bit more about effective strategies, and can help to avoid project surprises, and protect your valuable client relationships.




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The 3 fieldwork strategies every environmental consultant should know

Daniel Walsh Consulting • Environment • 5 minute read

As I lay in my cot listening to the soothing sound of the rain (and considering the not-so-soothing fact that it isn’t supposed to rain during the dry season in Western Australia) a logistical disaster was unfolding: a thick layer of bentonite clay, just below the ground surface, was becoming waterlogged.

By morning, road conditions were so bad that I couldn’t drive from my camp to the work site. The next day the road was still impassible, and the need for more supplies forced me to abandon my rental vehicle and walk to the main road on high ground.

This incident, which cost me an entire week of fieldwork, taught me the importance of consulting with local experts before heading into the field - one of several strategies for conducting efficient fieldwork that I want to share in this post.

Fieldwork Foundations

Ask most environmental consultants working with the oil and gas industry what their favourite part of the job is, and its likely they’ll say something like this: “the people are great, but it’s the fieldwork that got me into the profession in the first place”.

That’s a good thing, given the importance of fieldwork to the industry: it’s really the only reliable way to find out what’s happening on the ground. Accurate knowledge of a work site is critical during all stages of oil and gas development, including planning, permitting, production, and cleanup. Although it provides many benefits, fieldwork isn’t cheap – companies spend significant amounts of money mobilizing technical consultants, survey crews, and other experts.


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As a result, one of the most valuable skills you can develop as a professional consultant is the ability to complete fieldwork effectively and efficiently. There’s no substitute for experience when it comes to great fieldwork, but there are a few strategies that will help if you’re just getting started, or if you need to tighten up your skills.

In this post, I’ve assembled a list of some of the most common efficiency-sapping problems encountered during fieldwork as well as essential strategies for preventing them.

Common problem Prevention strategy
Not enough time to visit all field localities Prioritize!

In an ideal world, there would be time and money to visit all field localities and collect detailed data. In the real world, fieldwork often takes longer than expected, which can cause projects to fall behind schedule.

If you separate the required fieldwork into prioritized tasks in advance, you’ll be in a better position to make a decision when pressed for time. In the early stages of a project, you may determine that new tasks need to be added to the list, or that the relative priorities of existing tasks need to be adjusted.

To take advantage of this challenge, prioritize fieldwork that will clarify the scope of the field campaign.

Common problem Prevention strategy
Conditions more difficult than expected Know your resources

This problem is more common in remote, undeveloped areas, but can occur anywhere. Underestimating the difficulty of field conditions can result in cost overruns, missed deadlines, and unnecessary safety hazards.

Assess conditions in advance using remote sensing data (not just a site plan or map provided by the client). There is typically a wealth of data available for a specific field location (think satellite images, topographic maps, and surficial geology maps). It’s amazing how often people head into the field without doing their homework first!

It is important to keep in mind, however, that overreliance on air-photos and similar data products can cause trouble. For example, photographs taken in the fall may show dry ground, but the same area may be flooded and impassible in summer. Your best bet is to consult with other professionals who have worked in the area.

Common problem Prevention strategy
Poor organization of field data Get smart with your tools

This is a big one, and, in my experience, can be a major drag on fieldwork efficiency. Nothing is more frustrating than returning to the office and being unable to interpret your own cryptic notes, or realizing that you forgot to collect a critical piece of data!

This is a skill that comes with experience and is difficult to teach. These basic tips will be most useful to those just starting out:

Rather than keeping notes in a messy field notebook, embrace the organizational power of modern technology. If possible, collect data using standardized digital forms. Integrated geolocation is a powerful tool – and even small outfits can afford a tablet with an integrated GPS unit and camera. Another strategy I find effective is to go through field notes at the end of each day while your memory of a site visit is fresh. This will allow you to catch any mistakes and clarify confusing notes.

Don't forget your people!

When planning fieldwork, don’t forget to take advantage of your most valuable resource: your colleagues, your client, and even people local to the area. They are likely to have advice specific to your project type, operating area, and client.

If I had consulted with locals in Western Australia, for example, I would have learned that it had been a particularly wet dry season, and would have come up with a plan for coping with the mud.

If you’re just starting out, I hope you’ll find this advice useful, and if you’re a seasoned professional, hopefully it provides some strategic reminders for you and your team to to keep delivering your best field work.

See you out there!




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