EXCLUSIVE: How to ensure port expansion is completed on time, within budget

Time, budget and quality.

Lee Kok Leong, our special correspondent, talks to Angelo de Jong, chief projects officer, Abu Dhabi Terminals (ADT), on the Khalifa Port Container Terminal (KPCT) expansion and his secret for making sure the project is a success, completing on time, within budget and achieving quality benchmarks. One of the key critical success factors is to develop a high performance team.

KPCT is undergoing expansion because of a need to increase capacity.  ADT manages and operates the KPCT.  Following a revised shareholding structure, a new concession agreement was signed between Abu Dhabi Ports, which owned ADT, and MSC in May 2018.

MSC will gradually shift some of their regional volumes to KPCT, thus requiring the expansion from 2.5 million TEU to 5.3 million TEU.

KPCT is the first semi-automated container terminal in the region, and one of the largest globally, with a high degree of safety built into the design.  It is able to handle the largest container vessels currently in service.

As its prime focus is on ensuring ease of doing business for customers, KPCT has also become a top gateway for Abu Dhabi maritime trade traffic.

UAE shipping industry remains strong

Angelo says: “The UAE shipping industry remains strong. Traditionally, economic growth in the gulf region is fuelled by governmentinvestments in infrastructure. This enables economic growth of the businesses here. One example is the development of Etihad rail or the development of the industrial zone.

(Editor’s note: KPCT will be the first in the UAE to be linked to the new Etihad Rail network, which is currently under construction.  There is close proximity and integration of KPCT to the Khalifa Industrial Zone (KIZAD) and Khalifa Port Free Trade Zone.  These investments thereby enhance economic growth by offering customers a compelling value proposition.  There is already an influx of foreign direct investment and partnerships with local industry players.)

“The open trade environment in the UAE attracts businesses which then increases container volumes, both Origin & Destination (O&D) and trans-shipment.

“The outlook for KPCT is therefore positive and we are gearing up our capacity to ensure we have sufficient capacity to handle all cargoes from all customers. The investments made in automated equipment allow us to compete at low rates while being very productive on the landside and waterside.”

The key to successful port expansion

The expansion project was started in June 2018 and is scheduled to complete in Q3 2020.  ADT is on track to finish within the timeframe.  Given the size and complexity of this project, how did ADT do it?

According to Angelo, who has overall responsibility for all projects, two key critical success factors are developing a high performance team and having regular communications with all stakeholders.

But therein lies the secret.   With the short timeframe of two years, Angelo did not have the luxury of time for team development.  He has to make sure that all team members,  new to ADT at the start who bring their own cultures, , to working seamlessly together.

Cultivating team development

There are four stages of team development: forming, storming, norming and performing.  Each stage plays a vital part in building a high performance team.  Angelo has to shorten the first three stages while extracting all the benefits, and make sure the team is in the performing stage as long as possible so as to keep productivity high.

Teams can be extremely synchronized like different musicians playing beautifully in an orchestra during the performing stage, that team development seems to happen naturally. However, don’t be fooled, as this is furthest from the truth. The most effective and high-functioning teams are cultivated.

Hiring a group of talented people and throwing them together does not mean you will have a great team.  Hoping and crossing your fingers won’t make your project a success either.

The following are major points to remember.  Set clear objectives, have a mission statement, and communicate them frequently and regularly throughout the project period; set ground rules and make sure they are followed; and empower team members to act as leaders and facilitators.

In Angelo’s opinion, “Abu Dhabi Terminals has embarked on one of the largest semi-automated terminal expansions in the world. This come with its challenges, whether it is equipment delivery, IT readiness, organizational re-alignment or civil works program.

“To be successful, a dedicated project team of 22 people has been set up to deliver results in a two-year timeframe. The project team consists of people from all corners of the world which bring expertise but also their own culture.

“Making the team work effectively is key to overcome these challenges.

“Breakdown in team communication, for example, can have disastrous outcomes affecting schedule and budget.

“Building a high performance team means you quickly go through the “forming-storming-norming-performing” stages. Organizing teambuilding activities and having fun as a group helps a lot!”

Communicating well with all stakeholders

Angelo is a firm believer in having regular communications with all stakeholders, on all issues big and small.  Regular communications will facilitate problem solving and most of the time even pre-empt problems from arising.  Besides these two critical success factors, Angelo also stated that strong supplier support and excellent interface management of different contracts, design and schedule dependencies, are crucial.

“Communication to suppliers, customers, shareholders and local port community is an ongoing activity. I probably spend half my time aligning all stakeholders, to make sure everybody knows what they need to know and are working towards a common goal.

“Mapping out the many stakeholders, identifying what they need to know when and how goes into an elaborate communication plan which is then executed.

“Having a successful communication plan is step one. This is followed by getting feedback from all, “Are we communicating enough? Do you know what you need to know? How can we improve? “.

“We use a lot of social media, townhall meetings, steering committee meetings and also formal reporting.

“The key factor in good communication comes down to teamwork,” concludes Angelo.

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