Consultant beats lock-down to be first Aussie to secure NEC4 accreditation

Critical Input Senior Consultant Tom Whiting is the first Australian – to our knowledge – to become an accredited NEC4 Engineering and Construction Contract (ECC) Project Manager, after passing assessments with flying colours and attending training in New Zealand just before COVID-19 lock-down.

A seasoned project manager with more than 15 years’ experience, Tom said this latest qualification takes the contract “out of the draw and into project life”.

“Applying the contract ‘in the spirit’ enables a solid foundation for good project management where clients, designers, contractors and project managers to collaborate to achieve great project outcomes,” Tom said.

“I’ll immediately put this knowledge to use with my work at Sydney Water, which is using NEC4 contracts for its project and maintenance 10-year delivery model under the banner of Partnering For Success (P4S). 

“Together with developing business processes that underpin the asset lifecycle, I’m sign-posting ECC clauses, responsibilities as well as channeling guidance from Project 13, which is another Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) initiative.”

The NEC framework, based on best practice in the United Kingdom, creates a unified process across multiple divisions for stakeholders, so Tom can offer Critical Input clients qualified and credible advice.

“Kudos to Mark Simister from Sydney Water for trailblazing the NEC4 Contracts in the first place,” Tom said.

Critical Input’s Managing Director Tim Griffiths invested in providing this training to Tom – who already holds an MBA and is Project Management Institute-certified – as he’s currently mapping Sydney Water’s processes for maintaining assets and projects.

“Tom was already a highly accomplished project manager, which in itself involves a complex skill set that balances competing interests against the need to deliver projects on time, to budget and to high standard,” Tim said.

“Tom undertook the face-to-face component of the course in New Zealand before COVID-19’s restrictions.

“Follow-up assessments, which he passed with flying colours, were all done remotely, which is fortunate as COVID-19 has thwarted plans to roll out courses in Australia.

“This additional qualification adds a feather to Tom’s cap and increases the value of the service we’re able to provide our clients.”

Both the Project Management Institute and the Australian Construction Awards recently recognised the Critical Input work Tom has undertaken for Sydney Water. 

From Critical Input Consultant’s Steph Cush’s bunker…

COVID-19 has changed the way we work and interact with our clients, but Critical Input’s team of experienced experts has risen to the challenge, adapting fast to maintain deliverables on important projects. Here’s what Senior Consultant Steph Cush, who normally commutes to Sydney, has to share about working from her Brisbane digs.

Right now I’m focussed on a piece of work for Sydney Water’s Partnering for Success (P4S) transformation piece, supporting Tom Whiting on Helix updates. They’re process maps and I’m identifying gaps where we need links to documents. Weekly catch-ups on Microsoft Teams with Tim Griffiths, Tom Whiting, Melissa Kimlin and Chris Bevin have been great and really mimic that feeling of being face-to-face. I’m grateful to be working and contributing to the success of this particular project.

I think once COVID-19 is over, people won’t jump straight back into their old life. It’s made more companies realise remote work can work. Managers have had to let go of some control, but they’ve been encouraged to see work still gets done and to a high standard. Also, less time commuting can lead to more hours in the day. On the flip side, I think it’s made us all appreciate the importance of human connection at work and how those accidental collisions in the lunchroom can lead to conversations that inform or influence the way you approach a project.

From a personal perspective, I’ve set up a home office that once I enter, I’m “at work”. It’s important to have that discipline. Anyone who has been video-conferencing with me would have seen I’ve also started wearing scarves to add colour to my day. I believe a good exercise routine adds to productivity as well as health, so I’ve been jogging, practising yoga and doing short circuits incorporating skipping. I have a flatmate so I still receive that much valued face-to-face contact at the end of my working day. This pandemic has definitely made people more mindful and aware of others. I’m calling my 84-year-old nanna more frequently (as is everybody else), so she’s really feeling the love.

PART 1: What if your ideal mentor is outside your workplace?

In this two-part series, Critical Input Senior Consultant Chris Bevin helps us investigate the mentor-mentee relationship, how to form one, and why you should.

According to Critical Input Senior Consultant Chris Bevin who has been a mentor through the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) for two years, your ideal mentor may not be within your organisation.

One of the advantages Chris sees in out-of-house mentoring programs is they offer mentees a greater choice of mentors, with different skills, knowledge, and perspectives compared to those within their organisation.

“Out-of-house programs can challenge both mentor and mentee to think outside their own corporate cultures and view their organisation through a different lens,” Chris said.

“They can also support more open conversations, with greater neutrality which promotes more robust and valuable relationship between mentor and mentee and the development of fresh perspectives to take back into their workplace.”

As well as her work with AIPM, Chris regularly provides unstructured mentorships and career support to other mentees.

“Indeed, sometimes clients become mentees, especially when I’m hired to fill a knowledge gap or engaged to complete a specialised project such as managing a shut-down,” Chris said.

What does mentoring bring to the mentee and mentor?

At any point in your career, having a source of guidance, encouragement and support in the form of an experienced mentor can provide a range of personal and professional benefits, in both the immediate and longer terms.

But Chris said there are also clear benefits for the mentor.

“For the mentor, it’s a wonderful opportunity to give back, as well as an opportunity to reflect on achievements and the paths that lead to where you are,” she said.

“Asking questions of your mentee can assist in developing deeper insight around your own career path and achievements.”

External mentors give impartial career advice

A mentor who is further along on their career path, with goals and values similar to your own, can help guide you through your career path.

“A breadth of experience of work types and organisations is beneficial for our personal development and career development,” Chris said.

“It’s very easy to get tunnel vision when you’re trying to solve a problem or reach an outcome. Having a mentor who can provide that alternate lens is one of the greatest benefits from mentoring to wider networks.”

Employees might be looking for career opportunities at other organisations or struggling with a management relationship, and it can be awkward to discuss that with an in-house mentor.

“As an example, for someone working in the public sector considering a transition to the private sector as next step in their career progression and personal development, it can be hard to have that conversation with an in-house mentor if, for example, they have never worked in the private sector”

“Mentors may need to have difficult conversations around challenging interpersonal issues you may be experiencing, and seek solutions: for example, how to engage with a difficult manager.

From the mentee’s perspective, an in-house mentor may know their manager or may have a connection to them – that naturally makes conversations are harder.”

About Critical Input

Founded in 2005, Critical Input is a consultancy service offering process improvement and supply chain and project-management activities. It works in sectors from water and energy to mining and heavy industry. At the centre of everything are three principals: Process, because without process, there is no destination; people, because without buy-in, there is no evolution; and principles – because integrity is everything.

Critical Input’s Managing Director Tim Griffiths has handpicked a team that can provide the right resources, the right skill set and the right mindset. Each one is senior in their experience, so they can hit the ground running on clients’ projects. Critical Input takes a simple approach to allow organisational enablers – both people and processes – to improve activities. We see that as critical – hence the business name.

“The name ‘Critical Input’ was inspired by the projects I was working on before forming the company. I’d name those projects ‘critical inputs’ to the business because I was managing, say, a mining activity’s major ‘critical inputs’ – power, water, fuel, tyres. So, the activities we look at around people and process and putting those together, within the supply chain and project management technical activities, form the critical inputs.” -Tim Griffiths

How to hold disciplined meetings

Fortunately, Bettina and I are still able to meet face-to-face during home isolation.

As we move into a new era where Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams and Facetime meetings are replacing face-to-face interactions, it’s crucial we manage video and phone conferences with discipline and structure (I’m pictured here with Critical Input’s Finance Manager and my beloved wife Bettina Griffiths, as we’re still able to meet face-to-face while working remotely).

We already know that the COVID-19 pandemic will fundamentally change the way we do business.

Particularly during this adaptive period, as professionals, we need to focus on maintaining stability, goals and outcomes.

It’s well known that Critical Input is all about bringing people and processes together, so it’s not surprising we have a process for holding structured meetings.

All Critical Input consultants follow the “PAL-C Meeting” discipline and it can be easily adjusted for remote meetings. Ahead of any video or teleconference, just send out the below information to all attendees:

Purpose – Clarify the purpose and desired outcome (s) of the meeting

Agenda – Outline agenda points, responsibilities and timing (if required)

Limits – Set clear boundaries of discussions and process for parked items

Comments – Include details of the meeting (when it’s taking place, how to dial in and whether to bring your lunch or coffee!). Also, appoint someone here to take the minutes.

Distributing the above information will ensure everyone understands expectations ahead of the meeting and can prepare accordingly. It’s also recommended that minutes with actions are distributed shortly after the call.

Remote work is the new normal during this unique time in history, but it doesn’t mean the frequency of contact shouldn’t decrease. If you’re used to having meetings, keep doing so.

In fact, during the period of adaptation, you may even increase the number of meetings to maintain a sense of stability and team connection.

Newer employees, those working on critical projects, and people who need more contact may require extra one-on-ones.

Remember, too, you can do fun things virtually: coffee breaks, lunch, morning yoga or even Friday afternoon drinks together.

All these things can help maintain the connections you had at the office.

Virtual teams can match co-located ones in terms of productivity, trust, and collaboration.

It just requires discipline.