What is a project other than the period before business-as-usual? This definition has never been more true than in the area of disaster recovery.
The Queensland floods seem an age away, but it was less than a year ago that Australia and the world witnessed a deluge that overtook three-quarters of the state, an area larger than the size of France and Germany combined.
The worst part was that the floods over December 2010 and January 2011 were just the start of a particularly disastrous year for the world, to be followed by Cyclone Yasi, which also wreaked havoc in Queensland, the Christchurch earthquake (and its aftershocks) in February and then the earthquake and tsunami (and its aftershocks) that hit Japan in March, not to mention a number of droughts, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, heatwaves and landslides that in any other context would have been front page news for the year.
Well, I’m happy to say that Brisbane looks healthy and in good shape. I was there in early January this year, just two days before floodwaters entered the Queensland capital city. I returned last week for the International Project Management Association’s 25th World Congress, hosted by the Australian Institute of Project Management, and apart from a lot of construction you can barely tell it was ravaged by too much rain just 10 months ago.
It was clear that the congress’ interstate and overseas guests were impressed with the scale and quality of the disaster recovery. I began to think that perhaps Australia is particularly skilled at it, considering our resilience in the face of droughts, cyclones and bushfires every year.
That’s where project management steps in. On the one hand there’s risk management which, when done well, can mitigate a lot of the worst effects. Hence many of Australia’s natural disasters claim far fewer lives than in other countries: we’re well prepared and we have the systems to deploy emergency services as soon as the scope of the disaster is realised.
On the other hand, after the immediate disaster relief—the rescues, the distribution of food and shelter, the fundraising drive—comes the planning and the reconstruction. But it isn’t just about rebuilding infrastructure and residences, it’s about rebuilding people’s lives. The role of the project manager is to ensure everyone is on board with the change and then effect it.
I spoke to a number of delegates from Queensland, other parts of Australia, and other parts of the world at the congress and I’m happy to report that project management is looking well. Both our current crop of project managers and the Young Crew were in their element throughout the 12 streams and plenary sessions over the three days presenting interesting angles and participating in vigorous debates on project management. Like Queensland’s disaster recovery, I’m assured that the future of project management is in good hands.