Project Management is conceived and birthed
In August 1971 I was approached and offered secondment to Head Office for a period of three months as part of a Head Office committee to review the Technical Organisation of the Department. There were three Assistant Directors, an Architect from Perth and myself from Brisbane. I feel the two of us were included to do the collating of information and be like secretaries and gophers as well as a symbol that the staff was represented.
I did not like the idea of three months away from the family with two week-end visits and talked it over with Betty. It was a means of gaining more experience and an opportunity too good to miss. I can’t remember Betty’s real reaction, but she had her family, friends and music teaching and it was agreed I accept the secondment going on my own with her continuing at home. Betty was working on the operetta “Marco Polo” and had ideas for one on St. Francis of Assisi and this took all of her time. My stay in Melbourne was busy during the week and empty at week-ends. I stayed for a while at the London Hotel near Flinders Street Station where I had attended the conference when working for BP. It was central, and of an evening I would walk with the city, have a meal at a Chinese or Italian restaurant, ring home and go back to the hotel. At week-ends I would wander around Melbourne, go to the Museum or Art Gallery, take a tram out to St. Kilda or see the parks and gardens.
The work was interesting to get information on the Department’s performance compared with consultants. At that time Project Management was on the horizon and was considered to be the answer to all construction problems, where the project was under the control of a Project Manager who saw the job through from initiation, through design tendering, letting and supervising the contract and handing the completed project to the client. The Project Manager was the king pin. This was in contrast to the client approaching an Architect who prepared the sketches and plans, arranged for each discipline Civil, Structural, Electrical, Mechanical, Hydraulics to prepare their drawings and documentation and the Architect would arrange for tenders and contract to be let. The contract then went to the Construction Section for supervision. It was a streamlining of the procedure where time, cost and quality was the aim. Computers had been introduced into the Department early in the period where we were using Fortran and Punch-card systems with centralised computer access. All times were recorded and charged to the job whether it be a specific project or a crown service or Q charge. Even specifications were checked to be compatible for the computer and each section was checked to delete any superfluous words or phrases, so already there was an awareness of change in the air. Not only did the computer make cost recording more accountable, it provided programs to assist with stress analysis in structures and comparable programs in other fields. There was a pile of information for the Review Committee on past performance and it was necessary to review the organisation of each branch or region.
As a committee the five of us went to the Victorian Branch in Melbourne, NSW Branch in Sydney and Queensland Branch in Brisbane, and the National Capital Development Commission in Canberra reviewing their organisation and records. Then the three senior members went to Perth, Adelaide and Darwin to review their performance while we stayed at Head Office at Hawthorne and sifted through records on hand. The time went quickly and I managed two week-end visits home in that time. While in Melbourne on my own I took the opportunity to go to Tasmania over one week-end, catching the ferry across leaving Friday night, landing at Davenport, catching a bus to Launceston and return to Wynyard where I stayed over-night in a motel, then back to Burnie, catching a flight back to Melbourne Sunday afternoon. It was fascinating to be driven past the poppy fields, to see the old world charm of the houses, stone fences and grand scenery, and it left me with the feeling this was an area you could retire to.
Another week-end I caught the train to Numurkah and spent the week-end with Marge and Keith on their property outside of Numurkah where I met my cousins Ken, Roy and Jim. Then I caught the afternoon train back to Melbourne for another week. While I was staying at the London Hotel I only booked week to week and in November I found the hotel was booked out for two nights with the Melbourne Cup crowds so I had to find alternative accommodation and the Tuesday was a public holiday in Victoria for the Melbourne Cup. So I booked a return trip to Adelaide on a Greyhound Bus leaving Monday night and arriving Tuesday morning early, then returning to Melbourne on the Tuesday night trip arriving Wednesday morning. This solved another problem, as Betty heard about this artisan in Adelaide who made digital harps and we thought it would be good for Rebecca to learn the harp as she was not over enthusiastic about the piano. We had corresponded with the harp maker, Mr. Kempster, and had prices etc., so I arranged to visit him on my day in Adelaide. Mr. Kempster lived in the Adelaide Hills so I rang him and caught a bus to his home and ended up ordering a harp with a spare set of strings, boxing for transport and shipping costs and gave him a cheque for the lot. He impressed me as a nice person and a real craftsman. Returning to Adelaide I caught the tram to Glenelg to see the beach and area then back to the city and over-night bus trip, going to the office for another day. I managed to sleep most of the way on the bus, but that was a long Wednesday. Later on the architect managed to get a flat with two bed-rooms so I went in with him and shared costs and it worked well.
The study came to an end, reports were prepared and presented to the Director General. The recommendations ended up with the Department changing over to a Project Management organisation doing the same work but with a reshuffle of titles and duties. I feel it was a foregone conclusion as there had been a considerable amount of lobbying from consultants claiming they could do the work more efficiently (meaning cheaper) and this was one way of going with latest thoughts on organisation, where time, cost, and quality could be monitored and assessed being the hand of one person, the Project Manager. He drew his team from the work pool through the Resource Manager. Supervising Engineers became Heads of Discipline and were there to advise and monitor the technical staff in their discipline. It was a total change in organisation but then again everything was changing. During my time there it went from being Commonwealth Department of Works, to Department of Housing and Construction to Department of Construction. They were only name changes but it indicated how the government kept changing its thinking and organisation and we could not avoid being affected by these changing times. To my way of thinking I enjoyed being an Engineer involved directly in design and construction, a working Engineer, whereas now the future lay in management … Project Management was now with us.