Decision Analysis: A Structured Approach to Improving Project Success

June 21, 2022   |  

Decisions are a part of our everyday life. They can include a low-stake decision like buying a cup of coffee before your drive into the office, or a high-stake decision like buying a house. As engineering professionals, your project work requires a multitude of decisions and the opinions of stakeholders throughout the process. Decisions made in a project setting often require a more structured approach to produce a rational and auditable methodology for determining a choice between competing options.

A decision analysis process can help build consensus among stakeholders, consider a wide range of options, identify potential risks, and develop a plan with specific actions. There are several that are commonly used in project management including the Kepner-Tregoe method and Multiple Accounts Analysis. The advantage of a decision analysis process is it can bring together informed people in many fields (fields of interest are called accounts) and can include social, environmental, technical, and cost aspects of a project. These fields of interest often have competing requirements and different risk profiles which the process describes in plain language and evaluates from different stakeholder viewpoints, often in a workshop setting.

Define the Problem

The first step when conducting a decision analysis is defining the problem. During this step, you will develop a thorough description of the situation, its purpose, and identify a core team of stakeholders from a variety of fields (geotechnical, environmental, operations, finance, etc.) who can contribute. The core team should determine the purpose of the decision and any constraints that will guide the scope of the process. It is during this step that you will consider multiple criteria, identify the account structure (social, environmental, technical, cost, etc.), and define assumptions.

Establish the Objective

Once you have developed an understanding of the problem, you can establish the objectives of the decision. Start by compiling a list of objectives and divide them into “musts” and “wants”. "Must” objectives are criteria that must be met for an alternative to be successful (e.g. regulatory criteria). “Want” objectives provide the means of differentiating between options (e.g. maximize opportunity to reach passive care) and do not need to be met for an alternative to succeed.

Identify Alternatives

In this step, you will identify alternatives to meet the decision. These can be achieved through a matrix of elements to develop various options which are discussed throughout the process. If any alternatives do not fulfill all the “must” objectives, screen them out.

Engage Stakeholders

Now, compare the alternatives to the defined objectives. (This is typically undertaken in a workshop setting with key stakeholders and a capable facilitator guiding the process.) Rank each alternative based on its ability to achieve the objectives. For this step, alternatives must meet all the “must” objectives and are evaluated against the “want” objectives. Assess your results by conducting sensitivity analyses and a risk assessment to reduce the overall risk to as minimal as possible.

Make your Decision

Decide on an alternative based on how it ranks above other alternatives, its costs, and risks. Once a decision has been made, develop an action plan, documenting the approach and rationale of the decision, to move the project forward. This step usually includes a forward high-level work plan for the project.

Tips when conducting a decision analysis:

  • Be clear on the situation appraisal and problem analysis prior to undertaking the decision analysis.
  • Have the right people in the room to make decisions. Identify and include key stakeholders to increase the success of the decision analysis process.
  • Achieve consensus at each step.
  • An objective framing workshop is a useful way to engage decision makers and identify policy, strategic and tactical objectives.
  • Characterize each alternative with a supporting body of knowledge enough to compare each option without prior judgement.
  • It can be as simple or complicated as it needs to be. But do not over-complicate. Not all the answers are needed to make an informed decision.
Categories:   Blog

Employee Spotlight – Matthew Forbes

May 18, 2022   |  

Matthew Forbes is a Hydrogeochemist based in our Brisbane office.

1. What does a typical day look like for you?

A normal workday involves getting up to walk the dog, drinking some coffee, and then riding my bike to work. However, during the floods, my bike was stolen and the office was flooded so that is not so normal now. Nowadays, I like to get into the water so I try to swim at lunchtime at Musgrave Park at least once a week. After work, more dog walking, dinner, a beer, and some TV. On weekends I like to head to the beach or the pool or head to Bunnings and buy useless things for my herb and veggie garden.

2. What has been the most fulfilling part about your role?

Using my previous experiences, which are outside the consulting realm, to help provide solid scientific answers to project questions.

3. What is something you find challenging about your role?

Learning about the mindset of industry clients, in terms of understanding what they really want and how much they are willing to pay to get it.

4. What is your biggest achievement?

The first is successfully running a multi-million biogeochemical laboratory at Stanford University. The second is publishing a paper on the global carbon cycle that now has been cited in over 500 subsequent publications.

5. What advice would you give someone pursuing a career in your field?

Learn to plan, because as they say, failing to plan is planning to fail. Be happy but humble about your professional achievements.

6. What qualities do you think make a good scientist?

Experience makes a good scientist, a good geoscientist, and overall a good consultant. I have been very lucky over the last 20 years to work in the fields of hydrogeology, geomorphology, quaternary climate science, oceanography, and soil science across state government, CSRIO, commercial start-ups, world-leading university research institutions, national research centres, and now industries with KCB. All these experiences make me the professional I am now and gave me the skills I bring to KCB.

7. What is your favourite thing about working at KCB?

Diversity of the tasks and challenges and the places that you go to, that you would have not never otherwise.

Categories:   Blog

Selecting a Gridding Algorithm for Geology or Ground Models

May 10, 2022   |  

Geology or ground models are critical elements of engineering or geoscience design. They define the interaction between the built and natural environments.

The built or engineering environment is two-dimensional, consisting of straight lines and formed curves. It is a consistent, patterned design, that is regular and conforms to mathematical summation.

The natural environment (geology) is three-dimensional and inconsistent in form and continuity; variation and change are everywhere and affect every component of the system. Randomness does not work well with engineering design, and order and simplicity do not usually apply to geology.

However, great success in modelling the natural environment occurs when these aspects are integrated in an efficient and defensible manner.

Gridding algorithms are mathematical processes that read irregularly distributed data and convert these into a regularly spaced array. In simpler terms, the process converts drill hole contacts to a format that can be converted to wireframes, geological models or block models, which in turn inform many of our analyses and interpretations.

It is our role as professionals to select an appropriate algorithm that balances aesthetic visualization with the defensible representation of the data. When the wrong algorithm is selected this results in unrealistic data construction that is difficult to identify and is time-consuming and frustrating to correct.

Algorithm Considerations

The main considerations in selecting an interpolation algorithm include:
  • What is the density and distribution of drill control?
  • Do you expect regularity in the surfaces, typical with sedimentary units?
  • Are artificially constructed troughs and peaks in synthetic data between drill holes acceptable?
  • Does generated data need to extend beyond the lateral extents of the base information?
  • Is there geological skew that needs to be considered (i.e. anisotropy)?
  • Are there other geological structures or boundaries?
  • Applying Common Algorithms to Geological Models

    The following drill hole data (left) was contoured using three algorithm methods: triangulation, minimum curvature and kriging.




    Triangulation

    The triangulation algorithm uses lines to create triangles between data points. Triangulation results are blocky and abrupt, yet often best reproduce the original data.



    Mininum Curvature

    Widely used in earth sciences, minimum curvature generates a smooth interpolated surface from the data points. Minimum curvature results honour the original data while achieving smoothed contours.



    Kriging

    Kriging is a geostatistical gridding method used to express trends suggested in the data. Kriging results include troughs and peaks and smooths the areas of limited data. Where base data is sparse or geological contacts are abrupt, kriging can skew the data.






    Use the following principles when selecting a gridding algorithm:
  • Honour the data before aesthetics – it is easier to defend an ugly map than a wrong map.
  • Interrogate the results so that you know the potential error introduced by the algorithm. It has consequences to your design, so understand it!
  • Think about the output before gridding – interpretation must drive this process, not mathematics or visually-pleasing output.
  • Recommendation

    As a starting point, the minimum curvature algorithm is a good all-rounder. Apply a moderate grid density, by aiming initially for 10,000 nodes (or 100 x 100). Always compare the constructed surface with the original data by running a “residuals check” to assess the algorithm’s performance. In areas of sparse data, create sections or view the data to check for algorithm-generated troughs or peaks.

    Categories:   Blog

    Drones Support BC’s Emergency Flood Response

    March 22, 2022   |  

    Klohn Crippen Berger (KCB) was called to respond to various sites impacted by a series of atmospheric river events that swept across British Columbia in November 2021. These events led to floods and debris flows that caused widespread damage to critical transportation infrastructure, including washouts of several culverts adjacent to our client sites.

    A Quick, Safe Response with Drones


    Unable to access the site on foot, the team needed a way to perform site investigation and collect data on the extent of the damage. For the past three years, KCB has utilized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, to help our clients visualize sites and identify potential issues from different vantage points. During emergency climate events, drones have been a crucial tool in collecting data quickly, safely, and cost-effectively.

    A Drone’s Eye View


    KCB’s geotechnical professionals carried out an initial assessment of the damage, as well as inspections of the debris flow initiation and runout zones using a drone. Aerial footage gathered from the sites allowed them to quickly identify any hazardous conditions that still existed, as well as assess the volume of material that had been eroded.

    Data in the Clouds


    Using cloud-based UAV data processing and sharing, KCB was able to quickly share their findings with the client and begin developing design options for a remediated stream crossing. KCB used drones throughout construction to track infill volumes, assess whether ongoing erosion was occurring, and provide regular updates and guidance to the client, including 3D models of the worksite and marked-up sections. The cloud-based UAV processing allowed for a same-day turnaround of data and models.

    Rebuilding with Resilience


    With KCB’s guidance, the client was able to restore service using a temporary culvert and flume within a week of the washouts. KCB remained on-site to assess the performance of the temporary culvert and provide recommendations on construction of a permanent structure which would be able to withstand future atmospheric river events.


    About the Author
    Christian Sampaleanu is an Engineering Geologist in KCB’s Power and Transportation group, based in our Vancouver office. His areas of expertise include slope stability, geohazards, geomorphology and rock mechanics.



    Categories:   Blog

    Employee Spotlight – Jim Heaslop

    February 8, 2022   |  

    Jim Heaslop is a Senior Surface Water Engineer and Associate based in our Brisbane office.

    He joined our Brisbane team in 2018. Jim has 18 years of experience in the field of water engineering and is a Chartered Professional Civil Engineer and Registered Professional Engineer of Queensland (RPEQ).

    Jim is experienced in managing water engineering and water resource projects in the mining and infrastructure sectors. His recent work has included the development and use of dynamic water balance models to define the performance of site water management systems.

    1. What does a typical day look like for you?

    Up at 5am, brew a coffee, eat breakfast and read the news.
    At work by 7am, and usually leave sometime between 5pm and 6pm.
    After work: Running training (with a squad of high school runners). It makes me feel young until the session starts, then they make me feel old and slow.
    Home to cook dinner and catch up with my wife and step kids. In bed between 9pm and 11pm - 9pm is a goal, 11pm is often the reality!

    2. What has been the most fulfilling part about your role?

    Helping others to be successful and excel at what they do.

    3. What is something you find challenging about your role?

    Managing my time to fit in everything I want to do/help with.

    4. What is your biggest achievement?

    Sometimes it feels like getting out of bed is my biggest achievement, and at least once I have done it, I have achieved something for the day!

    5. What advice would you give someone pursuing a career in your field?

    Reward does not come on credit. You need to work hard and invest in your career. Have faith that in time, the return on your investment will come. It may not come as quickly as you want, but your career is measured in decades, not months or years. So don’t be in a rush, you have to enjoy the journey.

    6. What qualities do you think make a good engineer?

    Not losing sight of why we are doing something. Sometimes we focus on the how and what, but forget to ask why. When we ask why, it can open up a range other potential outcomes.

    7. What is your favourite thing about working at KCB?

    The people. It is as simple as that.

    Categories:   Blog