As COVID-19 disruption continues to put pressure on our economy and heightens uncertainty in the marketplace, Australia’s federal and state governments are kicking off the recovery process using multiple economic levers, including fast tracking shovel ready projects.

As governments strive to deliver results under significant pressure, the project management profession has a valuable role to play in ensuring projects achieve their strategic goals of supporting economic growth, generating jobs, and creating resilient infrastructure that is fit-for-purpose.

In this thinking paper from the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) and Aurecon, we highlight the importance of project management expertise to help revive our economy and leave a legacy not just for our country and communities, but also for the project management profession itself.

Across the world, governments’ fiscal recovery plans are setting new spending records as they seek to inject momentum into economies that are facing great strain in the face of COVID-19.

Australia’s response is unprecedented, with the Federal Government budgeting $213.6 billion for the response (as of 31 March 2020), in addition to state and territory government measures of approximately $15 billion. With early measures such as JobKeeper focussed on lessening immediate economic impacts, recent announcements have turned to other more traditional recovery measures, including a raft of shovel ready projects.

The volume of projects commissioned across every state and territory aim to “bust congestion, increase productivity, improve safety, and boost jobs at a time we need it most.” As governments bring forward billions of dollars-worth of shovel ready infrastructure projects, there is a huge opportunity for our country as well as future communities, if we get it right.

Never before have the stakes been so high to ensure timely and accurate execution of these projects in an uncertain economy. Never before has there been a more critical time to ask: ‘What is needed to be successful through this infrastructure stimulus package?’ and ‘How do we navigate the wave of spending and ensure we leave a legacy of money well spent on projects that make a change and solve long term problems?’ Never before has there been such an opportunity to learn from the past, test our assumptions and trial new solutions.

History reminds us that the pressure to deliver large volumes of shovel ready programs can exacerbate weaknesses in the structure and processes adopted by organisations, contractors, construction, and the engineering, architecture and design industry as a whole. Agencies with significant increases in capital spend often need a significant uplift in governance, skills and expertise to deliver that spend in a strategic and diligent way to achieve the best outcomes.