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The Role of Benchmarking and Independent Reviews


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Author N Cusworth, D Hunter and J Miller


Recent project failures have called into question the use and relevance of benchmarking and independent reviews, forcing a rethink of traditional processes and procedures.

With cost estimates and schedules dramatically varying from lows seen around the global financial crisis to peaks experienced in the recent mining boom, benchmarking has ranged between essential and misleading.

Profound shifts are now underway in future project delivery strategies as the market moves away from cost-plus engineering, procurement and construction management. The current trends in project implementation are to utilise more lump-sum design and construct or fixed-price supply and construct contracts. This trend will remove transparency in detailed cost information by reducing the sources and clarity of cost data.

Independent peer reviews (IPRs) of studies and investment recommendations performed over the last decade have both failed to prevent flawed or deficient projects from proceeding to approval and funding, and been successful in ensuring that owners did not proceed with doomed investments.

In recent times, it has been recognised by some owners, contractors and engineers that traditional benchmarking checks or IPRs, or a combination of both, will not necessarily produce reliable assessments of study conclusions and of the forecasts of project outcomes. To be of value, the benchmarking process now also needs to recognise the highly volatile responses from the engineering and construction industry to the current and future markets for their services.

Similarly, reviewers who draw upon benchmarks of past project experiences on an understanding of the things that shaped and influenced their outcomes need to be more aware of how a future dynamic market may impact the outcome of the projects and raise warning flags accordingly.

With the commodity cycle currently approaching what is hoped is its bottom, ensuring that benchmarking and independent reviews evolve into reliable, transparent and worthwhile processes becomes even more important. This can only be achieved with more transparent and analytical benchmarking and business-orientated reviews that both recognise and calculate the impacts of dynamic markets on project implementation.


Cusworth, N, Hunter, D and Miller, J, 2016. The role of benchmarking and independent reviews, in Proceedings Project Evaluation 2016, pp 249–259 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).