Project Development Best Practices

Three key strategies

Tribal government can sometimes struggle with land management and project development. That can be overcome with master planning and feasibility studies that live beyond a current administration while still keeping up to date with market conditions. It’s important to have an honest assessment of the internal staffing capacity and capabilities to manage the development process into the operations of new facilities.

Identify Project Goals and Stakeholders

There are key strategies on how to ensure you have the right resources to deliver your projects with the best value for the Tribe. Successful projects are accomplished by teams of people.

First, there has to be a vision. The question needs to be asked: what is it the team seeks to accomplish?

Second, there has to be alignment – the degree to which each team commits to achieving the vision.

Third, there needs to be a champion or thought leader in which a single point of responsibility is there throughout the project lifecycle.

The greatest risks to a project outcome include:

  • Insufficient planning
  • No single point of accountability
  • Poor communication
  • Those who implement are not part of the planning
  • The budget and schedule are not reflecting of the current market conditions
  • Untimely decision making
  • Tribal political environment

Building a strong project team based on current resources is also a major concern, said Kari McCormick, director of client services with the Wenaha Group.

“That is an ongoing theme that everything centers around staffing and resources for labor,” McCormick said.

Vision is Vital

Larry Dustin with Raving Edge, former executive with Westin Hotels & Resorts and Universal Studios, and board member at CNL Hospitality Properties, said vision is an important concept whether it’s a big or small project.

“The projects that have the most success have team members that have crystal clarity of what the team is trying to accomplish,” Dustin said. “The degree in which you’re likely to get that accomplished and is the degree to which each member of the team has internalized it and have committed themselves to that vision.”

That’s something that is visible right away when the team members are in sync with each other, Dustin said.

Dustin also added that he hasn’t seen a successful project that didn’t have a champion, or some thought leader, that keeps driving the train.

“There’s nothing worse than getting through the project and constructing the building and opening the hotel poorly to the extent it’s almost a failure,” Dustin said. “You have to go from end-to-end in these projects.”

Plan for Mistakes

Joe Deere, Tribal Councilor with the Cherokee Nation, said the mistakes he sees constantly reflect how architects will draw up a great looking facility, but the construction management gets brought in at the tail end.

“You check all your boxes to make sure it’s going to work, and then you build,” Deere said. “What I have seen is people build, and then they come back 30 days later, and they need $18 million more.”

It’s important to get it right, Deere said.

“As soon as we start reaching out to Congress and show any weakness with the Tribe, that gives them a little bit with our Tribal sovereignty, which is all across the U.S. right now,” Deere said.

Master Planning is Key

Rob Quaempts, President of the Wenaha Group and former Public Works Director for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indians, of which he is a member, said every Tribe has the same issues when it comes to economic and community development.

“Having a master plan is a living and breathing document that helps guide not only for today but five, 10 and 25 years down the road,” Quaempts said. “It can change and is going to change, but at least you have a guide that’s going to help you make these determinations. What we have seen in the past is a really good idea comes out and additional funding hits the streets, and the Tribe is able to grab a hold of that funding. They start to head down the path of building it and the next thing you know is that you don’t have the infrastructure, power, water, and wastewater services in place to be able to do that.”

Quaempts said being able to implement and carry through a master plan will help as Tribes are going through the process because decisions need to be made from the beginning. Oftentimes, people in Indian Country will talk about how a project took a long time, but there might be 10, 15 to 20 years of planning before it’s even on paper, he said.

“You should refresh master plans and address housing and other services and the economic branch and find that balance between the two,” Quaempts said. “There are also cultural elements you need to be considerate of. Some Tribes make cultural decisions on an economic opportunity. I have seen projects succeed and also seen them die because they didn’t align with the cultural values of that community.”

Feasibility studies along with building a strong project team that taps into finance, facilities staff, and gaming staff is vital, Quaempts said.

From the start, Quaempts said a clear communication plan must be created that establishes roles and responsibilities for every partner and team member involved in the project. Without that, there will be communication breakdowns.

“Regardless of how successful a project may be, whether on schedule and on budget, if you don’t have a clear communication plan that can break everything down,” Quaempts said.