Open pit copper mine in Spain as seen from the viewpoint outside. One loaded dumptruck climbs the hauling road while the pit behind it shows all the red colours from different minerals

How better project management can boost mining’s capital productivity

Improving five key elements of project management can overcome the productivity challenges of mining and metals megaprojects.

In brief

  • Capital productivity is a common problem in mining and metals, with 64% of megaprojects running over schedule or over budget
  • A holistic approach to project management that includes five key elements can help companies realize synergies and efficiencies to enhance productivity.
  • Miners that improve capital productivity now will be better positioned to navigate ongoing uncertainty and drive better project outcomes.

Capital productivity has long been a concern for the mining and metals sector, with recent volatility and uncertainty, including the disruption of COVID-19, only exacerbating the problem. A June 2021 study of 192 global mining and metals projects worth more than US$1b found that 64% ran over budget or schedule – or both – with the average cost overrun sitting at 39%.

Capital productivity – what it is and how to improve it

Capital productivity is a measure of the efficiency and effectiveness of capital investments in generating operational outputs; it is defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as the “ratio of output to capital input.” In short, capital productivity assesses value for money on a multibillion-dollar scale.

There are two key levers for companies to enhance their capital productivity:
  1. Minimized and predictable “input” through controlled project delivery
  2. Maximized and sustainable “output” through earlier asset operationalization (e.g., schedule acceleration) or operational efficiency (e.g., improved equipment availability and utilization processes and skills)

Successful capital projects in mining drive enhanced capital productivity outcomes by addressing both these levers. By contrast, at-risk capital projects commonly face challenges of both input inflation (such as cost and schedule variance) and compromised output performance (such as operational impacts of poor design).

According to our experience of supporting mining and metals companies on large, complex capital programs around the world, six major risks are behind the productivity challenge:

  1. Project management factors, including inadequate cost and schedule estimation methodology
  2. Stakeholder conflicts that arise from a failure to articulate the project’s value effectively to the economy and community or achieve constructive relationships with partners
  3. Supply chain disruption due to a lack of resilience in supply chains of materials, equipment and workforce
  4. Workforce disruption, including difficulties finding talent and navigating the mobility challenges created by COVID-19
  5. Digital disruption as miners work to integrate digital capabilities into projects and operations
  6. Unstable and uncertain external environment, with geopolitical issues now a top 10 risk for miners, according to EY’s Top 10 business risks and opportunities for mining and metals in 2021 report


Improving capital productivity through enhanced project management

While miners have less direct influence over some of these risks, project management is clearly within their control. Our research shows that miners that invest in the right project management capabilities and toolsets can reap between 15% and 30% of project value. Five key elements can build a holistic approach to capital project delivery to realize synergies and efficiencies, and boost productivity.

1. Front-end design informing scenario planning

Scenario planning can enhance the robustness of risk-based cost and schedule estimates and the performance of core project management processes across all disciplines (including project controls, risk management and quality management). Effective scenario planning also allows miners to identify and understand the impact of potential events, enabling them to respond with agility and confidence when issues arise. This ability to act quickly and decisively can make the difference between projects, programs and portfolios achieving high levels of capital productivity or stalling.

2. Adequate cost and time contingency

Appropriate levels of contingency in business cases ensure investment decisions are based on the best possible information and help miners reduce the potential for unforeseen and unmitigated cost and schedule impacts. The best contingency approaches are not “set and forget,” but revalidated at key stage-gating intervals.

Miners with the most mature risk management processes ensure that the negative impacts on cost and schedule are considered equal to the upside through cost- and time-saving initiatives. They also engage contractors within the process, transferring risk and rewards to those best placed to influence and control risks and opportunities. And the organizations with the most successful approaches encourage their teams to commit to the process by innovating around how to protect budgets and schedules, and drive true productivity across the project life cycle.

3. Resilient supply chains of materials, equipment and workforce

Miners’ supply chains can be weakened through factors such as vendor concentration , low levels of safety stock, limited flexibility, and outdated contingency plans. COVID-19 has added further disruption, and the rise of national protectionism is a growing concern for mining executives.

Ensuring business and project continuity requires a greater focus on upfront planning, including identifying critical risk scenarios and potential points of failure, then defining potential responses. Early warning systems and digital twins can help build end-to-end supply chain resilience.

4. Agile governance to enable fast, informed decision-making

It’s acknowledged that a well-structured and defined governance framework with clear roles and responsibilities can significantly enhance capital productivity but, often, a lack of relevant, usable information can hinder these informed decisions. This data deficit is particularly common around “outer-horizon” key risks — risks that aren’t in the “firefighting” stage currently but are material and require timely action. Embedding leading indicators into reporting dashboards can flag these risks as they emerge, empowering management with the insights they need to make fast, effective decisions.

5. Capital portfolio management to improve long-term business performance

Organizations need to adapt their capital portfolio management strategy so that it remains both fit for purpose now and can rapidly transform to respond to changing business needs. But many miners lack confidence in their current capital portfolio management strategies and are constrained by a shortage of capital to fund all projects. This reaffirms the need for companies to address potential long-term changes to their market, refocus their portfolios on their core business, and carefully plan and prioritize which initiatives to fund in line with defined strategic objectives and goals.

Using leading indicators to mitigate risks to capital productivity

Reporting dashboards that incorporate leading indicators to monitor delivery performance can raise early awareness of potential risks to capital productivity and enable timely intervention. For example, stakeholder management could be monitored via metrics such as the number of stakeholder queries, including complaints. Other effective lead indicators include contingency drawdown rates (i.e., contingency funding consumption over time) and orphan-risk levels (i.e., no owners or mitigations), which assess risk management and planning alignment maturity. Bespoke indicators directly relevant to a project and its success factors can add more value, giving delivery teams the tailored information they need to keep projects on track and optimize productivity.

Uncertainty creates opportunity for change

Uncertainty is likely to continue for mining and metals companies, creating challenges around capital investment decisions but also providing an opportunity for change. Companies that act now to improve capital productivity can better navigate current volatility while also building stronger foundations for enhanced project outcomes in the future.


Capital productivity is a major concern for mining and metals executives, with several internal and external risks making it difficult for large, complex projects to stay on schedule and on budget. COVID-19 exacerbated the challenge, and uncertainty around investment decisions is likely to continue for some time. Miners that seize the opportunity to rethink how projects are managed can better navigate this volatility now, and build the capabilities to enhance the capital productivity of future projects.

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