The Kind of Public Project You Never Hear About: Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project

At its core, this belief is about getting to an outcome, and being willing to set ego and self to the side in order to do it.

by Team Tipton

Belief 6: Invest in Only the Best Options and Have the Courage to Let the Rest Fall Away


“At the end of day, this is a city success, not a Peter Binney success, and I’m proud of that. A lot of people came together to get something done.”

-Peter Binney, 
Director, Aurora Water, 2002-2008


The project Peter Binney is referring to is the kind of public project you rarely hear about. Here’s how a paper from the Project Management Institute describes it, “The $653 million Prairie Waters Project is an innovative and environmentally friendly water system that was finished ahead of schedule and more than $100 million under budget.”

Essentially, in five short years, Peter Binney and his team created a resilient and efficient water system to sustain the growing community of Aurora, Colorado. The system is designed to respond to drought and address the changing needs of a community’s development, growth, evolving drinking water standards and unpredictable weather patterns.

Team Tipton was honored to support the City’s team and Peter Binney as he led multiple stakeholders and consultants from public, private, environmental, legal, media, financial and regulatory sectors to make it happen. That process included 500 permits, input from a City of 300,000 citizens, and 10 city councilors, a mayor, and administrators without whose support the project would not have been completed.

As we considered how to talk about Belief #6 of the 7 Core Beliefs of a Transformational Change Leader, invest only in the “best” options, and have the courage to let the other options fall away, Peter Binney’s remarkable achievement came immediately to mind. At its core, this belief is about getting to an outcome, and being willing to set ego and self to the side in order to do it.

During this project, Peter spent a lot of time aligning the many stakeholders and their diverse priorities around a single goal. “The key,” says Peter, “was in defining what we meant by ‘best.'” Reliably providing a growing community with a clean and reliable water system is what mattered to them.That described the “best option” yardstick by which they could measure the myriad of decisions and steps involved in getting there. “By confirming the product of our collective efforts, the various team members then had latitude to express their individual contributions and the sum of the parts resulted in the success of the overall program without micro-management”.

Once the team was clearly aligned around the goal, Peter could trust the experts in their various fields to arrive at their own best solutions that contributed to the accepted goal, “Nearly 100 sub-projects and approaches were considered and assessed; many did not contribute but helped in the refinement to a small number of good solutions that were prioritized for Council to make a final decision” This process of prioritization empowered the many experts to get to their own “a-ha” moments, and to contribute to the forward momentum. No one felt they had something imposed upon them, even when a decision had to be made by what Peter calls “grudging consent” for the sake of the larger goal. The shared vision allowed them to generate and act on the best decisions to get them where they needed to go in constructive fashion.

Of course, there was no one right answer to the challenge that the Prairie Waters Project addressed. And, there is no fully transferrable prescriptive process or blueprint for how to recreate what they did. Rather, what we have to learn from Peter Binney’s transformational leadership approach and style was that by providing a shared, common goal his team was able to concentrate on the best solutions, let the others fall away, and in doing so, get the job done efficiently and effectively.

Until the next time!

All our best,
Team Tipton

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