NJF Consulting

Are you the Conductor or a Player in the MinEx Orchestra?

The mineral exploration process is fundamentally quite simple. In essence, it involves the following stages:

  1. Business development: to identify a new Project Area.
  2. Regional targeting: to identify “areas of interest” within a Project Area.
  3. Drill target definition: to define specific drill targets within areas of interest.
  4. Initial drill testing: to test for bedrock mineralization.
  5. Follow-up drilling: to define the size and grade of a discovery.

Of course, we all know it’s more complicated than that and each stage of the process may take several years to complete. On top of that, as if the technical challenge of discovering a new mineral deposit were not hard enough, there are non-technical aspects of the business that will always demand management attention. These include the management of people (arguably the toughest challenge of all!), administration and finance, and the “licence to operate” issues, related to health and safety, environmental management, and community relations; not to mention the ongoing reporting demands for boards of directors, investors, and other stakeholders.

From a management perspective

From a management perspective, the mineral exploration business can be split into six key aspects, as follows:

  1. New Business Development.
  2. Technical Exploration.
  3. Data Management.
  4. Human Resources (HR).
  5. Administration & Finance.
  6. Licence to Operate Issues (Health & Safety, Environment and Community Relations).
Drilling
Mining

The Exploration Manager must be across all these key aspects. Ideally, initiatives in each aspect should be pushed in parallel, to maintain a well-balanced approach to the business. Mineral exploration companies often land themselves in trouble by neglecting one or more of these key areas, and the problems that follow usually take up more time (and money) than they’re worth. It’s far better to keep the business on an even keel, by moving forward on all fronts simultaneously. Inevitably, this will lead to clashes of priorities.

The constant mix of demands means that Exploration Managers should work on many fronts, in parallel. They must keep many balls in the air to:

  • Plan for the future.
  • Monitor progress.
  • Provide quality control.
  • Milk the exploration data.
  • Manage the staff (and train them).
  • Deal with administration and financial matters.
  • Keep everyone safe.
  • Minimise environmental impacts.
  • Maintain good relations with local communities.

Easy-peasy!

So, where does the new exploration manager learn the necessary skills to manage exploration effectively? Historically, many exploration managers will have been taught, informally, “on the job”, by line managers, who acted as mentors, both on-site in the field and back at the office. But commonly, nowadays, geologists are being promoted to management positions without any management skills or experience. In some cases, this is prompted by a government requirement to employ local nationals (especially in the developing world) – or it may simply be an attempt to save costs by employing a less experienced individual. Many geologists have never worked for a large corporation, where staff development and training programmes might be more formal.

On top of that, many requirements of current best practice exploration management were not as important in the past – and some managers are clearly not, themselves, equipped to teach some aspects of the current minimum requirement – particularly for non-technical issues (e.g. health and safety management, community relations).

How to set priorities is a key aim of the new book on Mineral Exploration Management, by this author – soon to be published by the Australian Institute of Geoscientists (AIG). And a common theme throughout the book is to engage with experts – often. Colleagues, consultants, academics, or anyone else with experience to share.

An Exploration Manager can be likened to the conductor of an orchestra: the conductor doesn’t need to be an expert player of any particular instrument, but he does need to know how the sound of all the instruments blend together, to create a symphony. Similarly, the Exploration Manager doesn’t need to be an expert in any particular discipline or exploration technique, but he does need to understand when and how to utilize each, to progress the mineral exploration effort ­- and, just as importantly, when NOT to!

Feedback on the new book will be greatly appreciated, contact me via my contact page or email me directly.

Nick Franey

About Author
Nick Franey is a geologist with a broad range of exploration management experience, at grassroots and advanced project level, having searched for most types of gold and base metal deposit in a variety of geological terranes.