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Can we embrace an Infrastructure revolution?

Shutterstock 1241125846 Editorial Credit Umesh Gogna Shutterstock.Com

The impact of the past 12 months has been challenging for the whole world, but we are now starting to see light at the end of the tunnel and the hope of returning to some form of normality. As we start to focus on the future could now be the time for programme management to become core to help drive economic recovery?

For many years there has been an increasing recognition of the contribution that our national infrastructure brings to the UK economy. Modern and well-connected infrastructure can increase productivity, improve global competitiveness and drive economic growth. In evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s review of delivering infrastructure through major projects, the director of the Confederation of British Industry noted that every £1 invested in infrastructure generates £2.92 benefit for the economy.

However, in many areas the funding to invest in infrastructure has been limited. Often major infrastructure programmes and projects are perceived to be delivered inefficiently and do not generate the required return on investment; sometimes due to delays and budget over-runs, sometimes as a result of the benefits originally envisaged not being obvious. Stop-start investment and general under investment has pushed the UK to be behind other European countries. The World Economic Forum ranked the UK as 11 in terms of quality of infrastructure and a long way behind in terms of some specific elements of infrastructure, for example transport was ranked as 28.

As the health crisis from the pandemic starts to subside the economic crises will linger on. The UK government has already highlighted infrastructure projects as a key part of the recovery effort. In the summer of 2020 plans for additional investment in infrastructure were announced under the banner of ‘build back better’ and a focus on levelling up across the UK. This was supplemented by update of the National Infrastructure Strategy and the Ten Point Plan for Green Industrial Revolution in November 2020, with a focus on the infrastructure changes that will be needed to decarbonise the economy and adapt to climate change. These range from the shift to electric vehicles and carbon capture through to creating more green spaces and national parks – ultimately achieving Net Zero by 2050.

To achieve the infrastructure ambition and the social and wider economic benefits, these investments will need to be delivered as quickly and efficiently as possible. As programme and project professionals we can apply our skills to help prioritise, plan and deliver infrastructure in a way that achieves the maximum return on investment to support the recovery effort.  To do this we need to focus on the outcomes and benefits that are to be generated by programmes and projects giving this as much attention as the measurement of costs and time associated with delivery.  Taking a programmatic approach rather than delivering projects independently allows a structured approach to link delivery of infrastructure to the operational changes needed to yield the best outcomes.

We need to apply the available tools and techniques to:

  • Maximise the standardisation of designs and the use of modern methods of construction to reduce cost, waste and time whilst creating safer working environments and a Net Zero solutions.
  • To adopt enterprise models such as Project 13 to bring organisations together to deliver under collaborative arrangements where everyone is aligned and incentivised to drive efficient delivery.
  • Embrace digital solutions to speed up design, procurement and construction through collaborative virtual working environments and seamlessly transition asset information from the project to the operational organisations.

We should also recognise that infrastructure on its own does not generate benefits, it creates the opportunity to establish new capabilities, ways of living and working. Ultimately, with changes beyond physical elements, the outcomes and positive benefits can materialise.

Effective programme management will create the environment and embed approaches that will:

  • Create strong alignment to the organisation’s strategy and a focus on the outcomes and benefits required to be delivered from the investment
  • Coordinate projects to create synergies and optimise delivery plans to reduce cost and delivery timescales
  • Improve management of risk by escalating strategic risks or commonly occurring risks on projects to the programme level for coordinated management
  • Make more effective use of resources and optimising the supply chain to improve the flow of work and maintain productivity across projects
  • Manage the transition of project delivery into a future operation that creates new capabilities, outcomes and benefits.

The APM document the value of programme management provides an overview of how embedding a programmatic approach can help organisations deliver more effectively.

Now is the time for us as programme management professionals to apply our skills to help maximise the return on investment from infrastructure programmes in support of the economic boost needed to recover from the pandemic, don’t you think?

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Image: Umesh Gogna/Shutterstock.com

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