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Nick Smallwood: Lessons learned from the top of the profession

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I worked within Shell projects and engineering for 38 years, managing portfolios locally, regionally and then globally. I was Chief Projects Engineer for Royal Dutch Shell for the last six years of that before moving into a senior civil service role in 2019. I found the scale and complexity of the Government's Major Projects Portfolio to be extremely broad, impressive and important to UK citizens. I strive to improve project delivery in both the public and private sectors – always accepting nothing less than world-class delivery.

Across the government profession, we need to reform the system and apply lessons learned from successful major projects. At the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) we have a focus on the three Ps: people, principles and performance. It is incredibly important that we equip our people with the tools and capability needed to deliver life-changing projects and programmes, but also to get the basics of project delivery right so that we drive a step change in performance.

Improving outcomes in project delivery

Fundamental to reforming the project delivery space is developing the right guidance. One year ago we published our policy document, Transforming Infrastructure Performance: Roadmap to 2030 (TIP). TIP’s roadmap describes a vision for the future in which we collectively prioritise societal outcomes and use modern digital approaches and technologies, alongside improved delivery models. Significant progress is being made to implement the TIP principles with industry and government alike, and best practice is being shared with these groups to make an even greater impact.

Fundamental to delivering TIP is improving outcomes for nature by building greener, more sustainable infrastructure. An example of this is the Additional Prisons Programme that is using modern methods of construction, such as 3D modelling, as well as improved sustainability and green technology to cut carbon emissions.

TIP embeds critical thinking around digitalisation of infrastructure, so that we continue to embrace innovation in all of our projects. This has already become a reality for projects such as Crossrail, which came into service earlier in 2022.

Crossrail used BIM (Building Information Modelling) during project management, construction and design to save time and money. This includes the pioneering build of a ‘digital twin’ – a realistic digital version of the physical railway line, providing more accuracy over how it is designed and constructed. The learning legacy from Crossrail has enabled us to share best practice and inform future projects and programmes of what worked and what didn’t. This includes subsequent rail projects such as HS2, which also uses a ‘digital twin’.

People in project delivery

I find great satisfaction working within a profession that truly transforms the country that we live in. Projects ultimately deliver the public services that allow the UK to thrive, innovate and prosper – and people are of course at the very heart of this. We are very active in this space and ensuring people in government have the skills they need is very important.

The Government Projects Academy brings together professional standards, training and development for people working in project delivery. This includes ongoing development of innovative training products, including new introductory e-learning and modular training that can be accessed through the recently launched Project Delivery Hub. We have also launched the first workbooks for our brand-new Government Project Delivery Framework. Additionally, the IPA has produced a new IPA Digitalisation Guide that outlines the benefits of incorporating digital tools into project delivery strategies.

We are driving project delivery to a place it has never been before. A place with innovation, digital transformation and the protection of our planet at the heart of it. It really is time to create change and a brighter future for our citizens.

We’re delighted to announce the winners for the prestigious APM Project Management Awards here


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  1. Scott Crittell
    Scott Crittell 22 December 2022, 03:53 PM

    Very much agreed it will always be people to use the data and information to identify themes and approaches or overcome problems. Lose the people and lose the project but the opposite is true if you win the people to the vision of the project.