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20 years of learning

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Following our 2011 theme of excellence in project management, our latest event, 20 years of learning held at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club on 21st June 2011 was a very interesting and thought provoking session.Mr. Bryan Clifford shared his experience and the collective wisdom of his colleagues, who have facilitated project partnering and alliances in USA, Middle East, South Africa and UK over the past 20 years. With the topic being Twenty Years of Learning or more specifically, Sharing Lessons Learned from Twenty Years of Facilitating the Development of Collaborative Relationship for Project Teams and Stakeholders. The seminar was attended by 43 members and guests.

Bryan has 30 years of experience in the construction and engineering industry. He is a Chartered Engineer, specializing in developing and advising on partnering programmes focusing on the development of collaborative business strategies. Now in the role of Director of JCP Consultancy International Ltd, Bryan has championed the cause of improvement in Hong Kong projects for 12 years. He has helped more than 100 project teams in Hong Kong, including the first NEC pilot project for the HK Government, MTRC - Cross Border Express and Tseung Kwan O Extension, and Government projects with ArSD, DSD, WSD, HyD, CEDD, new Government HQs at Tamar and Stonecutters Bridge.

The event started with Bryan, assisted by David Maxwell of JCP, demonstrating the way that human relationship difficulties could be turned to advantages. He highlighted the importance of partnering. Participants were asked to do a test individually in an examination environment. They were required to find out the total number of squares in a 4 by 4 cell. Individual answers ranged vastly from 16 to 35 squares, or 13 different views from 36 persons. They were later allowed to work it out in pairs. Surprisingly, nearly all of them got the right answer of 30. The test results indicate that competition with each other sub-optimizes the performance, but collaboration can offer success.

Over the past 20 years, JCP have built up 500+ collaborative business relationships. They include Shell North Sea going back to 1991, the first NEC contractual partnering pilot for DSD, HK Government in 2009 and the contractual partnering for CLP, Hong Kong in 2011. Bryan observes that organizations in Asia are more hierarchical and more conservative but have the potential to improve.

Bryan highlighted the need for good practice in partnering. He cited research in partnering relationships by the University of Reading. The research results show that mature partnering can reduce the project costs by up to 50 per cent. A huge amount of waste in a traditional project can be eliminated in the new collaborative way. Bryan quoted Taking Tseung Kwan O Line as an example. Partnering alone results in HK$2bn gain, four months ahead of schedule and final accounts being settled in three months, among others. The success is attributable to regular reviews on partnering and improvement, engaged contractors at high level, incentive payments/scheme, etc. Bryan also gave good examples of DSD Pilot Project and HyD Castle Peak Road. They were completed ahead of schedule, and within target cost and budget. The major success factors are the leadership and support from senior management, regular joint workshops, use of NEC and development of collaborative skills. Other major MTR target cost success factors include joint information management, joint risk management, joint and systematic selection and development of time and cost saving opportunities. All of this points to the collaborative approach, which actually plays a leading role in improving time, costs and quality outputs of a project.

Bryan summed up his presentation on 20 years of learning, by looking at how to change from a traditional approach to a collaborative one, in three ways: start, do and learn from failure points. Bryan gave some guidelines on how a project should be started. In the Start part, the major points are: previous failure to deliver on time, costs and quality, leadership buy-in, right mind-set, value and principle, professionalism, realistic budgets and timescales, independent experienced facilitation, recognition that client will have to change the most, etc. Willingness to take risk is also crucial at the beginning of a project. Importantly Bryan suggested that collaboration should begin at home. Bryan suggested to select best fit partners to deliver best value in long term, and plan it as a journey of improvement. There should be firm commitment to continuous improvement and to long term mutual benefit, focusing on needs of end users. Turning to the Do part, Bryan identified some main types of group task that can be used, each of which should be carried out by the parties concerned. They are: strive for win/win, manage the relationship through Champion Groups, develop skills at the front line, engage in the middle in driving out waste, measure investment and performance, main contractor must engage supply chain, and so on. Bryan advised that partnering should go down to the sub-contractors. Finally, partnering is not risk-free. According to Bryan, there is a variety of reasons for a project to fail, major ones in the Learn part being: starting off wrong, i.e., adversarial negotiations, lack of leadership, lip service/pretence, no real trust, not understanding the drivers and needs, and the new way of working, hidden agendas, ineffective communication, and not focusing on changing behaviours.

There was also a general feeling within that building a good relationship is one where there is openness to accept changes. Sharing the load with partners is also important in the development of a collaborative industry strategy. A project manager learns from his/her lessons, but a wise project manager learns from others.


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