Turbocharging efficiency

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Posted by Kirsten on 30th Dec 2016

What can project managers learn about successful large-scale infrastructure projects? Crossrail’s Simon Wright shares his lessons for all 

With the only two sources of funding for public rail infrastructure being taxation and user charging, project investment needs to be carefully managed.

In recent years, the infrastructure industry has benefited from significant levels of investment. Taking a look at the the National Infrastructure Plan, there are £411bn worth of projects allocated over the next five years. Interestingly, a significant 91 per cent of this has been allotted to the energy and transport sector, and over 60 per cent is said to be privately financed.

When considered in the context of project delivery management, there are a number of practical steps leaders can take to help bolster project outcomes and make the most of infrastructure investment.

Lay the foundations for success

Large, complex programmes should be delivered by a special project organisation, with a clear organisational structure which needs to be defined from the project’s inception.

This helps to isolate risk and allows the development of a purpose built corporate culture, while also avoiding distractions from ‘business as usual’ departments when executing the project.

Process, process, process

The next issue is to establish a comprehensive set of project processes – though this may seem self-evident, you would be surprised how often it isn’t followed.

This should start with the establishment of a clear vision and objectives. A comprehensive governance must be established to manage budget, schedule, quality, risk and change. A project’s success thereafter hangs on the relentless application of these processes.

Tell the story

A strong and authentic culture should be created throughout the client, delivery and supplier teams, lead from the top and widely communicated. This culture needs to be underpinned by a clear vision and a strong set of values, which can help empower managers at every level, inspiring loyalty and trust.

For instance, at Crossrail we have the Little Pink Book which is issued to all new starters and sets out our values of safety, inspiration, collaboration, integrity and respect. This approach will foster a strong team performance and get the best out of individual team members.

Support network

A project needs a collaborative environment, and this can be difficult in the rail industry due to the sheer number of people and organisations involved.

Take Crossrail for example. We have over 10,000 people on site, as well as more than 450 apprentices and many hundreds of  organisations involved. The scale and complexity of the supply chain is often eye watering, yet alignment must be achieved. Leadership qualities and pro-active human resource management are crucial to ensure trust is built throughout the supply chain.

Learning from experience

Last but not least, it is important to consider the adoption of a formal lessons learned programme to capture what is learnt on every project.

This knowledge needs to be made readily available going forward. During my work on the 2012 Olympic Games, we created the ODA’s Learning Legacy website which is still available to all. Data and conclusions can form part of the input into further generations of major programmes and projects, and I continue to share lessons that I have learnt throughout my experience. We are creating what we hope will be an even better knowledge platform at Crossrail, which was launched in February this year.

Ultimately, project success can never be guaranteed, and there is no silver bullet. However, giving attention to these key steps will significantly increase the chance of meeting the objectives and delivering benefits.

The UK population is set to rise by 10 million people by 2035, meaning there will be an urgent need for additional capacity throughout our transport system. The launch of the National Infrastructure Commission should help foster detailed and evidence-based plans for us to prepare for this.

This should allow for cross party working and better integration between road and rail, for example, preventing the familiar “start-stop” approach we have become accustomed to. With this is in mind, we can then plan for the necessary resources with far more certainty.

This investment has been lacking over many years but the opportunity now exists to take a long term approach to invest in skills development and new technology to improve safety and efficiency.

Indeed we must take these steps to increase the probability of project success, improve value for money and ensure benefits are realised on our current projects so that this investment will continue. If we get it right we could be in the midst of a new golden age for infrastructure in the UK.

Simon Wright is programme director at Crossrail

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Learning from Crossrail - Meet The People Event

17 February 2017

We are coming up to the one year anniversary of the launch of the Crossrail Learning Legacy! We are therefore holding a free event for those involved in major projects to hear from and speak to our Learning Legacy Ambassadors.

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