Making ready Cambridge water recycling system

This is a case study for the second step of the Production Management in Design and Construction guide. It explains how an Anglian Water water treatment plant project got delivered in half the usual time.

An aerial view of the water treatment plant
An aerial view of the water treatment plant

Executive Summary

Cambridge is world famous as a centre of education and research. As a result it is also one of the fastest growing cities in the UK, with its universities, hi tech, biotech and tourism industries drawing people from all over the globe. Thousands of new homes are being built, new businesses have started and the population grew by more than 12 per cent between 2001 and 2011 – the fifth highest rate in the UK. Anglian Water supplies Cambridge with water recycling services and has a vital role to play in keeping the city and its economy moving.

In 2013 Anglian Water made the decision to invest in Cambridge Water Recycling Centre by creating a 156,000 population equivalent (pe) treatment facility on the site. The challenge for the project team was to design, procure, assemble and commission the first phase of the new assets (75,000pe) in 18 months and the full works in 24 months. This is in approximately half the time it would have traditionally taken. There was also a challenge to deliver the assets for a lower cost and lower embodied carbon.

The team realised that to meet these challenges they needed to get everyone working together towards a common goal from the beginning of the project. As such, the Supply Chain, Operations and the Assembly teams were integrated into the delivery team, offering great ideas for cost and time savings and minimising rework.

Due to the extremely challenging timescales there was a focus on time management from the outset. The business then made the decision to develop a common approach for Cambridge and four other business critical projects that were being delivered at the same time. This included the development of an enhanced approach to collaborative planning and production meetings.


Previous processes were silos of planning sessions being carried out by different groups and not collaboratively. ‘Plan for Stage’ is a planning meeting that occurred at the beginning of a new project phase, usually excluding additional interim meetings in the process. This lead to a significant possibility of unreliable programmes developed due to the inevitable changes that occurred as a project developed. In addition there was no formal production management process in place.

These processes were reviewed with the Integrated Delivery team i.e. Supply Chain, Operations, and Assembly. Following the review an enhanced approach to planning and production meetings was created. This was based around a ‘zoom lens’ model. This allowed to plan in more detail the tasks for the weeks ensuring critical long term activities were on track and developed a more robust short term programme by looking at both activities and tasks. This approach is summarised in the following table.

Activity Frequency Detail
Plan to the end of the job Every 2 months Activity
'Plan for Stage' Collaborative Planning Start of each stage Activity
6 - 8 Week Collaborative Planning Look Ahead Every month Activity / task
2 - 3 Week Collaborative Planning Look Ahead Weekly Activity / task
Weekly Production meetings Weekly Task

What we did

‘Plan for Stage’ Collaborative Planning

Plan for stage process map
Plan for Stage Process flow chart

The first step was to arrange a ‘Plan for Stage’ collaborative planning session with representatives of all of the suppliers and delivery teams involved in the project. This initial session lasted up to a day and was facilitated by one of the trained @One Alliance facilitators. The facilitator and the project manager engaged the suppliers and project delivery teams in the detailed planning of the project working backwards from the completion date. In this process they used 3D modelling of the layout of the site, a large sheet of paper pinned to the wall which had pre-defined milestones set by the client, and packs of coloured sticky notes per supplier and discipline.

At the end of the session it was agreed that this plan would serve as the baseline for the project. This baseline programme plan was 2-300 items long with visible, explicit interim milestones. The objectives of the session were to establish the critical path of the optimum sequence of activities for the stage and to list for each activity all of the inputs required for it to be completed. Known risks were also addressed during these sessions.

At a later stage in the production process, these lists were critical in ensuring that every activity could be completed before a supplier committed to implementing it.

In completion of the collaborative planning exercise, the planners took away all of the material that had been produced and developed from it the baseline programme plan for the project.

The baseline plan
An image of what the baseline programme plan looked like

The process of producing this programme ensured that the suppliers owned it and had an interest in implementing it successfully. The process also exposed many conflicts and risks that might not have been identified in a more traditional planning process. It created a sense of common purpose amongst the suppliers and the project delivery team that would be critical to the success of the project. This process was repeated at each stage of the capital delivery programme. Interim collaborative planning sessions were carried out throughout the commissioning phase too.

6-8 Week Collaboration Look Ahead Meeting

Once the project commenced, collaboratively 6-8 week look ahead sessions were facilitated. These were effective 3-4 hour planning sessions. The outcome of these meetings were to strategically plan out together with the project team the next eight weeks of work; thereby aligning works on site and designs with the project strategic plans including sequences, timelines and milestones. The output was a robust 8-week programme plan which was circulated to all stakeholders.

The 6 - 8 week collaboration meeting
6-8 Week Collaboration look ahead meeting

2-3 Week Collaboration Look Ahead Meeting

These meetings discussed more detailed plans formed collaboratively in 2-3 week look ahead sessions which were run fortnightly with direct delivery and process partners. These were 1-2 hour sessions. The team planned out in these sessions the work by section of works for the next two to three weeks; thereby aligning works on site and designs with the 8-week collaborative plans including sequences, timelines and milestones. The output of these sessions included a 2-3 week Gantt chart plan which was circulated to all stakeholders.

Weekly Production Meetings

These meetings planned out the activities on a weekly basis to ensure timely release of information to site. The output was a weekly production plan of actions. The collaboration sessions aimed at getting wider team buy-in, transparency and expert knowledge into the plans. They flagged up outstanding issues and challenges well in advance.

Close up of the production board
The production board

The production boards portrayed above and below represented a 4-week rolling look ahead overview from the programme plan from which a week ahead detailed task list could be created. Production boards were 1.2m high x 1.8m wide. The lower third of the board contained a risk and opportunities section capturing the issues or opportunities raised, the cause of the issue, the resolution status, how it was resolved, the impact caused and the owner. The production boards were updated weekly on a rolling 3-week basis. The production boards were updated by the site delivery teams and process partners (sub-contractors). Photographs of the board were captured and emailed to a central database from which monthly reliability was reported back to the business.

Staff updating the production board
People amending the production board

The production boards included a risks and opportunities section (3R documents) which captured the root of the problem, potential root cause and their resolutions.

Benefits and Outcomes

The benefits of this approach are that those who undertook the work were those who planned it. The supply chain was engaged in the planning of the project and this early involvement helped in the development of clear accountabilities and increased both planning and programme ownership. This in return created shared goals and a collaborative ‘one-team’ approach between the project delivery team and supply chain.

A key benefit was the ability to identify issues early and ensure all inputs were in place before an activity was undertaken. This resulted into 66% programme stability (the number of daily completed activities / the number of daily planned activities) for the period July 2014 to January 2015. This is above average for the construction industry as traditional construction management approaches reportedly achieved 50-60% programme stability. From the measured activities during this period and projects on site during that time, 55/848 were completed on time. This was one of the contributing factors that enabled Phase 1 of the Cambridge project to be delivered on time.

Further Information

John Podmore (Alliance Management Team), Anglian Water

Production Management in Design and Construction guide

There are five steps in the Production Management in Design and Construction guide:

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