Performance improvement in Area 13 of the Highways England network

This is a case study for step five of the Production Management in Design and Construction guide. It explains how Jacobs and Highways England used collaborative planning to improve performance in managing highways.

Evening traffic on a motorway. Jacobs and Highways England have collaborated to improve the process of managing the road network.
Evening traffic on a motorway. Jacobs and Highways England have collaborated to improve the process of managing the road network.


EM Highways recognised the business need to consolidate their processes and monitoring of scheme delivery in line with the agreed programme, in particular as Highways England introduced the Gearing for Growth initiative which led to a significant increase in the number of schemes to be designed. As way of comparison in 2013/14 a total of 76 outputs across the various portfolios was recorded; in 2014/15 at time of this report the equivalent number stands at 165 outputs i.e. more than double the usual workload.

In addition to these outputs, a suite of pre-design schemes for 2015/16 and beyond were also instructed. To help address these challenges, EM worked with Navitas Project Solutions to deploy the collaborative planning approach under sponsorship from Highways England and implemented various SMART production management techniques to improve both portfolio and programme performance.

Area 13 of the Highways England network

Highways within Area 13
Highways network in Area 13

The network in Area 13 covers Cumbria and North Lancashire. The network consists of the M6 motorway from just north of Junction 30 through to the Scottish Border just beyond J45; the M55 from the junction with the M6 to J4 on the outskirts of Blackpool; the A66 trunk road between Workington on the west coast to the County Durham border; the A595 between the A66 and Calder Bridge; the A590 from J36 of the M6 to the outskirts of Barrow-in- Furness; and the A585 from J3 of the M55 to Fleetwood.

The approximate length of the Area 13 network is 237 miles – made up of 111 miles of motorway and a further 126 miles of trunk road.

Managing Agent Contractor EM Highway Services Ltd supports the Highways Agency in managing the network. This contract started in July 2010 and is due to end in 2015.

Understanding the Process and Challenges

The current process of delivering work is as follows:

Current process map
The current process of delivering work

The gateways at the end of each process step were identified as:

  1. Get Work Approved: Prepare Approval to Proceed (A2P)
  2. Complete Design: Issue Derived Price Folder (DP) to Commercial. An interim milestone on some schemes was identified as the Stage 2 Road Safety Audit (RSA2)
  3. Complete Target Pricing: Issue Project Implementation Form (PIF)
  4. Complete Delivery: Issue Completion Certificate
  5. Post Completion and Close out: Carry out RSA3 (if applicable), Issue Final Account and Archive

Prior to the collaborative planning approach across all stages in the process there was:

  • A difficulty in establishing how the overall team was performing in relation to cost and time
  • Some degree of a silo type working environment
  • A lack of reliability that a scheme will be ready to pass to the next team when expected

At complete design stage:

  • There was only limited focus on the short term activities
  • SMART tasks were not being committed for the week
  • It was not clear what the reasons and root causes were for uncompleted tasks

At complete target price stage there were peaks and troughs of workload with no forward visibility of these to assist in managing resources.

At construction stage there was a lack of reliability of schemes being available at the expected time.

What we did

A start-up meeting was held with the EM team to agree and give an overview of the purpose, possible outcomes and the implementation plan for Collaborative Planning and Lean Visual Management Boards (LVMB). This was then communicated at the first Collaborative Planning session with the design teams.

  (Low) 1 2 3 (High) 4
Transparency 6 26 70 48
Communication 1 20 83 16
Collaboration* 6 48 102 54
Morale 5 42 115 48
Ownership 3 16 34 7
Totals 21 152 402 173

Collaborative planning

Collaborative planning deployed process map
The current process of delivering work

Individual weekly Production Meetings were introduced across all teams (approximately 30 minutes each) to carry out the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. The meetings were initially led by Navitas with support from the Portfolios leads (Members of the Champions group) and attended by the various members of the Design Teams.

Plan Do Check Act diagram
Plan Do Check Act diagram

Plan - Ensuring the Lead Designer for each Scheme has an up-to-date programme detailing key deliverables in the right sequence.

Do - Ensuring tasks committed to at the weekly production meeting are SMART and Designers are working to full capacity of their time. This gives the responsible managers an opportunity to share resources if more urgent deadlines need to be met.

Check - Check the status of tasks for a production plan from the previous week and update as complete or incomplete. If incomplete, mandatory capture of the root cause and a generic category is required.

Act - Analysis of tasks not completed as planned is available in relation to reliability trends, reasons and specific root causes at Team and Area level.

Lean Visual Management System

Once the Collaborative Planning process and PDCA was established it was decided to introduce Lean Visual Management in the form of magnetic whiteboards with magnets denoting a scheme across the entire life cycle of a scheme.

Lean Visual Management process diagram
The current process of delivering work

Stage 1: Boards were set up to reflect the process with the key milestones shown as vertical lines.

Planning boards
The planning boards

Stage 2: Content information for the magnet was established with the responsible managers. It was agreed that the focus should be on time reliability.

Magnets aided the team to see how the scheme was performing
Magnets aided the team to see how the scheme was performing

With the aid of coloured magnets (red - not on target, green – on target or better) the team can see instantly how a scheme is performing. They can also see instantly the upcoming milestone dates and therefore are motivated to commit the work that needs to be done to meet the targets.

Stage 3: Populate and manage the boards. Due to limited wall space within the main design offices at both Penrith and Garstang it was decided to use double sided boards with wheeled frames and to locate the boards in the main meeting rooms. Ahead of the weekly meetings the design teams reviewed the dates and location of the magnets. They updated and moved accordingly as well as ensured the coloured magnets show the appropriate status. This ensures that the meeting can consider schemes in the correct context and establish the next week’s actions as necessary. On a weekly basis each of the four design teams’ reliability, reasons and root causes were reviewed.


A key tool used in the meetings was Video Conferencing (VC) facilities between the EM offices in Penrith and Garstang. This allowed the teams to interact and view each other’s boards without the extra complication and lost time involved in travelling the 60 miles in between each week. The weekly meetings were alternately held in the Penrith and Garstang offices. The other team called in via the VC-system. This allowed either team to get a feel for the other’s board, the number of schemes, where the red markers were and to get a sense of the group dynamics. This would not have been possible using telephone conferencing.

Transferring the process

Once the Collaborative Planning and LVMB process were up and running within the EM offices at Penrith and Garstang it was decided to widen the scope to pick up the significant number of RoR[CJ3] schemes which had been assigned to Mouchel to progress from their Manchester and Liverpool offices. This was identified as a key concern at the outset by EM staff and positive engagement of outsourced teams was given specific focus as a consequence.

As with the initial introduction, this was facilitated by Navitas and involved an initial introductory meeting with the EM Champions and key members of the Mouchel team. Boards were established for the outsourcing in the EM offices and identical boards were set up in Manchester and Liverpool, and in July the Mouchel team began calling into the weekly meetings.

Benefits and Outcomes

  • The initial metrics returned over the introductory three month period showed a range of performance with peaks and troughs across all portfolios and groups
  • Improvements to above 90% were measured in the reliability and visibility of the in-year design and study programme across all Area 13 Portfolios
  • £489,494 of savings (equivalent to around 16,000 person hours) was measured until the end of the current MAC13 commission
  • Demonstrated savings in the preparation and design costs of schemes on a like for like basis
  • Provided EM Highways and Highways England a process which addressed concerns relating to an exceptional increase in workload for the 2014/15 financial year
  • Introduction of a mechanism for improving the ability of EM staff to monitor schemes which are outsourced to Mouchel offices
  • The approach was adopted as standard practice across Highways England MAC/ASC contracts. This approach is also deployed by EM Highways in Areas 1, 3 and 9

More specifically,

  • Portfolio Holders: Visibility achieved of the current position by use of LVMB
  • Commercial Team: Increased involvement with the design team and improved line of sight for upcoming work
  • Design Team: Provides a weekly focus to ensure short term actions are carried out and a chance to check on longer term goals. Design Leads are self-sufficient at producing SMART tasks, working to programmes, monitoring time and uploading weekly tasks onto their production plans
  • Delivery Team: Fewer changes in site programmes and steady supply of works
  • Senior Leadership: Instant visibility of current position on all projects, increased transparency to enable early interventions to keep projects on track

Remaining challenges,

  • The difficulty of changing culture of experienced design staff
  • Continued Senior Level Management support is required to maintain the collaborative planning approach, to act on the blockers identified throughout the process and communicate them to the wider team.

Further Information

Russell Batchelor (Director of Operations), Jacobs UK Ltd.

Production Management in Design and Construction guide

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