From the ground up - improving the delivery of big infrastructure projects and programmes

Leading infrastructure and industrial companies recently joined an event about using better production processes and systems to improve the delivery of projects.

What are the characteristics of the capable infrastructure owner?
What are the characteristics of the capable infrastructure owner?
  • Updated: 31 July 2017
  • Author: Ben Goodwin, ICE Policy Manager

The purpose of the Project 13 discussion was to share experiences for improving delivery of projects and programmes for the benefit of clients and customers.

In particular, the discussions focused on the evidence of using established technologies, new business models and creating the conditions that enable companies and people from different backgrounds to work together more effectively.

6 characteristics of the capable infrastructure owner

Much was said about the characteristics of capable infrastructure owners that enable them to develop these new approaches in collaboration with their suppliers.

1. An imperative for change and leadership

Infrastructure owners must recognise the need to change the ways in which they deliver their projects and programmes in order to achieve better results and improve efficiency and productivity.

The next step is to demonstrate a willingness to use innovative approaches and technologies to make these improvements. It is also important that infrastructure owners are able to develop an ethos across their organisations for continuously improving the way in which programmes and projects are delivered.

2. Upfront problem definition and solution design

Too often infrastructure owners commit to projects before they have adequately defined the problem they are trying to solve. For example, HS2 has been developed as a solution for cutting journey times between the north and south. But arguably the need to better connect people and markets, create jobs and drive economic growth are the more pressing challenges. Had the problem been defined in these terms from the outset it is possible that different solutions would have emerged.

It was agreed that we can learn from companies like GSK that have put in place formal processes for challenging and defining the problem to be solved before committing resources to designing a project.

3. Outcome value vs lowest cost procurement

Leading industrial and infrastructure companies must begin to measure project value within the context of the expected results by investing in the project. This initial focus will then follow through to the way in which design and procurement of contracts are undertaken. Contracts are awarded to bidders who demonstrate the best way of achieving a set of outcomes instead of the lowest cost to deliver a particular design.

It was recognised that particularly in the public sector there are barriers to procuring projects in this way. We need to develop new approaches to governance that support a value-driven procurement process.

4. An enterprising culture

From the outset infrastructure owners should do more to engage design consultants, contractors and suppliers on what they hope to achieve. Developing a shared vision will increase the chances of successful delivery.

This means building a collaborative planning culture, holding regular project team meetings to review delivery against the agreed outcomes and undertaking an effective appriasal at project completion.

5. Exploit the digital environment

The more effective use of established technologies in delivering projects and programmes will enable significant efficiency gains and boost productivity. At present this is not happening consistently across the infrastructure and industrial sectors.

For example, the use of BIM in many infrastructure projects is restricted to laying out project design rather than to aid delivery. This actually increases costs. We need to develop approaches to using BIM that support new ways of working and new business models.

This will require much better information about existing assets, standard products and components in a digital format.

6. Productisation of construction processes

There are opportunities from developing sets of standard products for critical elements of their infrastructure – in particular those that repeat from project to project.

Technologies like BIM will enable infrastructure owners to invest in standard solutions or products that incorporate all of the learning from their previous projects. Over time this approach should enable infrastructure owners to develop a virtual library of high value products for use across a range of future projects and programmes.

Organisations at the meeting

Acumen 7, Anglian Water, Bosch, Bryden Wood, DEKA, Dees & Sommer, GSK, Highways England, ICE, Mace, Ministry of Justice, UK Power Networks, Wessex Advisory.

The discussions were held under the Chatham House Rule.