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Press release

'Don't be unique - be consistent' says ICE report on boosting productivity in infrastructure

18 October 2022

Infrastructure professionals should focus more consistently on embedding best practice across their projects instead of emphasising why they are unique, according to a new report on productivity from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

This is one of the findings of State of the Nation 2022: Improving Infrastructure Productivity – the result of extensive consultation with professionals across the UK and the world. It seeks to understand why so many infrastructure projects have been seen as unproductive or wasteful because of over-runs or over-spends, and what can be done to change this.

The report comes just weeks after the UK Government released a list of 138 major infrastructure projects it wants to accelerate. The need to reduce waste has arguably never been greater as public finances come under unprecedented strain, and as the cost of building materials is rising.

Unlike in other sectors where productivity is measured by goods or services delivered in relation to costs or hours worked, the report argues that infrastructure is different: it suggests a measure that also considers effectiveness – whether the project fulfills its aims – as well as how efficiently this was achieved.

The report proposes three key lessons to boost productivity:

  • People, culture and mindset are just as important as process change and new technology. Creating “psychological safety” so that all participants in a project feel able to tell the truth about performance and suggest improvements is key.
  • The sector needs to simultaneously embed established best practices and drive continuous improvement across programmes. Don’t focus on what is unique about a project - instead look for what is common and how established best practices can be used more consistently.
  • The greatest productivity improvements are available before construction begins – but there are opportunities throughout the lifecycle.

The ICE is also publishing the first part of an online resource to help infrastructure professionals pinpoint practical, evidence-based actions they can take to improve productivity. Driving Productivity: Infrastructure Lifecycle Guidance will be easy to navigate by job role and by the relevant stage of the project lifecycle. The first stage of this guidance – relating to design – is available on the ICE website and future stages will be added in the coming months.

Ed McCann, President of ICE who has made productivity the theme of his presidency, said: “Productivity means civil engineers maximising the effectiveness and efficiency of what they do at every stage of the infrastructure lifecycle so that we can make the most of our finite resources and deliver more services, with a lower environmental impact. The guidance we are developing highlights that it is everyone’s duty to improve productivity at every stage of a project.”

The report also suggests that infrastructure professionals should borrow ideas from other sectors – such as manufacturing and digital - that have succeeded in standardising processes and ruthlessly driving out sources of waste. It provides several case studies where this approach has been adopted on infrastructure projects.

One such example is Wessex Water’s 2021 Drainage and Wastewater Management Resilience Programme to assess 6,000 sites to understand their vulnerability to flooding. About 10% of these sites were suspected to be at risk of flooding and Wessex Water needed to develop resilience options in just six months. Working with Mott MacDonald, they identified a representative sample of 172 sites and used a lean model approach to crunch data from multiple sources, identify a list of priority sites and develop site-specific resilience options for future interventions. This was not only an efficient approach to the problem, but the data it generated will help to inform effective interventions.

Notes to editors:

For an advance copy of the report, or to arrange an interview with one of the authors, contact Kai Tabacek: +44 (0)7818 939 701 / [email protected]

State of the Nation 2022: Improving Infrastructure Productivity will be available from 18 October.

Driving Productivity: Infrastructure Lifecycle Guidance is an online resource providing practical advice on improving productivity. It structures this advice by rob role (clients; programme managers; and integrators, designers, and constructors) and by project stage (Project concept and definition, planning and scheme design; Procurement; Detailed design; Construction and commissioning; Handover and close-out, transition to operations). The ‘detailed design’ stage is available now and future stages will follow. A summary of the guidance is provided in an annex to the State of the Nation report.

State of the Nation has been one of ICE’s flagship reports since 2002. Based on extensive research and engagement with the industry, the report aims to stimulate debate and highlight the actions ICE believes are necessary to improve UK infrastructure.

Founded in 1818, the Institution of Civil Engineers is a UK-based international organisation with more than 95,000 members, ranging from students to professionally qualified civil engineers. As an educational and qualifying body, with charitable status under UK law, we support our members throughout their careers, and help society to have trust and confidence in infrastructure professionals. Under our Royal Charter, ICE has become recognised worldwide for its excellence as a centre of learning, a public voice for the profession and a leading source of expertise in infrastructure and engineering policy.

  • Kai Tabacek, media relations manager at ICE