Skip to content
Civil Engineer blog

How Sellafield is tackling silo working head on

07 November 2023

Laura Doughty and Paul Johnston explain how Programme and Project Partners (PPP) is improving collaboration and driving excellence at Sellafield.

How Sellafield is tackling silo working head on
Collaboration enables better project outcomes. Image credit: Shutterstock

At Sellafield we have one of the largest infrastructure programmes in the UK.

Our projects support the environmental clean-up of the most complex and hazardous nuclear site in the country.

Much of the work is unique and has never been done before.

The nature of the site limits us from using many of the traditional construction and demolition techniques.

And, historically, our delivery performance had fallen below expectations.

All that means we’ve had to reflect and develop new ways of working.

Lack of collaboration

We learned from other organisations that we weren’t the only ones struggling with what can be summarised as a disjointed way of working internally and with the supply chain.

We were being driven by short-term thinking and weren’t learning or collaborating enough across projects.

In a 2018 report, the National Audit Office set out the expectations to improve project delivery.

This led to the development of a fundamentally different commercial model to deliver all future major capital projects.

It would become the Programme and Project Partnership (PPP) we use today.

How does the PPP work?

The PPP, formed in 2019, is an enterprise delivery model consistent with the government’s Construction Playbook and Project 13.

It’s used by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority as a positive example of an adopter.

The partnership is made up of engineering and construction companies KBR, Jacobs, Morgan Sindall and Altrad Babcock.

Each partner has its own contract and all of them have signed up to an Aligned Incentive Agreement, which binds them as a partnership.

The length of the contracts, profit incentives and emphasis on strong culture and behaviours are critical to driving performance across the lifecycle of the project.

The 20-year duration of the PPP enables efficiency in the delivery of the programme through the transfer of knowledge, lessons and capability from project to project.

There’s also a wide range of benefits captured in our five critical success factors:

  1. outcome
  2. cost management
  3. employment
  4. output
  5. workforce skills

Measuring these and ensuring that the lessons are shared is critical to delivering excellence across the project.

How the PPP helps deliver complex projects

Sellafield is now at a point where its engineering projects are so complex that no single company can deliver them on its own.

This requires the creation of large, multi-company joint ventures.

This adds more complexity into projects that are already technically challenging.

Managing the partners, improving collaboration and avoiding silos is critical to driving outcomes.

We must also ensure that safety and risk are effectively managed.

We expect our people to work as teams, but there isn’t necessarily an explanation of what this means in practice for those involved.

In the PPP, our managers lead teams that include individuals from across the partnerships.

Rainbow teams

We call these ‘rainbow teams’.

They are designed to help our managers get the best out of each team, while ensuring they can perform effectively.

We identified specific knowledge and skills that managers should possess if they’re to create high-performance rainbow teams.

It’s one thing to ask people to start working as a team, but another to support them in doing so.

Manager training

We place emphasis on training our managers to ensure they understand how to manage their ‘rainbow’ team.

Namely, how do you get the best out of someone who reports to you but is employed by another company?

Training includes:

  • coaching
  • performance
  • communication
  • developing others

On complex projects, it’s so important to ensure we have the right team structure to achieve our desired outcomes.

We need to make sure leaders have the skills to do that.

Navigating challenges

There are challenges still to be navigated by the PPP.

For example:

  • ensuring we have the resources to meet increased demand in the sector;
  • dealing with high wage inflation affecting our workforce recruitment; and
  • inflation eating into sanction and contingency funds for contracts/frameworks, especially due to rising material costs.

Delivering benefits

Since PPP’s launch, we’ve been able to identify £1.5bn worth of benefits.

For example, the longevity of the PPP and its multi-project approach to procurement will save over £80m over the life of the model.

A programme approach to workforce movement will save £47m.

We also have a large focus on ensuring we’re working with the local community.

Currently, 60% of staff are from Cumbria or Warrington and 90% are directly employed by the partners.

The length of the project supports this. It helps teams focus on the wider and long-term benefits they can bring, and the importance of the people around them.

It’s crucial that we create the right framework and culture if we want to improve collaboration and meet project outcomes.

Our leaders, partners and workers have a critical role to play in this, and investing in them will bring benefits across the whole life of the project.

  • Laura Doughty, head of culture, engagement and sustainability, Programme and Project Partners at Sellafield Ltd
  • Paul Johnston, head of people and social impact, Programme and Project Partners at Sellafield Ltd