Large and complex projects need a culture of collaboration from all parties

The mere suggestion of a ‘station redevelopment’ usually evokes concern among commuters. These two seemingly innocent words create visions of delays, accessibility issues and temporary facilities, all of which generally means precious minutes added to journeys and unhappy customers.

However, anyone who has worked on large-scale detailed engineering programmes will understand the multiple complexities involved in bringing them to life and delivering on time. It’s a question that has been taken up by operational change experts, Newton. With extensive experience in delivering programmes across critical infrastructure, aerospace and defence, Newton has significant insight into how large-scale projects can be managed effectively to maximise efficiency and minimise impact on the public.

“Let’s start at the beginning – or more accurately, before the beginning,” Stephan Smith, director of infrastructure at Newton said. “The most important thing in the initial stages of large engineering programmes is to break down complexities during the planning, design and implementation stages.

“What does this mean? Essentially that before a single contractor walks on site, there is a clear view of what the challenges are likely to be and an understanding of the safest, fastest, most effective and sustainable ways of solving them.”

The skill here is the ability to anticipate what those challenges will be – something that requires deep understanding of complex engineering programmes and the ability to unlock potential across supply chains, contractors and workforces. This is where Newton excels, and while the majority of its work is in the defence sector, the company believes the management of large-scale projects of this kind is a skill that can be applied to any sector. To demonstrate this, Newton and Costain have published a report comparing Newton’s improvement work on the Royal Navy’s, £3 billion flagship aircraft carrier, The HMS Queen Elizabeth, and Costain’s involvement in the recent £1 billion refurbishment of London Bridge Station.

“Essentially the recipe for success is the same across a range of significantly different environments,” said Stephan. “What is key is that all stakeholders share the same focus, understand the programme enablers, and have a joint commitment to implementing more efficient ways of working. These things might seem obvious, but unless management proactively sets up processes to ensure its objectives are agreed by all, it’s impossible to co-ordinate a project of this scale efficiently.”

Delivered between 2012 and 2018, Network Rail’s London Bridge refurbishment project was one of the biggest station improvement programmes of the past decade. Carried out by Costain following a competitive tender process, the project involved the addition of new platforms to accommodate more trains and a new concourse the size of Wembley Stadium. Wider work was also carried out to build new infrastructure to the east and west of the station, and track reconfiguration work by Balfour Beatty was undertaken to untangle congestion and reduce train delays. Overall, the project was implemented to deliver a 50 per cent increase in passenger numbers and routes at the station, as well as to make the facility more functional and fully accessible.

“A key enabler of success for that project was the engagement of all partners – including the customer, over 100 contracted companies, the three train operating companies based at the station and Thameslink – at an early stage, which injected programme management expertise into the planning and design phases,’ said Ian Parker, director of Rail at Costain. “On a project that has involved 27 million 12working hours and 17,000 individuals, real collaboration between the partners in its development is crucial.”

Moving into the build phase required a similar attention to detail on a vast scale. As the fourth busiest station in the UK, London Bridge brings roughly 56 million passengers into the city each year. Throughout the redevelopment build phase, one of Costain’s prime ambitions and core achievements was successfully keeping the station open and maintaining the bulk of its capacity.

“Minimising impact on commuters using the station during the build was a significant undertaking, and it required mechanisms to be put in place to understand what the workforce needed to complete the programme, and prototyping of innovative technologies for the build where existing techniques could not deliver,” Stephan said. ‘At the same time, it needed all parties to work together openly and honestly to manage the challenges that inevitably arose during the programme and stay motivated throughout.”

Indeed, maintaining contractor and workforce motivation was a major success factor. In total, all parties were incentivised to meet 35 shared integrated milestones, which saw them work together to assist each other to achieve them rather than simply pursuing their own goals. “If I fail, we all fail, but if we succeed, we succeed as a team,” James Elford, programme director for the London Bridge Station Redevelopment said. To keep the milestones in sight throughout, Costain brought all parties together to discuss the implementation of the project and set up collaborative forums – including forums with the supply chain – to de-escalate clashes and highlight core issues as they emerged.

As an example here, Costain successfully made a trade-off with its partner contractor for signalling for the balustrade camber ballast work. There was an upcoming integrated milestone that both Costain and the partner were motivated to hit, and while Costain’s work on the balustrade camber ballast was essential for the milestone, the signalling work was not. Because of the milestone, both parties reached an agreement to hand the balustrade to Costain. The milestones created a culture of mutual benefit which assisted the development of a shared vision and focus, and, ultimately, on-time delivery.

In short, large and complex programmes can only succeed if there is a clear set of aligned and agreed objectives, a documented plan of work made accessible for everyone at the right level of detail, and ensured consensus on the plan from every stakeholder from the boardroom to the shop floor.

“And finally, a pragmatic, collaborative approach to solving the inevitable, emergent obstacles,’ Stephan said. “Establishing a culture that is open to innovating and amending the plan of work in the face of challenges.

“Get all those ingredients together and – as shown by the London Bridge project – there is no need for large programmes to overrun and drain resources; in fact, it can be the opposite, and this is the clear measurable value proposition that complex engineering project specialists offer.”

Newton specialises in delivering multi-million-pound performance improvements for large-scale organisations across the public and private sectors. The company was established in 2001 and over that time has built a strong reputation for implementing transformational change that sticks, growing on average 30 per cent year on year.

www.newtonandcostain.com