We need to walk the walk on collaboration
Crossrail, originally set to open in 2018, is now expected to be delayed until at least 2020
Following the launch of Mace’s new report, A blueprint for modern infrastructure delivery, Jason Millett explains why construction firms need to do more than merely pay lip service to the concept of collaboration.
Around the world, poor infrastructure delivery is costing us trillions of dollars. No matter where you are – from the US to China to Kenya – projects are delivered late and over budget time and again. Overall, more than four out or five projects go over programme or budget. That’s an expensive statistic.
Mace’s latest research has shown that by 2030 we’ll be paying an astonishing £1.2tn a year for projects that haven’t been delivered effectively. Part of the fault lies with politicians or governments; and many delays just can’t be avoided.
Most of it, however, lies with us. The construction and infrastructure sectors have spent years talking about better models of project delivery and more collaborative working styles.
Report after report has made it clear that unless we work together more effectively, we’re going to face the same problems around forecasting, planning and delivery.
When a report is published, everyone agrees: we must work better together. However, when it comes down to it – when the bottom line is at stake – almost everyone in the industry ends up reverting to the “bad old ways”.
For our report, we interviewed senior global infrastructure leaders – some of the people responsible for delivering the world’s most complex and challenging infrastructure programmes. They identified a lot of different issues with delivery – but one for me really stood out: “Eighty per cent of organisations talk about collaboration, 20% actually do it.”
It’s easy to say that you are a collaborative organisation on a bid response or on your website. It’s much harder to foster a genuinely collaborative culture on a complex project that helps to identify and mitigate delivery issues early on.
This isn’t something I claim to have all the answers on – it’s something we struggle with all the time at Mace – but a major step forward is recognising how hard it can be to actually achieve.
Collaboration means being honest and sharing and solving issues with the team. It does not mean saying that “everything is fine” when in reality it is not. That’s not just inside your own organisation – it means across the project team, with people working for different organisations.
To make that happen, the project structure needs to encourage effective communication and not overreacting to “bad news”. That kind of genuine collaboration can unlock a huge range of benefits.
More data sharing means more accurate forecasting; more honest assessment of risks means that mitigation measures can be more effective.
Collaboration should be our watchword – if we want to transform infrastructure delivery it will need to become something our sector is known for. That can’t happen by itself – our current contract structures make it difficult – but programmes such as the ICE’s Project 13 in the UK are beginning to take us on that journey.
However, we’ve still got a long way to go. What we can do is ensure that when infrastructure projects are being designed, procured and delivered, collaboration needs to be at the forefront of our minds, not just a box we tick.
As an industry, we’re very good at talking the talk – but it is time for us to walk the walk.
Jason Millett is chief operating officer for consultancy with Mace