Britain does Big Projects

The fantastic success of the Olympics has given the world a clear demonstration that Britain knows how to do big infrastructure projects. This is a big turnaround from most of the post war period when project after project went wrong, was late, or massively overspent. An interesting programme by the BBC’s Evan Davies investigated this and identified High Speed 1, the rail link from London to the Channel Tunnel, as being the turning point. Although there were numerous false starts and its only just over 100 km long it was a huge engineering challenge with much of it either over or under ground but once it started it ran both to plan and budget.

Evan interviewed members of both the HS1 and Olympics teams to find out what went right and whether this is really the beginning of a new era in British infrastructure development. They pointed to two key changes. The first was what the HS1 Engineering Manager called team engagement – having all of the different companies and parties involved in the project working to a common goal and working together to overcome problems rather than constantly battling with, and blaming, each other when things went wrong. Sir John Armitt, Chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority sited the latest version of the NEC building contract as one of the prime reasons for success because again it encouraged different parties to work together and avoided time lost squabbling over problems encountered and cost variations.

In reality both projects were successful because all parties involved were working together toward the same end. In other words they were collaborating. And where have we heard of that term before? It’s probably no coincidence that around the time that HS1 and the Olympics were being planned we in the supply chain were setting up our own Supply Chain Collaborations. We realised that the adversarial relationships between sellers and suppliers, that were becoming all too common were getting in the way of delivering the best possible products at the best prices to our customers.

Of course it wasn’t always like that. Evan Davies pointed out that the Victorians were hugely successful with their big projects, not because the governments of the day were more capable but because private enterprise was allowed to get on and do things and because they had pride in British engineering being the best. More recently things got done not because the contracts were good but because most deals were based on a gentleman’s agreement. A shake of the hand and the knowledge you would probably be thrown out of your club if you reneged on your promise!

So maybe we are rediscovering what the Victorians and Edwardians new instinctively. That success in a project or the supply chain comes from working collaboratively, that contracts have to support that, not get in the way of it, and that there has to be trust.  If we can do that then maybe this will, as some have suggested, be the dawn of a new age of infrastructure development.

Ambitious plans by London Mayor Boris Johnson for a third London airport on the isle of Grain, Thames Estuary have been deemed ‘unviable’ by commission chairman Sir Howard Davies. The huge cost of the four-runway airport, economic disruption and environmental implications appear to have ruled the location out.

What isn’t in doubt though, is the need to expand London’s and the UK’s air- network to keep it competitive on the global stage – whether its location is a new site or expansion of existing airports the project will be huge, high profile and a logistical challenge for all those contractors involved….

Planning for major projects can be a logistical nightmare for some, but The Logistics Business has it’s own delivery management system – Zone Manager, a powerful multi-user planning and real-time operational tool focused on the construction industry.  For more information on how Zone Manager could help your business please call us, we have the experience and would be delighted to help.