Last week, we were delighted to welcome three guest speakers from Jacobs to the ResoLex Roundtable: Jessica Ellery, Gail Hunter, and Joshua Weatherley. Jacobs is a full-spectrum professional services firm including consulting, technical, scientific and project delivery with a workforce of about 60,000 people worldwide.
The evening was introduced by our Associate Director, Kelachi Amadi-Echendu, who provided some background to the ResoLex Roundtables and how the event links with our values as a business. Our Chief Executive, Edward Moore then introduced the topic, reminding us that whilst collaboration in itself may be very nice, if it doesn’t improve productivity, one has to question the point! At ResoLex, we see projects as comprising three primary areas of expertise: technical, commercial, and social. We believe that the key elements are interlinked, and the social component is inextricably linked to project performance. During the session, Ed highlighted our model, and expanded on the need to take an integrated approach to the three elements in order to achieve project success.
Jess, Josh and Gail explored the topic through the lens of a live giga project that is in its early stages of delivery in Saudi Arabia. A perspective offered was that perhaps the scale and longevity of such programs offered the chance to truly embed an effective, collaborative social system, even more so than the opportunity we have in the mega-project environment. The presentation began with a poignant safety moment, and then an introduction to four immense projects in the Neom region of Saudi Arabia. Each of these projects are hugely ambitious, the most dramatic being The Line. The Line is a revolution for urban living, which according to the plans will be 500m tall, 200 meters wide and a staggering 170km in length. Whilst a project of this scale is fascinating in itself, the evening’s platform served as the backdrop to a much broader discussion around the challenges of working in such a complex programme environment. Throughout the session, Josh and Gail prompted the audience with a range of engaging questions and themes designed to stimulate debate (a dangerous thing to do with a ResoLex audience!).
The presentation identified the challenges created by the multiple interfaces that must be managed by the teams and explained that this becomes exponentially more difficult to cope with as size and scale increase, supporting the initial introduction and highlighting the need to therefore factor in behaviours when setting the project strategy. This stimulated a lengthy discussion in the room around the more nebulous concepts of leadership and project culture, there was a common agreement that paying attention to these areas early in the programme is a critical success factor. It was also noted that one of the reasons for the poor performance of mega projects, in general, is the lack of ability for many project leaders to scale up from large projects, and when faced with high levels of complexity, they tend to fall back on simplistic solutions which inevitably fail in more complex and challenging environments.
So, what are the conclusions from the evening’s discussion? Here are our top five takeaways:
- There is a need to ‘operationalise’ collaborative intent. In other words, major projects (and especially giga projects) need to focus on establishing the policies and processes that will embed the principles of collaborative ways of working throughout the programme, rather than limiting the discussion to senior management.
- Focus on the active steps needed to build a positive culture, avoiding the default tendency to revert to transactional behaviours as soon as the project comes under pressure.
- The risk management process needs to acknowledge behavioural risk and recognise that effective inter-team relationships are both a risk and an opportunity.
- Relationship management plans should be a compulsory part of the early planning process and should focus on identifying the critical interfaces that need to be mapped and managed.
- Project leaders need to be trained specifically in the practical tools and techniques that will enable them to make the right decisions when working in highly ambiguous and complex environments.
The session closed with reference to the work of Edgar Schein, and his observation that for successful teams, people need to build ‘Level 2 relationships’ with their colleagues. This level of relationship is where we know enough about the people we work with on a regular basis to be able to see them as human beings, rather than just human ‘resources’, who carry out a functional role.
Overall, it was another stimulating and educational evening, with a wide range of views and opinions. As we see projects and programmes becoming ever more ambitious in their scale and desired outcome, the session is a reminder (should we need it!) that planning, setting up and mobilising for success from the start makes life considerably easier for the teams trying to deliver downstream.
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The discussion yesterday evening focused on the Private Sector Construction Playbook, a best practice guide published in November 2022. We were joined by two guest speakers, Alison Cox, Managing Director of Sir Robert McAlpine London Charles Horne, Project Director of British Land and, ResoLex Chief Executive Edward Moore.
Our Principal Consultant, Kelachi Amadi-Echendu began the session, by describing the journey from the government’s Construction Playbook to today’s Private Sector Playbook. She explained how the themes from the ResoLex publication ‘Changing Behaviours in Construction: A Complement to the Construction Playbook’, apply not only in the public sector but also to private sector projects and programmes, to enable improved delivery and better outcomes.
“Historically, the UK construction industry has been characterised by a lack of openness, poor productivity and a failure to invest in innovation”.
Foreword, Trust and Productivity The Private Sector Construction Playbook, November 2022
With many years of experience in the sector, driving excellence and delivering complex and challenging solutions for clients, we were delighted to have Alison Cox join us. Alison began explaining that the Private Sector Playbook was created by the construction productivity taskforce, a working group of developers, contractors, suppliers and professional service providers from the private sector whose underlying purpose is to try and improve productivity in the construction industry. She noted that whilst productivity had improved in a number of sectors, construction productivity had actually declined by 0.6% in the last 20 years. The document was designed to complement the Public Sector Construction Playbook that was released in 2020, taking cues from the public sector whilst understanding the challenges faced by the private sector.
The Playbook is structured around ten key drivers for success, as illustrated in the diagram below. It is interesting to note that half of these focus on culture and behaviours. Alison emphasised the need to concentrate on building the right relationships, particularly at the beginning of a project. She mentioned her own experiences on the construction of the Bloomberg offices where key members of the different teams sat in close proximity in a co-located office. This was a project that was quite dynamic and required the team to be highly adaptable to changes in requirements. The strength of relationships established in the early phases of the project enabled the teams involved to focus on ‘best for project’ decisions, rather than solutions which might be best for individual organisations.
Charles observed the many changes in the construction industry since his experiences working on sites in the mid-1980s, as illustrated by the massive shift in safety that now exists compared to forty years ago. He highlighted the cultural change around health, safety and wellbeing, which simply did not feature when he first began his career. His primary observation is that projects are delivered by people rather than by technology or process. His recent experiences are drawn from Broadgate, where British Land is developing seven consecutive significant buildings under the Broadgate Framework. His starting point for creating the development strategy was the recognition that the customers for these properties are the local users in the area, and as such, care needs to be taken to avoid creating major disruption as the construction works to proceed. Charles’ approach required working with partners rather than suppliers, and so, in a significant break from traditional procurement practices, British Land has entered into a 10-year framework agreement with Sir Robert McAlpine. The framework enables British Land to reduce the risk of multiple concurrent projects and promotes consistency, continuity and innovation.
Contractual mechanisms aside, Charles, focused from the start on establishing an underlying ethos for the programme, based on the principles of Trust, Honesty and Collaboration. These principles have been developed into a set of rules, which every individual involved in the projects are expected to follow. The rules are generally self-policed, and there are very few instances where they are not applied by the numerous teams engaged in the programme. Charles identified a critical role that leadership plays in establishing a successful culture, recognising that in a collaborative contract, leaders need to be skilled at building ‘followership’.
He recognised the challenges of complexity and used the analogy of a pebble dropping into a pond and creating small waves. As projects grow in size and scale, leaders must deal with the challenge of lots of pebbles, dropping into the pool at the same time each creating ripples which intersect and disrupt with each other. He agreed with Alison that co-location is a critical factor in building cohesive and collaborative teams and is fundamental to building teamwork and understanding.
Ed Moore identified the need to establish the right culture from the start, quoting Abraham Lincoln, who said ‘give me six hours to chop down a tree and I would spend the first four sharpening the axe’. Ed made the case that programmes should treat relationship development as a distinct and separate workstream with its own targets and deliverables. Ed observed that too many project leaders tend to assume that their teams will naturally form into collaborative teams and therefore ignore the opportunity to shape the behaviours which occur at the very start. Ed also highlighted the need for project and programme teams to introduce a framework to help teams structure their workstream, and gave an example of the ASARI framework created by ResoLex as illustrated below:
Some of the key points of the discussion from the floor, were as follows:
- Project culture is directly linked to the quality of leadership.
- A critical skill for project leaders is to learn to listen to other points of view rather than press on with their sole perspective as to how a problem should be solved.
- The time for the individual heroic project director has passed. The role of the project director is now to build leadership throughout the team.
- The primary barrier to industry-wide adoption of the Private Sector Playbook remains a driver amongst many clients to appoint the lowest tender, thus propagating the bad habits, behaviours and relationships that inevitably emerge from such practices.
- The key to wider adoption must be to focus on being able to clearly articulate the difference between value over cost and use the successes of previous projects to persuade others to continue to support a route based on effective relationships.
As a final comment, Charles pointed out that on Broadgate, each of the individual projects is still negotiated within the framework. He nevertheless observed that not one contractual letter has yet been issued by either party throughout the delivery of the programme. As he put it, when a difficult issue arises it is ‘our’ problem, not just ‘your’ problem. This is a great illustration of collaboration working in practice.
You can find the featured publications linked below:
With guest speaker Rose McArthur, Director of Transport and Highways for Cheshire West and Chester Council and facilitated by Kelachi Amadi-Echendu, ResoLex
Kelachi opened the session with some background on ResoLex, explaining one of our underlying observations; projects rely on a triumvirate of competencies, technical, commercial and social. To set the landscape further, she highlighted a general challenge for lack of skills within the infrastructure sector. The skills problems begins at a high-level, so we have a technical challenge in areas such as climate change, as well as the economic challenges that organisations are wrestling with in a post-pandemic environment. The social component of major projects mentioned earlier encompasses these leadership challenges. The theme of the session was therefore to consider how we can bring people-oriented skills into the industry from other sectors whilst still appreciating the technical skills with career developments that aren’t necessarily leadership.
Rose started her presentation by talking about her own journey from being a Senior Consultant in a large engineering company, to a very different role in a local authority. Her background in integrated transport planning gave her the opportunity to work on huge projects such as the 2012 London Olympics, keeping people moving despite the challenge with an influx of people.
In her new role, she now has to focus on the practical problems within the highway sector exemplified by issues such as potholes, gulleys and pigeons. Many of the problems are much smaller in scale but there are huge amounts of them. Although Rose has a Director role and needs to strategically plan for the council’s transport and highways, many public enquiries are escalated to her due to a lack of communication from the project level and out to the local community.
Cheshire highways are a £5 billion asset, so there are many miles of road infrastructure that must be managed within very tight financial constraints. Rose made the point however that her biggest challenge is actually the people – as is the case in many engineering-focused teams, the historic basis for promotion is time served and technical expertise. Little concern has ever been paid to the skills of being customer focused and focusing strategically on future needs. All too often teams within the organisation have a silo mindset, and it is therefore difficult to get them to engage in new concepts outside of their core areas of expertise. So when it comes to management skills, technical competency is probably only around 25% of what is needed. Instead, there is a critical need for skills in communication, people management, delivering change, and the ability to engage a wider stakeholder group. Of course, some people with these technical skills may thrive in leadership and management roles but only with the right effort put into training – these important skills need development and training.
In developing her teams, Rose has found that she must therefore expand her search horizons when looking for new recruits. For example, she believes that change starts with the data-led approach, so the ability to analyse and communicate trends and issues is critical. She is also seeking people who have effective communication skills so that stakeholder relationships can be managed more effectively. More often than not, she has to go outside of the organisation to look for people in other sectors and industries to get the less technical but more strategic types of people to therefore reach the balanced team she requires.
Thoughts and observations from the floor included the following:
- An example was given of the huge value provided by somebody who had a passion for the environment but who originally came from a role in finance.
- Bringing in new skills and perspectives is important, but to be successful organisations need to be ready for the disruption they may cause. For example, construction firms are often not comfortable with people who are trying to push a different way of thinking.
- Leadership is critical in changing mindsets and behaviours. An example was given from a major programme where one of the senior leaders attended the sustainability group which significantly boosted attendance and output.
- There is a distinct leadership skill set around managing complexity and ambiguity.
- Creating resilient teams is one of the keys to survival in the 21st century, where leaders surround themselves with people who support each other in pursuit of a common goal.
The underlying message from the session is that in organisations that need to change, there needs to be a shift in the types of skills and competencies that may not be present in the current structure. The technical element which used to be dominant in many engineering-oriented businesses are still important, but at leadership, the level must often be subordinated to the ability to manage the problems created by complexity, scale and pressure on resources. The challenge for all organisations involved in infrastructure is to identify the different skills needed and create an environment which will encourage bright people to come and join them.
Putting The Construction Playbook into Practice – 30th June 2022
Facilitated by Ed Moore and Kelachi Amadi-Echendu
ResoLex’s Roundtable series recommenced with our first in-person session since Autumn 2019 and in our new home – you may have seen, we have relocated along with our friends from the International Dispute Resolution Centre to Paternoster Lane right next to the beautiful St. Paul’s Cathedral – where we welcomed a select group to delve into some of the key aspects of The Construction Playbook.
Our Chief Exec, Ed opened the session by setting out our view that the success of major projects hinges on three critical interlinked elements; Technical, Commercial and Social. His observation is that The Construction Playbook continues the worthy objective of modernising the construction industry. However, reading through the document one can see that its focus is primarily on a project’s technical and commercial elements, but has little to say on the social element, on the people that deliver projects.
Our Senior Consultant, Kelachi then introduced the report we recently produced, Changing Behaviours in Construction: A complement to The Construction Playbook. The report brings together our experience and contributions from our Associates and is designed to act as a complement to The Construction Playbook. It provides practical guidance on the behavioural and cultural elements that supplement some of the key recommendations in the Playbook, focusing on actions and activities that we know through our experience help to build a project’s ‘social capital’.
Our Roundtable sessions are designed to be an interactive discussions rather than a lecture. We, therefore, had an interactive session with participation from everyone in the room, offering a range of perspectives around two key topics:
- Collaborative Leadership
Leadership has been a hot topic within the industry lately. Kelachi pointed out that it is discussed throughout our report and was recently raised in the second iteration of the ICE review: A Systems Approach to Infrastructure Delivery. An article in the NCE references the report as identifying the need for projects to move on from the habit of appointing ‘hero leaders’ – you can find the full article here.
There was consensus in the room that when faced with complexity, there is a need to adopt different leadership styles and attributes and, that collaborative leadership is desirable, but it is probably more important to embed the right culture at the start. The discussion also brought out the recognition that the leadership needs of a project change as the project/programme moves through the cycle. In modern construction, leaders need to be truly agile, and able to adjust their approach depending on circumstances.
- Front End Loading
Ed picked up on the requirement in the Playbook to put more time into the start of a project to think through how a team will work together before moving into the task of construction. The question to the room was the extent to which this would add value.
The consensus was that time spent working through potential issues with the full design and delivery team, ideally producing a digital twin, would ultimately produce a better outcome. The proviso, however, was that project teams need to be clear on the main focus, as time can easily be frittered away on inconsequential matters.
The other challenge identified is that upfront investment in building relationships could be wasted if individuals involved in the early stages of a project then quickly moved on to other projects or roles. The answer to this problem was seen to be the need to proactively establish a strong culture so that new entrants to the project would quickly pick up the required mindset and behaviours set out in the beginning.
Taking an overview of the evening’s discussion, the common perspective was a recognition that the social, and therefore people component is a key element in the shifting of behaviours to enable the construction industry to deal with the complexity and uncertainty that are features of our current environment. The industry must therefore focus more effort to train leaders in how to become more agile and understand how to build project cultures that will embed collaborative ways of working that will endure through the life cycle of a project.
You can access The Construction Playbook and our report through the links below:
The Construction Playbook
Changing Behaviours in Construction: A complement to The Construction Playbook
Tony Llewellyn – 4 July 2022
With Howard Britton
There are not many speakers who invite the audience at the very start of a presentation to regard him as obnoxious!
But Howard is not an ordinary presenter. With a wider and more varied career background than most, including a
period as a practicing Psychoanalyst, Howard is well qualified to provide a fresh perspective on the topic of diversity.
Howard invited us to join him on a journey of thought, which he divided into three parts.
PART ONE – TEAM ARCHETYPES
Howard suggested that there are four common character types that can be found in most teams.
TYPE 1 – THE ‘IDEAS’ PERSON This is an individual who is constantly thinking of new ways of doing things. People like this are typically regarded as mavericks.
TYPE 2 – THE ‘GRAVE DIGGER’ A person who seeks order and needs to sort everything into neat boxes.
TYPE 3 – THE ‘ENGINEER’ This is someone who loves process and believes in things being done in a particular and consistent sequence.
TYPE 4 – THE ‘DOER’ Someone who likes action and has limited patience with planning. She just wants to get things moving.
The inference as that the motivational drivers of everyone in a team will be influenced by factors that are little to do with
the work environment and are more likely to be shaped by their genetic wiring, as well as their childhood experiences.
Each will have a preference for the type of work they do.
The problem, however, is that most companies do not recognise these differences and often require people
to work in a way that is misaligned with their core drivers, leading to average or below-average performance. Howard then identified several leadership archetypes:
The ‘dense’ leader, who is highly egotistical, believes can do everyone’s job better than they can. This type of leader does not listen and therefore lacks real understanding of what is going on in his team.
The ‘empty’ leader, who has been overpromoted and is clueless as to how to do their job. Ideas and feedback from the team go into a void.
The invisible leader, who is rarely available to her staff, and whose focus is anywhere but on her team. She is continually travelling or in meetings.
The ’Socratic’ leader, who is clear that she doesn’t know everything. She is therefore continually listening to her team trying to understand them. This is the type of manager that is likely to get more productivity from members of her team.
Howard’s point is that in order to successfully manage the four archetypes within the team, leaders must work with their people at the level of their identity. He emphasised that individuals are unlikely to change and so the business must adapt to them to get the best out of them, although this is incredibly challenging.
PART TWO – HIGH PERFORMING TEAMS
Howard noted that in a volatile and uncertain world, many organisations are seeking a step change in how they
operate. This will require a change in organisational philosophy where leaders must identify their vision of a
future state and then work backwards to plan how to achieve it. He cited the example of Dale Evans at Anglian Water who declared a vision for a 50% reduction in carbon from the company’s capital expenditure programme. Dale did not
know how this target would be achieved but engaged the wider team in agreeing a series of steps that would lead to
the desired outcome. These steps forced the team to break out of their ‘business as usual’ mindset and imagine a
different future with a new working philosophy. With such challenges, tapping into the different archetypal drivers
present in the team improves the chances of breaking out of the “business as usual” mindset.
This leads us towards the challenge for leaders and managers to find out what each member of their team is really
good at and harnessing it. Howard suggested that his model of archetypes has some relational aspects, where one
type of person can handle knowledge or information to be passed onto the next type of person by the leadership. In
this way, the team all perform at their best and the best outcome is achieved.
PART THREE – COGNITIVE DIVERSITY
In the final section of his presentation, Howard focused on the distinction between the diversity
of technical skills and emotionally driven cognitive skills. His argument was that whilst a diverse range of technical skills can be taught, emotionally driven abilities are embedded, and cannot be easily learned. Recognising the different cognitive archet ypes is therefore an important element in the success of teams, particularly where the team is being asked to deliver innovation, or a step change from business as usual. Howard consequently separated diversity into three primary elements:
- SKILLS DIVERSITY – knowledge and experience
- IDENTITY DIVERSITY – who we are as a person
- COGNITIVE DIVERSITY – how we think
Howard noted that much of the recent discussion about diversity focuses on the need to include minority groups into
teams who may otherwise be excluded based on their gender, race, sexuality and so on. His view is that this
discussion is much needed to ensure equality of opportunity and that everyone in the workplace is treated with dignity
and respect, regardless of our diverse identities. Howard’s suggestion throughout the evening was that perhaps the second discussion is emerging to resolve the complex challenges today’s project teams face; one that considers
diversity not only from the perspective of our identity but also how to harness the diversity
of our thought to optimise teams and deliver high performance.
Tony Llewellyn, June 2019
A short summary of the presentation by David Hancock, Chairman of the Government Construction Board for the Cabinet Office and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and is also chair of the NEC UK Users’ Group. volume
David’s presentation led to a lengthy discussion and debate from many differing perspectives, considering challenges around risk allocation, industry-level collaboration and the impact of digital technologies on the future of construction and infrastructure delivery in the UK.
David opened the session by commenting that construction in the United Kingdom is currently at the centre of a perfect storm, which will drive change in at least some parts of the industry. Customer dissatisfaction, low (or no) contractors’ profit margins, and a shortage of skilled labour are all creating pressure to find alternative business models. Adding in the rapid digitalisation of many other aspects of the world economy offers a significant opportunity to those firms who are prepared to invest in different ways of working; a huge threat to those that are not.
As chairman of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), David has an overview of a huge pipeline of expenditure. The Government is planning to put £600 billion into the country’s infrastructure over the next 10 years. As the biggest client in the country, they have the potential to be a huge influence on the industry. Recognising the importance of their role, the IPA have an ambitious vision to use digital information technology to improve how the public estate is designed, constructed, operated and integrated into the country’s built environment.
The Government is therefore involved in a range of initiatives, one of which is a presumption in favour of offsite construction. Five of the largest government departments have committed to a platform design strategy based around increased standardisation, with the intention that more building components are manufactured in a controlled environment. David acknowledges that offsite manufacturing for construction is complicated and will take time to develop. The future potential benefits, however, are immense, not only producing a better product but also offering the opportunity of significant savings in cost and time.
Construction Innovation Hub
The Construction Innovation Hub brings together world-class expertise from the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC}, Building Research Establishment (BRE) and the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) to transform the UK construction industry.The future potential benefits, however, are immense, not only producing a better product but also offering the opportunity of significant savings in cost and time. Government has chosen three partners to form the Construction Innovation Hub. Aligned with the themes of the IPA publication, Transforming Infrastructure Performance, this Hub is intended to be the centre of excellence, driving challenge and change into all aspects of infrastructure delivery to provide innovation and improved performance and productivity. There is a clear focus on improving the use of digital and advanced manufacturing technologies to provide the benefits required.
“Although there have been developments in BIM and increased uptake of digital technologies, in
construction we still use digital in an analogue way.”
One of the primary barriers the industry must overcome is the low levels of collaboration and connectivity. David provided a graphic illustration showing how weak the networking effect is within construction when compared to industries such as software engineering, manufacturing, financial services and media. The outcome of such low connectivity is the very slow spread of new ideas and limited innovation.
The IPA is also supporting initiatives such as Project 13, where value is based on overall outcome rather than simply looking at cost and programme. They recognise the challenge is to build more collaboration through the industry so that everyone can help make the ‘pie’ bigger rather than simply focusing on their own self-interest. The government has chosen three partners to form a Construction Innovation Hub. These are:
- Manufacturing Technology Centre The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) develops and proves innovative manufacturing processes and technologies in an agile, low-risk environment, in partnership with industry, academia and other institutions.
- Building Research Establishment We are an innovative group of researchers, scientists, engineers and technicians who share a common goal – to make the built environment better for all. We generate new knowledge through independent research.
- Centre for Digital Britain The Centre for Digital Built Britain is a partnership between the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the University of Cambridge to deliver a smart digital economy for infrastructure and construction for the future and transform the UK construction industry’s approach to the way we plan, build, maintain and use our social and economic infrastructure.
The Construction Innovation Hub will support the four key themes around which the IPA is shaping its plans, explained in detail in their publication, Transforming Infrastructure performance.
David closed the session by asking the audience how these plans might have an impact on the day-to-day practices of our own work. For change to take place within the industry each of us should examine how digital transformation could have a positive impact in the way we choose to operate.
His underlying point is that the Government can act as a catalyst for change but finding answers to the challenges posed will require the engagement of individuals and organisations who are prepared to invest time in working through the complexity of the challenge to build for the future.