ICE’s Big Debate: ‘How do we improve certainty in delivery?’




Feb 27, 2024

On the 12th of February, two of our Senior Consultants, Tom Chick and Joanna Jarvie attended the ICE’s Big Debate: ‘How do we improve certainty in delivery?’

The topic itself is a question many of us are grappling with, not just in infrastructure, but across a variety of complex projects and programmes in many industries. The debate was a highly informative and engaging event, with views put forward by Mark Hansford, Nick Smallwood, Dervilla Mitchell, Ed McCann, Dr David Prout, David Coles and Mark Thurston.

There was a lot of good debate throughout the evening, with a few key themes that seemed to run throughout much of the discussion:

  • Shifting to an outcome-focus
  • Planning for success
  • Developing people capable of delivering
  • Embedding the right environment for the scheme

Tom and Jo have shared their takeaways from the evening structured around these key themes:


Shifting our viewpoint to be more outcome-focused and measuring success based on achievement of the desired outcomes

The usual approach to project delivery fixates on time and cost as measures of success. This occurs even though the purpose for the existence of any project or programme is ultimately to achieve the desired outcomes. Delivering on time and on budget, without delivering the outcomes, is clearly a wasted endeavour, and yet, the success of delivery teams is all too often measured solely on these metrics. There is no point to delivering a project on time and under budget if it does not achieve anything that it set out to do.

Crossrail was raised as an example of a project where delivering against the outcomes has been used to demonstrate success that may outweigh the time and cost overruns. The Elizabeth Line is already the most-used rail line in Great Britain1 and the most highly rated TfL service for customer satisfaction.

One of the things that was raised as an enabler to becoming more outcome-focused, is clearly communicating the importance of these outcomes. Many schemes, like Crossrail, are focused upon providing a public benefit. Being able to clearly articulate these desired outcomes can therefore provide long-term resilience to the scheme through wider approval and support.


Planning for success

The importance of focusing time on planning before diving in to delivery was discussed throughout the evening. Major projects and programmes require detailed planning, team set-up and defined ways of working to ensure that the desired outcomes are understood and achievable. Key to this is connecting with political decision-makers who often put a lot of pressure to ‘get boots on the ground’. It was suggested that communicating with these individuals often does not come naturally to project professionals, however, if we are to reduce uncertainty, educating them on the importance of a considered, planned approach is  paramount.


Developing people capable of delivering

The importance of having the ‘right people’ to deliver your project was raised in several ways, with leadership in particular sparking a lot of debate. Relying upon these perceived ‘heroes’ isn’t just unlikely to achieve the desired outcomes, but potentially prevents them from being achieved at all. Rather, the focus should be on upskilling people to build and lead teams that can work together to their own diverse strengths, create alignment, manage the complexity, and deliver integrated major projects and programmes.

This team likewise needs to be bought into the project outcomes and understand why they are doing what they are doing. The 2012 Olympics were used as a great example, in that the vision, messaging and desired outcomes were clear and communicated from the start, with everyone bought in. All of the participants knew what their role was and what they were aiming for. For example, in this particular case, being ready for 2012 was a core desired outcome and critical to the success of the project.


Embedding the right environment for the scheme

The bigger and more complex a project is, the more important it is to manage the interfaces, however, it is also more difficult as these interfaces increase in number and complexity.

On a relatively small and simple project, traditional transactional relationships may suffice, however, the complexities of bigger programmes necessitate cooperative or collaborative relationships to manage the increasing number of interfaces and conflicting priorities.

The ‘right’ environment is therefore different for every project but needs to be established as part of the planning to ensure the needed behaviours and ways of working are articulated and embedded.


The debate showed that there is no one clear simple answer to increasing certainty across the diverse array of mega or giga projects being undertaken, however at the heart of the key themes from the debate lies the need for an effective, diverse team, working together towards clearly articulated and aligned outcomes that define success.

1: passenger-rail-usage-jul-sep-2022.pdf (