Successful programme management requires an integrated approach - which takes time to build

When it comes to infrastructure-led programmes of major transformational change, establishing a shared operational culture is key. AECOM’s Derval Cummins and Colm Tully propose taking time to inhabit the programme from the bottom up.

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When people talk about programme management, they often focus on the processes rather than the people involved. But if you want a disparate group of people who aren’t used to working together to operate as one, the first step is establishing a culture of collaboration.

Human-centred design is key for adopting technology that is right for the programme, rather than trying to retrofit a programme around some exciting new technology. A common operating culture should be the platform on which the technology is built. Digital tools and systems should then be set up to process and share data from multiple sources in a single source of trustworthy, reliable, real-time information. The objective is to make it easier for designers, contractors and supply chain to collaborate.

At AECOM, we deliver capital programmes of critical national and international importance in aviation, roads and highways, rail, water, ports, power, energy and environmental clean-up, and have been key in shaping many of the major infrastructure programmes and cities of today. That experience has taught us the importance of taking time to build a structure that brings the interests and actions of different stakeholders together.

three reasons why building an integrated culture is increasingly important

1/complexity

Construction programmes are growing in scale and complexity, a reflection of the increasingly complex world they inhabit. This means working with a vast range of organisations and people at local, regional, national and even global levels, many of them with competing interests. All the while you must take into account specific political, geographical, social, cultural, linguistic and economic climates — and that’s just within Ireland!

2/sustainability

Unlike other types of programmes, capital programmes create infrastructure that will exist for a very long time. To be sustainable, programmes should be built to serve future as well as current generations, avoiding the need to expensively retrofit or rebuild. Endeavouring to provide intergenerational equity through sustainable planning, design and construction is vitally important. This could be as simple as leaving space for new walkways or carriageways, or envisioning cycle routes in the skies.

3/technology

At the same time, it’s important to keep pace with technological change. The objective should be to establish a connected system that brings consistency and value to an entire pipeline of work. From the very beginning, all the project information should be held in a common data environment (CDE) and kept up-to-date. Each team member across all  disciplines should know how to navigate, store and collect data within the CDE, including contractors or supply chain at each phase of the project. To properly prepare the teams, we implement a structured ‘fast start’ mobilisation process, increasing the certainty of delivery on time and on budget.

 

Human-centred design is key for adopting technology that is right for the programme, rather than trying to retrofit a programme around some exciting new technology. A common operating culture should be the platform on which the technology is built.

five lessons we have learnt


While each programme requires a bespoke solution, we have distilled five lessons from our experience in Integrated Client Partner roles on major infrastructure programmes such as improving San Francisco’s water system (see case study, below).

1/Narrative

The first task should be to define the scope of the capital programme and its objectives. Creating a narrative to fit this will form a platform to develop the programme and give it direction. This narrative will be informed by and shaped around the client ethos, values and strategic objectives.

2/operational structure

A connected step is identifying, categorising and engaging with the different stakeholders involved, with a view of establishing a ‘one team’ structure, where organisational badges are left at the door. The degree of control that the client requires is of course an important consideration when deciding on the most suitable structure, which should be shaped to suit. Due to complexity and duration of major infrastructure programmes, which often span over five to ten years, collaboration across the supply chain is paramount to ensure successfully delivery.

3/information management

The effective use of virtual design tools such as BIM (Building Information Modelling) during the design and construction stages can help all parties efficiently manage huge amounts of information and develop knowledge. BIM also means that building or logistical issues can be resolved before getting to site — avoiding potentially expensive retrofits or rebuilds. BIM model data, stored in the non-proprietary COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange) format, can then be integrated with the client’s asset management software allowing a seamless transition of information to the operations and maintenance (O&M) team.

Managed well, data should flow freely between asset lifecycle phases through to O&M. Indeed, placing an emphasis on the O&M stage often leads to the gathering of better data early on which improves stakeholder interaction and engagement.

4/ EMBRACING AMBIGUITY,  UNCERTAINTY, DYNAMISM AND RISK

By their nature, major infrastructure programmes often require cultural and organisational transformational change which involves a degree of uncertainty and risk. Working in such an environment requires dynamism — which should be encouraged by the organisational set-up of a programme. Certainty will grow as the programme progresses, but even so, we are living in a period of flux where technology and customer needs are constantly evolving. Flexibility is key and the Integrated Delivery Partner model provides flexibility in both capacity and capability of resource.

5/SUSTAINABLE ACCOUNTING

It’s increasingly clear that traditional approaches to business case planning are failing to fully quantify impacts and risks, particularly when it comes to socioeconomic and environmental considerations over the long-term. In addition to financial reporting, we should take account of other metrics such as carbon. Where possible, we recommend a ‘six capitals’ approach, putting a monetary value on manufacturing, human, social, intellectual, natural and financial capital.

Once programme management was about seeking delivery of an objective through a collection of projects — with the knowledge that the end point was uncertain. With so many variables involved there was a recognition that achieving the desired objective could not be guaranteed. That was not necessarily a bad thing: the skilled programme manager would look to exceed expectations, where possible. Today, however, projects are all about certainty. Objectives need to be ultimately defined before anyone says yes; business tools offer ways to measure precisely all the known ingredients. All this achieves is constraining projects to what we can predict. That means many fall short.

Ultimately, it is people who make programmes work and success depends on getting the most out of them. Rather than designing a capital programme from the top down,  setting objectives and expecting a diverse group of people to meet them, the best approach is to start from the bottom up. At the design stage, creating a compelling narrative that aligns strategies and actions provides a platform for a ‘one team’ approach.

In addition, to be sustainable more thought has to be given to the evolution of a programme, allowing for a range of possible future uses. Our integrated delivery model is designed to address the entire programme lifecycle, creating legacies for generations to come.

Ultimately, it is people who make programmes work and success depends on getting the most out of them. Rather than designing a capital programme from the top down, setting objectives and expecting a diverse group of people to meet them, the best approach is to start from the bottom up. At the design stage, creating a compelling narrative that aligns strategies and actions provides a platform for a ‘one team’ approach.

WATER SYSTEM IMPROVEMENT PROGRAMME (WSIP), SAN FRANCISCO

As Integrated Client Partner to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), we implemented a ‘one team’ approach to upgrading the 80-year-old Hetch Hetchy water system. This collaborative approach enabled WSIP to be delivered safely on time, on budget and with no disruption to the service for over 2.7 million customers in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

As the programme construction manager, our team was responsible for overseeing and supporting the uniform and consistent application of the construction phase management plans, processes and procedures. As part of this we were responsible for delivering over 80 construction contracts spread over 290 km on an active public water supply system. This included construction contract administration, technical and quality assurance, cost and schedule control, supplier quality surveillance, risk management, formal partnering coordination, training and construction safety management. For the duration of the programme, we  co-located with the SFPUC.

With over 200 scheduled supply outages on a live water supply system serving 2.7 million customers, there was no room for error.

Co-ordination and collaboration consistently across all processes and procedures was essential. Using Construction Management Information System (CMIS) software, our team maintained a detailed master programme schedule which was continuously updated from project inputs. We used this information to lead monthly coordination meetings between system operators and all regional and programme level management.

Caption: Intake manifold for the Tesla UV disinfection plant which is capable of treating 315 million gallons of water per day.
Image credit: San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

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