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Challenges that arise from implementing alternative metrics

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Want to learn from Europe’s largest construction project?

Categories: case study

Copyright Crossrail Ltd

Platform construction at Liverpool Street station completes © Crossrail Ltd.

Infrastructure projects in the UK don’t always get good press, but that is starting to change. Crossrail, in particular, is spoken of in very high terms. At a training event I attended recently, one of the delegates was from the Crossrail team. She spent most of her time in a hardhat and overalls and getting out of the tunnels for the course seemed almost a novelty. The trainer called on her several times to explain to the group the ‘Crossrail way’.

And why not? Crossrail is delivering and making real change in London and going about it with good grace and excellent stakeholder relations from what I can tell.

Crossrail is the UK’s largest project for a generation. It’s a comprehensive programme of tunneling, station construction, railway and infrastructure work that affects 40 sites in London. It’s burning through £140m per month and it’s doing amazing things.

The programme, inspired by the learning legacy work done after the London Olympics, I imagine, has set up a comprehensive lessons learned site with a large section on project management.

The project and programme section covers:

  • Project initiation and development
  • Delivery and execution strategy
  • Handover and transition (I shall definitely be browsing this area)
  • Programme controls
  • Audit and assurance
  • Quality
  • Sustainability strategy

So there is a lot covered, across a range of project and programme management disciplines and functional areas.

They are sharing how the work is done in minute detail. For example, you can download the change control and budget management procedure, along with a change control form. Then you can learn from how they have made those documents work for them and you benefit from all that expertise when you put your own together.

There are also documents that outline how Crossrail approached Earned Value and their estimating approaches. In fact, there are documents that cover pretty much everything.

The Documentation

Within the learning legacy document archives you’ll find a number of different file types.

Good practice documents are templates, processes and similar that have been shared for you to use (or modify). Note that they don’t talk about best practice.

There are micro-reports which are website pages (not documents to download although they might link to them) that focus on a short point.

There are case studies which include lessons learned and recommendations for future projects and programmes.

Technical papers take a topic and go in-depth. These are also peer-reviewed so you know you are getting a good quality, accurate document.

Finally, there are research summaries, which are shorter versions of research carried out by academics studying Crossrail – yes, universities are picking over what is happening there as well as practitioners.

The Value

I don’t work in construction, so some of the findings are less useful to me. However, if you do have a construction element to your projects, there is definitely value in finding out how other people ran projects – both the good and the not so good.

If you are preparing a business case or proposal you could also find some value here: many stakeholders and decision makers like statistics, so throwing in some research to show that you have taken on board learnings from other large programmes could well add weight to your arguments. Worth a try, eh?

My Key Takeaways

There is a huge focus on sustainability, and a lot of effort has gone into the legacy element of the project. It’s so important that a development like this is managed holistically over time and with consideration for the environment in all its forms around the build sites. There are documents in the learning legacy archive setting out how that focus has been achieved, which make interesting reading.

Finally, the overarching message of Crossrail is that it is about more than just the project management. If you have the time, browse the section on Talent and Resources as this covers their approach to managing the people side of this huge initiative.

I’m particularly impressed with how they have grown their own skills – knowing that skilled engineering resource is somewhat lacking, and wanting to make a difference to the local community as a legacy from the construction, they have embraced all the different ways to develop talent. From apprenticeship schemes to work with school children promoting STEM as a career choice, to creating an Academy to teach the tunneling and construction skills required, they’ve done a lot to ensure a pipeline of appropriate resources.

Your project might not have the budget (or the duration) to train young people in the skills you will need in 5 years’ time, but there are bound to be some key pointers here that you can take and implement on your own project initiatives.

Posted on: March 09, 2017 05:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Case study: planning for new energy sources

Categories: case study

Joseph Onstott, PMP, is the Budget and Cost Manager for the ITER project. He presented at Synergy, the PMI UK event for International Project Management Day, last week.

ITER was conceived in 1985 and is a global project with the aim of making fusion energy a reality. Fusion takes intense pressure and a temperature of 100 million degrees Centigrade to create a reaction, Onstott explained, so the technology is complex. In order to develop the technology to use in the power generation, a treaty was signed in 2006 between the EU, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, the US and China. “Sharing in the design and fabrication of components, each participating country could create its own infrastructure and propagate the technology around the world,” Onstott said.

The world uses enough energy per year to fill 28,218 supertankers. Per capital, that equals 24 light bulbs on for 24 hours a day every day but of course this energy consumption is not equally split. The US uses twice as much energy as the UK and 48 times as much energy as Bangladesh. As populations and incomes grow, and the developing nations expand their industrial horizons, world energy consumption will grow too. Onstott said that the prediction is that we’ll be using 50% more energy globally in 2030.

Currently most of our energy, 87% comes from fossil fuels (most of that is oil) and the remainder comes from nuclear power and other sources. Given that our reliance on oil is not durable, the fusion project aims to find an alternative way of creating energy – effectively by “bringing a star to Earth.”

A challenging project

The fusion project has a number of objectives.

Project objective:

  • To demonstrate the scientific and technical feasibility of fusion power.

Technical objectives:

  • To demonstrate the safety and environmental acceptance of fusion power
  • To integrate and test all the components.

There are also a number of project management and technical challenges on a project of this size.

Distributed manufacturing

Each member country is responsible for a piece of the overall system (which when put together is called a tokamak – the machine that does the fusion). The correction coils are being built in China. The cryostat is coming from India and other bits are coming from other technical teams around the world.

Tight schedules

The timeline for the project is long. After signing the treaty in 2006, construction finally began in 2010. By the end of 2014 the design and infrastructure will be finalised. 2015-19 is the test and construction phase. The system will be activated in 2020, so we are some way off having our household energy needs being provided by fusion power.

That might not seem like a tight schedule, but every country has to get their contribution ready at the same time.

Seven party collaboration

The seven treaty signatory states all need to work together. “One of the greatest strengths as a project is the ability to tap into the scientific know-how of our seven members,” said Onstott. However, this is also a challenge as each member has their own staff, budget, links to government and must come together to agree objectives.


Between 2007 and 2025 Onstott estimates the total project budget will be €2.5bn. As Budget and Cost Manager, it’s his responsibility to manage this mammoth budget. However, he doesn’t know the overall cost of the project as members provide their contributions in kind. Europe has provided an estimate of €6bn, so using that to extrapoloate, Onstott feels that the whole fusion project will cost €13-17bn.

Complex design and challenging assembly

The unit will be 30m in diameter and about the same in height when it is built. So far the building to house the Tokamak is underway and 493 antiseismic supports (see photo) have been put in place to protect against earthquakes and shifts in the Earth’s crust. The coil building, which is where the tokamak will be put together, is complete. Prototypes have been built in various countries so that the design can be finalised and large scale mock-ups have also been put together.

“We’ve moved from finalising the requirements to detailed designs, and from prototyping to actual manufacturing,” Onstott said. At the moment this project is in the transition from design to construction. With so many cultural, social and technical challenges, it’s going to prove to be an interesting project to watch over the coming years.

Photo of seismic isolation pit (c)

Posted on: November 03, 2012 08:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sustainability in action: the legacy of the Olympic Park

Categories: green, case study

Holly Knight“When I started early in 2008, project managers were one of the groups I had to battle with,” said Holly Knight, Head of Sustainability at the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), at an APM Learning Legacy event in London yesterday.

The overarching principle of the London Olympics has been to design with legacy in mind, and the desire was that the legacy was sustainable. The ODA is the government body responsible for the work in East London, effectively building the stage for a handover to LOCOG, the organising committee for the games. Think of LOCOG as an events company, Holly said, that would in turn hand over the location to the London Legacy Development Corporation to run the Olympic Park in the long term.

“It was really important that when we started we had some strong leadership,” Holly explained. The team set high level strategic commitments for the programme, including 6 priority themes:

  • Health and Safety
  • Sustainability
  • Equality
  • Employment and Skills
  • Legacy
  • Design and accessibility.

Each team in charge of a priority theme produced their own practical programme strategy, “a set of targets about how we were going to achieve it,” Holly added.

The sustainability team took principles like One Planet living and used those as a basis for their targets and to set clear guidelines for what they expected from contractors. These were then used in the contract negotiations.

The team also carried out what we would consider traditional stakeholder mapping, but called the resulting links “strategic alliances” (which is a term I like far more). “It was important that we did have relationships with groups like Constructing Excellence and the Construction Products Association,” Holly said, explaining that their stakeholder map was wide ranging and inclusive of industry bodies as well as those contractor groups directly linked to the work on site.

Contracting the green way

The Olympic programme had around £70bn worth of contracts across 50,000 contractual agreements. That’s a lot of paperwork, and a lot of contractors to get around spreading the word about the sustainability targets. The team needed to work on and with the supply chain, so they wanted to get sustainability into these contracts. “Procurement became one of our best friends,” Holly said. “The value of getting the procurement right was massive.”

As a result, the sustainability team was fully involved in the contract negotiations. The selection criteria during the tendering stage included about 70% of measures for ‘traditional’ contract criteria and 30% on the priority themes, including sustainability. This meant that the priority themes and sustainability targets could be discussed with contractors in the very early stages and written in to contracts as appropriate.

“But quite often when people turned up on site and we showed them what they had signed up for they didn’t realise,” Holly said. This was an issue when the sales and contracting team were a different group to the workers who arrived at the Park. As a result, there was a skills and knowledge gap.

Holly explained that the sustainability team carried out a fair amount of “hand holding”. They ran workshops and delivered training so that the principal contractors knew what was expected and could cascade this information to the sub-contractors.

The results

The sustainability team had 20 targets and sub-targets, and hit them all except for the sub-target around renewable energy. They smashed some, including the target for materials delivered by rail and water. They came in almost 30% higher than planned on that one.

The velodrome is considered the most sustainable building on the park. The original steel frame roof structure was replaced with a cable net roof, which would not have been possible without excellent collaboration on the project between contractor groups. There were huge cost and health and safety benefits to making the change as well, so sustainability really does pay.

Building sustainable structures also has a lower maintenance and electricity cost: for example, the swimming pool has removable ‘wings’. The venue needs 17,500 seats for the Olympics but other events only need around 3,000 – even events like the World Championships. So to keep the maintenance, heating and electricity costs down, the temporary stands will be removed after the event and the venue goes back to being a smaller space. A biomass boiler on the site reduces the carbon footprint but 30%.

Overall, the programme has included some great leaps in sustainable design, and by planning this from the design phase of the individual projects, the London Olympics really can claim to be the greenest games yet.

Photo credit: APM on Flickr

Posted on: June 01, 2012 03:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Value for money: The Scottish Parliament building project

Categories: business case, case study

I’ve been working on my new book, Customer-Centric Project Management, and one of the main concepts my co-author Phil Peplow and I discuss is how projects define success.

The current draft of the book (no guarantee it will make it into the final version) includes the construction of the Scottish Parliament building as an example of how different stakeholder groups interpret success differently.

The design of the building was the result of a competition, and architectural firms responded to a brief with the hope of being selected as the company that would win the work of designing the prestigious new building. The Secretary of State for Scotland at the time, Donald Dewar, launched the competition saying that architectural quality, value for money, accessibility and a design “worthy of the hopes and aspirations of the Scottish people were important.

The building user brief that the contest entrants were issued with also stressed the importance of a stunning architectural design, saying it must “reflect the Parliament’s status,” “promote good environmental practice” and “be an important symbol for Scotland” while offering value for money. In other words, these were the critical success factors for the project, and from the beginning there was a focus on the design and the budget. As experienced project managers will realise, this situation created the risk of conflict between these two factors. Could you really have a fabulous design while still delivering value for money?

Debating Chamber

Scottish Parliament Debating Chamber: Photo: copyright andrew_j_w

Building projects are notorious for going over budget, and this project was no different. The guideline at the beginning of the procurement process was for a budget of £50m but an inquiry into the overspend concluded that in reality quality was more important than cost. The project suffered from not having realistic budget estimates.

Poor communication also played a part in the rocketing costs. Messages were filtered for political reasons before being passed on to management. For example, a quantity surveyor produced an estimate of £89m, including a margin in case of risk; after all, this was a one-of-a-kind project, and it was highly likely there would be some unforeseen circumstances. The actual estimate passed up the line did not include this risk prediction, and was given as £62m.

The project involved a number of different contractors, all of whom used different jargon. Is ‘estimate’ the same as ‘forecast’? Putting jargon aside, if you don’t have project reports at all you have no chance of knowing what is going on. There were concerns over whether or not the project would be completed within budget as early as November 1998. However, it took until March 1999 before Dewar was given formal warning of any potential cost rise. If budget was a key success criteria for the project, it seems it was not communicated adequately to those responsible for reporting against it – or they were providing the information to the wrong stakeholders.

The Scottish Parliament building has been open for years now – the Members met there for the first time in 2004, three years later than expected. The project finished late, and went significantly over budget. The estimated final cost reported to the Finance Committee was £431m! That’s a long way from the original £50m.

Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament building. Photo: copyright ajnabeee

If sticking to budget was important for the project, the team didn’t do a particularly good job of delivering successfully. Was it value for money? That’s a different matter altogether, as value for money is subjective.

The building attracted 100,000 visitors in the first 3 months. It has won nine design awards. The three main parts of the building have been rated as ‘Excellent’ for environmental performance and the development has increased biodiversity in the area. The carbon footprint of the Holyrood complex has been reduced by 12% in 5 years.

These results show that the success criteria of accessibility, stunning design and good environmental practice have been met. Maybe that does mean the project achieved value for money. What do you think?

Posted on: January 30, 2012 03:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Budgeting for the Olympics

At Synergy, the UK’s main event for International Project Management Day earlier this month, Louise Hardy, infrastructure manager for the construction work for the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, gave a presentation about how the budget for this vast piece of construction was managed.

The construction involved all the civil engineering works required to get that area of London ready for the Games. It required building:

  • 20km of roads
  • 13km of tunnels
  • 26 bridges
  • 11 venues.

The Games team had committed to developing the site in a sustainable way, which was a challenge in itself given the level of contamination in the soil and the risk of unexploded ordnance left over from the Blitz. Needless to say, that area of London wasn’t used for much before the Games bid was won, and a strong focus of the construction work has been on making sure the investment leaves a legacy for the surrounding area.

Louise said that there were 3 things that kept them on track.

1. Rigorous change control

Louise said that clear reporting at project level was one thing that helped keep the whole project on track. Changes were discussed at this level. When the project started, there were 60-80 people in the project reporting meetings, which took about 4 hours. A strong change control process, with everyone involved, meant that the cost of change could be properly analysed.

2. Rigorous management of cost

Cost management involved a firm hand establishing and monitoring contingency spending. Contingency levels were based on quantitative risk analysis (QRA) with an 80% level of confidence. All contingency budgets were identified as part of a project or programme; there were no general buckets of money to be drawn from at a later date.

Cost management was particularly important because “the media were fierce in the early days.” Louise said that there was wide belief that the UK in general was not capable of managing the civil engineering works required to put on an Olympic and Paralympic Games. The media were on the look out for examples of where projects were overspent or poorly managed.

3. Performance management

The most important area for controlling cost seemed to be performance management. There were several techniques in use at the Olympic Park for performance management, including project reporting meetings. The reports did not just focus on historical information. While this was useful, it doesn’t help the stakeholders see what could happen in the future, so Louise and her team put some effort into preparing monthly trend reports. “It’s given us good visibility and enhanced reporting at government level,” she said. She also showed us an example of the monthly report, which was a graphic representation of the project’s performance that fitted on piece of A3 paper. Variance analysis, total cost and key milestones were also reported.

Once stakeholders felt that the project was being well managed and the performance was on track, the number of people attending these meetings dropped significantly. In the end, the project reporting meetings were only attended by 6 people, and they took about an hour.

The main message from Louise was that earned value analysis was a critical part of keeping the project on track. “It was absolutely essential to undertake earned value analysis on all areas of the programme,” she said. “There was a surprising amount of resistance.” She knew it was the only way to generate trust and belief in the schedule and the project’s achievements. In order to overcome the resistance, the project team undertook a training and education initiative to bring everyone on board with EVA.

It all paid off. The construction work is already complete, and it finished a year before the Games begin. This gives the other Olympics teams plenty of time to make the final preparations before Olympics fever descends on London in 2012.

Posted on: November 09, 2011 01:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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