The current approach to delivering complex infrastructure projects is facing obsolescence. The sector is struggling to deal with projects that require complex systems to be planned, delivered and, most importantly, integrated to provide the mobility, energy, sanitation and other infrastructure services on which people depend.
So opens the report from a major review, commissioned by ICE into some of the issues highlighted by the delays to the completion of Crossrail.
The review led by former Balfour Beatty CEO Andrew McNaughton explored how infrastructure projects can benefit from adapting systems thinking techniques increasingly prevalent in other project-based sectors such as aerospace and oil & gas. It also examines the implications of the migration of much of the functionality of infrastructure systems to technology that will need to be upgraded many times during the life of the civil engineering structures that surround it.
The report concludes that having fallen at least 5 year behind adjacent industries, there are a whole series of proven practices that can be transferred rapidly into the infrastructure space. The report pulls insight, gleaned from over 30 practitioner interviews and a literature review into a model for A Systems Approach to Infrastructure Delivery
This model starts from a demand for clarity on outcomes. Acknowledging this can sound like a statement of the obvious, the report notes that in the infrastructure space “the most expensive element of the project very often the civil engineering dominates, leading to loss of focus on the end goal, an under-resourcing of systems integration and delays and disappointment”.
The report moves on to argue that owners must own, noting that there are many things only the owner can do including identifying data requirements, setting the project’s appetite for risk and carrying out thorough front end project development. Infrastructure projects are also implored to make much greater use of well-established systems engineering techniques, to allow projects to work backwards to deliver a fully integrated systems architecture. Project organisation, governance and procurement & contractual strategy can then be designed to help the team collaborate to manage the risks to bringing this operational system into practice, avoiding the risk of excessive focus on delivering physical assets.
Finally the review looks at leadership and data. The report notes other industries are investing heavily in academies to produce leaders whose style is more “tending the garden” than “taking the hill”. Modern leaders need to be able to empower diverse, highly competent front-line teams to get on with managing the risks to delivery. They also need to understand if and when the project needs a different leadership skill set – and plan the necessary handovers. Similarly, other industries have been quick to realise that modern projects are oiled by data. This data is less a golden thread through the project and more a golden loop, hooking the project back into the existing systems of which it forms a part. Infrastructure needs to up its game rapidly so that all project participants, down to the smallest sub-contractor can collaborate around high quality data.
Andrew Crudgington, December 2020
ICE have committed to a second phase of the review, exploring the SAID principles with live projects. If you are interested in being involved contact firstname.lastname@example.org.