Making Innovation Happen in a Megaproject: London’s Crossrail Suburban Railway System


Isolated pockets of innovation can be found in projects such as the novel solution used to re- design the Velodrome roof during the London 2012 Olympics but there have been few, if any, systematic efforts to manage innovation in a megaproject. This paper presents the initial findings of an ongoing three-year (2012-2014) action research project between Crossrail and researchers at Imperial College London and University College London. Action research is well suited to a setting where an intervention is required to diagnose and solve an organizational problem and produce scientific findings (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Van de Ven, 2007). Undertaken in collaboration with practitioners, the aim of action research is to transform the research setting through a process of critical inquiry and action. Our engagement with Crossrail aimed to formulate and implement an innovation strategy to improve the performance and outcomes of the project. We identified four stages or windows of opportunity to intervene to generate, discover, and implement innovation in a megaproject: (1) the bridging window during the front- end when ideas, learning, and practices from other projects and industries can be used to create an innovative project process, organization, and governance structure; (2) the engaging window, when tendering and contractual processes can be used by the client to encourage contractors and suppliers to develop novel ideas and innovative solutions; (3) the leveraging window, when all the parties involved clients, delivery partners, and suppliers are mobilized to develop novel ideas, new technologies, and organizational practices to improve performance; and (4) the exchanging window at the back-end, when ideas and resources for innovation can be (re)combined with those of other projects in the wider innovation ecosystem to improve performance. The first two stages had largely occurred when we became involved in the Crossrail project in 2012. Our intervention addressed the final two stages, where we assisted in the development and implementation of an innovation strategy. Core to this strategy was a coordinated mobilization of the innovative capabilities across the project supply chain. Though, to be successful, this approach had to be open enough to span organizational boundaries beyond the supply chain, reaching into the broader ecosystem. The four windows provide a valuable new heuristic for organizing innovation in megaprojects, pointing to areas where project managers can craft targeted innovation interventions and compare their efforts with those of others.