Mega-projects and collaboration

I’ve just come back from a 2 week trip to the US and as always a bit of distance gives some interesting perspectives on the state of UK industry. For a start, many of the people I met were very complimentary about the capabilities of UK companies and the state of our infrastructure in particular. There is no doubt that the successes of the 2012 Olympics has done the reputation of UK construction, transportation and project management a very good turn. I got lots of questions about how London had been able to make such a success of re-building much of its transport infrastructure and creating what were seen as great sporting facilities– close to the middle of a teeming metropolis with seemingly so little fuss. And that despite some of my transatlantic friends having watched Hugh Bonneville in episodes of Twenty Twelve on BBC iPlayer!

Reflecting on some of the lessons of the Olympic construction programme clearly the ODA learned many important lessons from failures of the past. It’s not long ago that if you googled London stadium construction all you got was horror stories from the drawn out saga of the New Wembley. I’ve written about this at length in the latest issue of Project Manager Today but in summary for me the lessons are:

  • Choose your partners wisely – many mega-projects try to assess attitudes and ability to collaborate as part of the procurement exercise sadly in many cases this is a rather superficial one-off exercise and people fail to follow through on these aims. Making the effort to really understand what it will be like working with these people and then all sides investing the time in getting the relationship off on the right foot is key.
  • A degree of conflict is inevitable – but it’s how leaders handle conflict when it arises that defines the road ahead for a successful collaboration. There are many examples from London2012 of conflicts being managed constructively and lessons being learned to reduce future conflicts rather than wars being fought over peripheral issues and everyone loosing apart from the lawyers!
  • Balance your investment in Governance, Operational processes and Behaviours – no collaborative project can succeed by focussing on one of these three legs alone. Multi-party collaboration in a complex mega-project is not the same as team work. It helps when you can align everyone to a single overarching goal such as the getting to the opening ceremony on time – but often it’s a much more complex and subtle than that as a leaders need to balance competing priorities from different stakeholders. It’s only by keeping all parties talking about what success looks like from their perspective and ensuring you have the right underpinning of decision making governance and operating processes that give everyone the information they need that you can keep a collaborative mega-project on track.

Download the whole article here – or read the rest of the special edition of Project Manager Today on mega-projects via the magazine’s website.