Comment: Raising collaboration to a new level

Highways Reporters

Local authorities, Transport for London (TfL), the Highways Agency, supply chain partners and stakeholders need to raise collaboration to a new level to deliver smarter and more efficient ways of working if the industry is to successfully deliver the biggest investment in our roads since the 1970s. That’s the view of EM Highway Services managing director, Dave Wright

Our industry must find new ways to spend this once-in-a-generation level of investment wisely, efficiently and effectively. We need to bring customer-focused projects to fruition much faster and maintain our existing roads to a high standard. A prosperous and fairer society depends on the UK having 21st century roads.
Although welcomed and sorely needed, the significant increase in expenditure means there will be even more demands placed on network occupancy and on a constrained set of resources including plant and virgin materials as well as labour. We need to continue to protect the safety of our workforce and the public. We also need to ensure the health and wellbeing of our communities by reducing air pollution and providing more inclusive services such as cycle-proofing our road network, and minimising situations where major roads are a barrier to walkers and communities.
These challenges would be significant enough following the recent period of austerity where our industry has ramped down our capacity in response to limited budgets. But these are not normal times. The world’s climate and weather patterns are changing, causing more extreme weather events, like flooding and heatwaves.
The optimum way of meeting the challenges ahead is for main contracting organisations and their supply chain to act as a seamless extension to clients, and by collaborating with competitors in order to capture the opportunities offered by delivering work across programmes. Take for example the road marking firms that are given the last 30 minutes of a closure to lay a few white lines before packing up – not exactly cost-effective. We need to work smarter with our partners and competitors to ensure we maximise the output from in-house workforces and the supply chain by working across the traditional organisation and project boundaries (and indeed redefining what we currently understand to be a project).
As an early adopter of BS11000, EM Highway Services along with our clients and partners started the process of transition to developing new relationships some time ago. Collaboration is now the norm for us and we’ve been working collectively to identify how we and our peers can raise the bar.
We’ve held workshops with clients, existing and potential partners, and stakeholders, which have resulted in a number of solutions. These include embedding representatives from the supply chain and competitors into integrated programme management offices and using lean tools such as collaborative planning to promote hard and soft benefits in design and construction. Hard benefits include accelerated delivery and unlocking value by helping to smooth workflow and ensure continuity of work for in-house workforces and the supply chain, which in turn significantly improves productivity and reduces costs. Soft benefits include better teamwork across organisation and discipline boundaries; and an environment where all of those involved are encouraged to contribute new ideas or alternative approaches for consideration.
Supply chain incentive
Another solution is a supply chain incentive fund based on the incentive model developed by the Highways Agency for its Major Projects Collaborative Delivery Framework. Incentives focus on achieving more efficient and standardised design solutions; introducing different ways of thinking, for example product and production principles; and rewarding suppliers who work collaboratively across boundaries.
We are also an advocate of the Behaviour & Process Correlation Model developed by ToweyDuffy & Co, which was presented to clients and partners at our recent “Meeting the Challenge” workshop. It doesn’t require any new systems as it captures what already goes on in the business, but isolates the key drivers that determines the performance of the collaborative team (client, main contracting organisation, supply chain and stakeholders) and ensures these drivers are optimised. The model is based on the contention that two things ultimately shape performance results – the behaviour of the people who perform the work, and the way in which the work is organised i.e. the process. Improve either and that will improve results. Put simply, if we can deliver performance as a collaborative team using a consistent and repeatable methodology then we can rise to any challenge put before us.
The latest agenda of providing great customer experience and putting customers first – in particular with the Highways Agency, which will be held to account by a new customer watchdog – shifts the emphasis from not just thinking we are providing what the public wants, but instead actively seeking out their views and planning, designing and constructing new projects and maintenance appropriately. In response to the challenge of delivering better outcomes for customers and communities, the industry needs to prepare for a different level of customer service. Perhaps this could be facilitated by harnessing the skills and expertise from other sectors recognised as leading the way in customer service excellence, such as retail.
Economic growth
Our industry also needs to do more to support the government’s vision for a transport system that is not only an engine for economic growth, but one that is also greener and promotes national wellbeing. In common with many organisations, EM had plans to minimise environmental impact but not a holistic approach for this wider vision. However, through our involvement in maintaining the capital’s roads, we were familiar with One Planet Living via London’s offering for the 2012 Olympics. We’ve now implemented a One Planet Action Plan in collaboration with our clients, supply chain and stakeholders to help us become a truly sustainable organisation by addressing our environmental, social and economic impacts and ensuring opportunities to deliver positive actions (including increasing the use of SMEs and social enterprise groups) are maximised and shared with others.
If we want to meet the gearing for growth challenges and seize the opportunities this brings, we need to raise collaboration to a new level. EM Highway Services and our existing clients Croydon Council, Transport for London and the Highways Agency (along with our partners) share a passion and belief in collaboration and engagement. We’d like to share how we do it (and hear from others) in order to ensure lessons learned can be exploited to their full potential by the industry and beyond. We welcome other public sector clients, stakeholders and our peers to join us in a cross-sector “Meeting the Challenge” working group. We already have a shared agenda; namely to spend this genuinely transformational funding wisely, efficiently and effectively. Now we need a collective solution to meet the challenges and opportunities this investment brings. We look forward to working with you!


The above article first appeared in the November issue of Highways Magazine.

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