The benefits of informal collaboration

Paul Vry | 07 Jan 2016 | Comments

The Great Western Electrification Programme - the benefits of informal collaboration

Collaborative working is now a common term in project delivery, particularly in the realm of major projects where it is invariably necessary to have a group of separate organisations working together on a project due to its size and complexity. Never one to miss an opportunity, the BSI standards group have published the ‘world’s first standard in relationship management’, BS11000. But do you need to have a certificate from BSI to be able to work effectively with others? And if you do have one is it any guarantee that you will?

The Great Western Electrification Programme is a major infrastructure project for which Atkins is the lead designer in conjunction with WSP|PB (formerly Parsons Brinckerhoff), who are in subcontract to Atkins. To deliver this project we work in a co-located office with Network Rail and the construction contractors. The Atkins/WSP|PB delivery management team comprises around 40 team members all sat together, and adjacent to the Network Rail team. What would be noticeable to a visitor is that, other than having different screensavers, you could not tell who works for Atkins and who for WSP|PB. The delivery is broken down into 9 route sections with a team typically responsible for delivery of 2 route sections but the Atkins/WSP|PB composition of those teams is entirely arbitrary. Similarly the design work is spread across Atkins, WSP|PB and an extended supply chain with the only guiding principle being that the work is split roughly 50:50 between Atkins and WSP|PB.

Here are some things we have done:

  • Formed effective teams based around common objectives
  • Applied consistent unbranded approaches to managing the planning and delivery whoever the design team works for, and taken consistent corrective actions to improve design delivery performance irrespective of the design team’s affiliation
  • Established a weekly review with Director level involvement from every company involved in the design work
  • Held regular Atkins/WSP|PB steering group sessions to maintain an effective relationship at senior level as well as at working level
  • Been clear and consistent in our relationship with Network Rail
  • Achieved consistent high performance in delivery on time and quality

Here are some things we have not done:

  • Formed a collaboration committee
  • Written a collaboration charter
  • Made anyone sign anything with the word collaboration on the front and stuck it on the wall

People are social creatures, on average they like being with and working with other people, and when you put like-minded people together, give them a common purpose and do not draw up artificial boundaries then it’s not surprising you get the benefits. That is effective collaboration, no charters, no certificates, just creating the right environment for humans to do what they naturally do well.