Paul Vry

Paul Vry

UK & Europe

Paul Vry is a chartered civil engineer and APM Registered Project Professional working in the UK Transportation division, currently leading design delivery of the Great Western Electrification project that uses around 250 full time resources from across Atkins and WSP|PB. He has experience in design delivery in a range of engineering sectors in the UK and overseas including rail, aerospace, water, flood defence, TV broadcasting and gas supply.

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This is a systemic problem, and to resolve it requires anyone leading the delivery of projects to set aside the traditional task/technical focused way we approach the set-up, planning and execution of work, and focus much more on the people. Achieving this is simpler than you might think. But first let’s demonstrate how systemic this problem is; have a go at this exercise:

Try defining the game of football.

Okay, you probably came up with something like: a game played between two teams of eleven people, where each team tries to win by kicking a ball into the other team's goal. That seems fairly sensible, you can’t have a game of football without people to play it.

Now try defining a project.

If you have a qualification in project management then you probably said something like: A project is a unique, transient endeavour, undertaken to achieve planned objectives, which could be defined in terms of outputs, outcomes or benefits (APM & PMI define projects like this). Notice there is no mention of people, but just as you can’t have a game of football without people, no people = no project.

Here’s an even more embedded piece of thinking, the Iron Triangle: Cost-Time-Quality, wrapped around Scope. This piece of simple but powerful logic fundamentally drives most professionals’ approach to delivering projects. But whilst projects fundamentally rely on people as the main agents for successful delivery, this logic naturally creates a task/technical focus and draws the focus away from the people doing the work and making the decisions. The Iron Triangle is a very seductive philosophy for technical delivery organisations to subscribe to because it suits our character, we are naturally much more comfortable dealing with abstract, technical problems like writing long scope and task documents and cost estimates than confronting and dealing with all the complications that come with people.

So here’s an alternative triangle for a design project: Leadership-Resource-Definition.

Leadership – a successful project requires experienced, empowered leadership for delivery and technical aspects;

Resource – a successful design project is fundamentally built on having a sufficient number of organised, appropriately skilled, experienced and motivated teams;

Definition – a successful project depends on having a clear and fully captured definition of the objectives and all the associated deliverables, tasks, budgets and plans that support these.

So next time you get presented with a project to deliver, consider setting your standard against these three measures, leadership/resource/definition, not just cost/time/quality, and you will significantly increase your chances of a successful outcome.

You can read more about the importance of people and project delivery in Stephen Ashton's opinion piece, Projects are about people.

UK & Europe,

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.

UK & Europe,