Lessons From Transport For The Sponsorship Of Major Projects

A new report, commissioned by the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Transport (DfT) Bernadette Kelly and the Chief Executive of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority Matthew Vickerstaff, has identified lessons to increase confidence that future transport, infrastructure and wider Government projects are delivered with confidence, predictability and control.

Lessons from transport for the sponsorship of major projects follows a review conducted in response to issues encountered in major projects sponsored by DfT, including timetabling changes in May 2018 and the delayed opening of Crossrail.

In her introduction to the report, Ms Kelly identifies two points that emerge from this work: “The first is that successful delivery of projects is as much about the interaction of human behaviours – in particular around accountability, trust and transparency – as it is about processes. The second is that major projects of this scale and complexity are inherently difficult so we must constantly challenge ourselves to strive for excellence if we are to deliver for users and taxpayers.”

The Department for Transport has also published an A3 poster outlining lessons learnt relating to accountability, authority, alignment, and disclosure, and the design, construction, commissioning and operations stages of major projects, which can be downloaded here.

The report highlights five themes that encompass the lessons identified:

  • Accountability must be unambiguous – separating policy from delivery allows organisational specialisation but creates boundaries and the scope for blurred accountabilities. Departments must ensure clarity of role and the extent of autonomy of both individuals and organisations involved in project delivery.
  • Behaviour matters more than process – the report identifies the need to actively counter wrong behaviours and decisions through calm and objective assessment of the evidence, and by instilling the right behaviours within and between organisations.
  • Control schedule and benefits as well as cost – most projects focus on cost at the expense of other success factors rather than protecting benefits and schedule. Projects fail to manage costs and time to target as the targets themselves are often locked-in too early, and before there is sufficient evidence to gauge their feasibility.
  • Deal with systems integration risk –  System integration failures typically present late in the project life-cycle but sponsors need to establish the conditions for success at the start of the project. These include limiting complexity,ensuring clear accountability for managing systems integration with a capable and empowered organisation, ensuring that work is packaged in a way that reduces interfaces between suppliers, and by diligently protecting the duration of test phases.

If you are a CECA member and would like to input your views on this report or other aspects of major project delivery, please contact CECA Director of External Affairs Marie-Claude Hemming.