3 lessons learnt from Crossrail for future Major Projects

3 lessons learnt from Crossrail for future Major Projects

A day 20 years in the making.

24th May 2022, Crossrail will finally open its sliding doors to the public.

My relationship with Crossrail goes right back to the early days in 2001 when Crossrail was a smallish team based at Butler Place above an old branch of Lloyds Bank.

Many talented individuals have contributed to Crossrail, a mega project like no other we have seen in the UK before. Of course, it is well documented that the project has not been without many major challenges.

What we can see though, is that future major projects are keen to learn from Crossrail, and best practices and approaches are already being adopted on projects such as HS2 and others.

So, what are the main takeaways now that the project is finally drawing to a close?

1. Systems Engineering should be equal to Civil Engineering

Historically, major projects are often planned and led from the outset by civil engineers. Which to an extent makes sense. Digging the tunnel comes potentially 15 years before the systems integration takes place.

But Crossrail is not something that should have been viewed from a historical standpoint. It is the UK’s first-in-kind, fully digitised railway. It involves an unprecedented amount of highly complex systems integration. It operates across three different signalling systems alone!

Having substantial systems engineering representation on the project board from the get-go is critical to getting a balanced view of how the project is progressing and what is realistically achievable.

Hopefully, we see a lot more engineering and project diversity taking on the helm of major projects going forward as the technology becomes increasingly more complex.

2. Integration

Integration and collaboration are already on the rise across the transport & infrastructure sectors with more and more project teams establishing one central organisation integrating the client, programme delivery partners, contractors and designers.

This is a major lesson that Crossrail learnt and adapted to as they went. Originally, Crossrail Limited was established as the delivery organisation. They then appointed Transcend (a JV of CH2M and Nichols) as the Programme Partner and then a further Project Delivery Partner (Bechtel supported by Halcrow and Systra) to drive delivery of the central section.

All of these separate teams had their own management structures and reporting lines making the overall Crossrail structure extremely complex.

In 2011 they integrated these teams which saw all three organisations combined as one structure. This reduced overlaps and duplications.

This level of integration is the fundamental principles to Project 13 which is gaining more and more traction across the sector.

In our experience, while integrated project teams don’t come without their own challenges, people who work in integrated teams often have a more positive experience as an employee and enjoy the collaborative culture.

3. An overhaul of power

A recent ICE review of major project delivery looked at what we can learn from five projects at various stages of delivery including; Crossrail, Tideway, East West Rail, British Antarctic Survey’s Infrastructure Modernisation Programme and Anglian Water’s Strategic Pipeline Alliance.

One of their main recommendations was that a traditional style of leadership is no longer fit for purpose for modern infrastructure projects. They argue that having one key figure or “hero” leading a project on this scale or complexity simply won’t cut it.

Instead, organisations should “spread authority and empower highly competent individuals to take the key decisions in their areas of a project”.

Not only this, but ICE argues that to maximise success and efficiency projects should pass on the leadership baton at critical stages in the project to ensure that you are always operating with the right team at the right time.

Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, so it is all well and good to look back at where Crossrail went wrong and cast aspersions. What is important is that the transport and infrastructure sectors uses the lessons learnt from other major projects and apply recommendations from people who have been in the thick of it, to future projects.

Have you seen any other trends in major projects as a result of Crossrail? I’d be really interested to hear your experiences in the market so please do drop me an email.

Author: Jim Newsom

Jim Newsom

Managing Director