Back in June, Boris announced a £5bn “New Deal” for infrastructure spend in order to counter the economic shock of Covid-19, as well as the “most radical” changes to the planning system since WWII to help the country “build, build, build”.
This is all well and good, but the governments sweeping statement to get the country building is as usual pretty vague and provides very little certainty about the future of the infrastructure pipeline.
Last week, Infrastructure Intelligence hosted a live webinar with some big names from the infrastructure sector who provided some insight into what is really required to be able to actually deliver projects faster and on a larger scale.
The webinar featured input from; WSP’s Head of Transport for the UK Rachel Skinner, Simon Kirby CEO of The Nichols Group, David Whysall Managing Director Infrastructure UK at Turner & Townsend and Jamie Gordon, Director – Infrastructure and Energy at BECG.
All the speakers had some great ideas on how projects can be delivered better and faster, but from a recruitment perspective there were five key attributes that we, as an industry, need to ensure are represented on project leadership teams.
1. A Clear Vision
The ability to see the ‘bigger picture’ was something that most of the speakers touched on. Project leaders need to have a precise goal in mind and then be able to develop a strategy to reach that goal.
Starting with the end in mind rather than focussing on short term objectives means that leaders will be able to develop a roadmap for the rest of the team to follow, providing clarity and certainty from the outset.
2. Relationship Management
Several of the points made by the speakers boil down to needing individuals who excel at building relationships and stakeholder management.
A significant portion of project delivery centres around getting buy in from multiple stakeholders with different agendas. Once you have your clear vision and strategy to getting there, you need to convince; government, communities, businesses, supply chains etc. to agree with that vision and to commit to it without further interference.
Not only this, but governance and policies are fraught with complexities. More and more processes and procedures are being continuously added to the system and in order to streamline project delivery, the way projects are governed needs to be restructured.
A key attribute for any leader looking to influence governing policies is stakeholder management. Being able to challenge the current systems and persuade the powers that be to change for the better.
3. Diverse and Varied Leadership
No man (or woman) is an island. And no project can be delivered by one person.
When it comes to assembling your leadership team, the key to getting projects delivered quickly, efficiently, and innovatively is to recruit with diversity in mind from a variety of backgrounds.
Everyone is well aware by now of the benefits of gender and ethnic diversity, and how important it is to have a diverse leadership team. But the variety also needs to come from varied backgrounds, so your teams can benefit from people bringing experience acquired working in different functions, sectors and other countries.
There has been a tendency in the past for major projects to be set up without fully utilising learnings from other programmes; typically one previous UK project approach is replicated when there may have be better ideas available in other sectors or countries. By recruiting from different sectors or from international projects you will benefit from a depth of experience that we don’t always see on project boards. We can learn from the experiences gained across all sorts of backgrounds – what has worked well, and what hasn’t.
It is crucial to involve individuals from a range of functional backgrounds as well. Historically, major projects are often run by civil engineers. For projects to be well rounded, you need to hear a range of voices championing what is best from all angles, including amongst others systems, operations and the end user.
4. Procurement Capability
If projects are to be sped up, then there are some critical changes that need to be made to the procurement process. Supply chains need to be simplified and capability led.
This echo’s the points made about establishing a diverse leadership team, in order to make changes to how procurement is managed, you need to ensure you have solid representation on the project board. Someone who understands how to improve and adapt procurement, not just do things the way we always have done.
The infrastructure sector is really making strides when it comes to collaboration across projects, for example ICE has been making headway with their project 13 framework, but there is always room from improvement.
It is crucial that anyone coming onto a project board is really open to sharing information and ideas between companies in order to help the industry as a whole learn, improve and “build, build, build”.
It may be counter-intuitive to share solutions and strategies with the competition, but it is fundamental to the future of our sector.
Overall, the future does look bright for the infrastructure sector, and Boris’ directive to get building is a welcome one. However, there are significant reforms that need to happen about how we deliver projects and ultimately, this will come down to who is leading the way.