Implementing a set of standards does not a collaboration make, says Simon Vaughan. Behaviour has to change too and that's a bit harder.
Collaboration is a good idea. It brings results and at last, 21 years after the Latham Report first suggested that collaborative working was the best way to ensure infrastructure programme success, there finally seems to be a real shift towards a collaborative approach to deliver large-scale projects.
So it’s probably natural that organisations will look to find easy ways to incorporate collaborative working practices into their businesses and try and reap the benefits as simply as possible.
British Standard for collaboration (BS11000) is a good example of that drive for simplification. Since its inception in 2004, many companies have signed up to the programme which helps set up a platform for partnership working. The good news is the standard is helping companies make the shift from traditional transactional contracting to a more collaborative relationship approach and it does push teams to think about the relationships they have with customers, clients and within the supply chain. Many companies, like Network Rail for example, have made the British Standard a pillar of their vision and company ethos, meaning (BS11000) is now a table-stake for working with the company.
"It is not possible to take an engineer’s view which says ‘this input will deliver this output’. Rather than running through a process or list of changes, you need to think about how you are going to alter behaviours for the long-term."
But as we have seen from the recent flurry of bad news to dog Network Rail, implementing a set of standards does not a collaboration make. It may set out to be a guiding handrail of support but the reality is the rail is wobbly and can’t be relied upon.
BS11000 promotes the idea that companies are achieving a collaborative/partnering approach through a series of checklists and process changes, when in fact, they are merely scratching the surface, and not actually changing behaviours – the real benefit to collaborative working.
90% of the clients JCP works with, whether asset/infrastructure owner or a supplier, have already attained BS11000. And yet, something isn’t working because the expected results are not being achieved as we saw with Network Rail. At JCP, I have many conversations with senior executives who have spent a lot of money and resource to obtain the BS11000 and have the certificate proudly displayed on the wall. So they can’t understand why programme delivery is still not guaranteed.
I have to explain that while the standard has helped them get ready for collaboration, the real hard work to embed the behaviours hasn’t begun. At the first sign of trouble, each partner reverts, naturally, back to their comfort zone of behaviours and actions and the ultimate goal of programme delivery is lost.
"BS11000 promotes the idea that companies are achieving a collaborative/partnering approach through a series of checklists and process changes, when in fact, they are merely scratching the surface, and not actually changing behaviours – the real benefit to collaborative working."
It is not possible to take an engineer’s view which says ‘this input will deliver this output’. Rather than running through a process or list of changes, you need to think about how you are going to alter behaviours for the long-term. Think about the individual and personal actions and commitments required and how to make the changes sustainable so that, irrespective of what comes towards your organisation in the future, you will still have the capability to deal with it.
Remember that people come and go, project parameters change, and inevitably there will be delivery issues during the course of the programme. When things start getting difficult and challenging, when the pressure is to deliver more for less and in shorter time scales, safer and with lower cost, that’s when collaboration comes in to show its benefit. That’s when you know it’s not a certificate on the wall that is achieving the results, it’s the hard work that comes with a different mindset and a different attitude.
Of course for many organisations, BS11000 is the ticket you need to get into the prize draw of a major construction project. And it does offer benefits. But when you start to dig deeper to find real evidence of where those benefits have been achieved, there is no data or demonstrable reward.
Quite simply, while BS11000 is a step in the right direction, it just isn’t hitting the mark. Until such schemes put the desired behavioural change top of the agenda to bring about lasting change, finding a simple answer is still a pipedream and putting your faith into such a precarious support system is a dangerous strategy.
This article was first published in Infrastructure Intelligence on 28th July 2015.
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Notes to Editor:
JCP specialise in helping major clients, contractors and their supply chains realise the benefits of reduced cost, speedier delivery, increased profit and improved relationships from working collaboratively with each other. They have a 91% success rate in helping clients win work. The company has worked with leading names including Network Rail, National Grid, Highways Agency, Welsh Water, London Underground and Thames Water and with Central Government including DfT, BIS, and HMT Infrastructure UK.Download a PDF version