Collaboration in a Risk Averse World

Contributor: Ray Campion

Company: Campion Project Consultants

In a very interesting piece in Contract Journal, dated Tuesday 16th April 2019, Zak Garner-Purkis talks about sudden project status and profit warning shocks. Citing Crossrail and the recent Galliford announcement, Garner-Purkis suggests that an industry-wide adversity to bad news is largely responsible. He proposes that for true collaboration to flourish, the benefits must be shared more evenly. 3

But we think that this problem runs much deeper and is at the heart of all that is wrong in our industry. It is a behavioural issue and it runs right through our projects, top to bottom, feasibility to completion.

Collaboration is not based on an accreditation, or badge on a company website. It is based on culture, attitude and behaviour of organisations and people. Most project teams can deal with bad news, if revealed at the earliest opportunity giving time to mitigate and plan. This is also true in general life. We even have contract mechanisms to allow the sharing of potential risks and the opportunity to avoid or minimise adverse impacts, but if I had a pound for every time I experienced an Early Warning Notice met with suspicion, frustration and, in some cases anger, I would be writing this piece from a sun-kissed beach, and frankly not caring too much. 100

In a similar vein I have seen the slow decline in ambition when planning project works for key rail possessions. We believe that the focus, in minute detail, on quantity outputs, and the ensuing fallout if targets are not achieved, has driven a risk averse, under plan/over achieve attitude. We fully appreciate the need to ensure planned works are efficient and planned and executed in a safe manner, especially when spending public money, but the attitude must surely be to have some contingency for works, perhaps parallel to the main works, to be planned as a “nice to have”, which can be managed in if reasonable, but which will not be punished if not achieved. This would encourage ambition and create a more willing and collaborative attitude to planning. 01000

In any case it is more important now than ever for clients commissioning projects to put effort into building strong relationships with contractors and supply chain. Human relationship building and relationship health should be given more priority when setting goals, deliverables and KPI’s. People deliver projects and we have some of the most brilliant, ambitious and collaborative people in our industry. The responsibility of leadership is to create the right environmental conditions for them to succeed. They must value and promote openness and honesty in communication; They must champion listening and understanding over hearing and reacting. 

Perhaps then we can talk about real, tangible collaboration, engagement and buy-in of all stakeholders and a collective pride in what we do and what we achieve together. Projects are inherently risky and we must become better at working together to share responsibility and success.

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