Breaking the spiral of low-cost value on infrastructure projects

Phil Wilbraham.

In the wake of the Carillion crash and with the infrastructure sector reviewing its operating and business models, the role of the ‘capable owner’ will be increasingly important, writes Phil Wilbraham.

Project 13, a collaboration between the Infrastructure Client Group and industry partners with support from the Institution of Civil Engineers, is looking to revitalise the current operating model of infrastructure development. 

The new approach will be built upon innovation and collaboration, increasing productivity and reducing wastage. The project and the community that has been built around it covers five key strands - governance, organisation, integration, capable owner and digital transformation. 

Each of these strands is being developed and designed currently to be rolled out in due course. However, as this work could lead to a significant change in the way that projects are delivered, it is certainly worthwhile sharing some of the thinking that is going on within the Project 13 community.  

Each strand has begun to define itself against some of the problems that the current model for delivery throws up. Of particular interest here is the role of the ‘capable owner’. It is clear that the role of the infrastructure owner is critical to ensure that the right infrastructure is created, operated and maintained. The Project 13 community and working groups have defined the new role of the capable owner as including:

  • Articulating the voice of the customer
  • Value-driven mindset
  • Articulating the voice of operations
  • Relating to the ecosystem
  • Creating and maintaining complex systems
  • Recruiting, building and maintaining talent

In the brave new world of Project 13 we would expect the capable owner to articulate the voice of the customer making sure that this is heard throughout the supply chain and that feedback from the customer is being properly analysed and applied to delivery. 

Furthermore, the capable owner will be aware of the outcomes defined by the customer and therefore be in a position to define the value of the project against those. This will help to break the lock-step toward low-cost value that has dogged the industry. 

By defining values and objectives in this way the capable owner will be able to ensure that everyone involved in the project from programme managers, to asset operators and asset maintainers fully understand the ultimate objective and outcome for each project. This will create a well-informed business operation that is able to deliver what is required rather than what is assumed. 

These characteristics have emerged from the work being done currently and begin to establish what it truly means to be a capable owner and how the outcomes and objectives can help to define the value of any given project. 

This means that senior executives of infrastructure organisations who are reviewing their organisation can raise awareness of capabilities through discussion and gap analysis. Successful analysis using these characteristics would help guide recruitment, inform senior management of capability maturity, spot development opportunities, and identify the next level of maturity.

Phil Wilbraham is expansion programme director at Heathrow and chair of the capable owner strand of Project 13.