The Great Think Blog – Adam Golden

Hello Tideway!

As a newly integrated UCL PhD student at Tideway I thought it was only good and proper to introduce myself. I am researching (very broadly) innovation management within megaprojects and have been invited by ‘The Great Think’ to witness first-hand how it’s done!

Innovation management?… surely that’s a paradox I hear you ask and while it would appear so as first sight, it is something which is essential to the smooth delivery and operation of projects at this scale.  

Thames Tideway Tunnel is a huge undertaking. To put it into context, a megaproject is often considered to be a project which has a cost exceeding $1bn. Taking that definition alone, Thames Tideway is arguably over six megaprojects rolled into one (at today’s exchange rate!). Quite a daunting prospect, especially when you consider it is to be delivered throughout central London and with minimal disruption.

Innovation has slowly climbed the construction megaproject agenda in the UK and the ‘innovation baton’, arguably handed over from Crossrail is, in my opinion, currently being held high by Tideway with advancements on i3P and Alliance support via the Tideway Innovation Forum (TIF) being key examples of progress. The other obvious example of a culture supportive of innovation is my very presence here, such close integration with academia is unheard of on many projects and demonstrates not only the importance of the Thames Tideway Tunnel but also the collaborative culture which has been fostered with all stakeholders. Thanks to the Tideway Academic Advisory Group (TAAG), there is now a formalised structure for the programme to engage with academics, and vice versa, resulting in several lectures from the Tideway team @ UCL and Imperial College during 2017 (plus more planned).

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority proudly proclaim that it is theGolden Age of Infrastructure’ and it is not difficult to see why with a record £500bn infrastructure pipeline. In the same way that health and safety saw a transition from this:

…to the ‘RightWay’ you see on site today; I believe that innovation management is on a similar trajectory today. However, while health and safety was arguably advanced via legislation, thinking around innovation is being pushed forward by the largest and most ambitious megaprojects of the day.

So why is innovation important and why should we care about it? One reason is simply that if we don’t, others will:

“We’re just going to figure out what it takes to improve tunnelling speed by, I think, somewhere between 500 and 1,000 percent”

Innovation is becoming ubiquitous, the task of all of us and it is imperative that it is managed correctly. As my background is commercial and legal (at Costain, my parent company, which is also part of the Tideway East Joint Venture and Tideway Alliance Partner CVB), the research shall look at innovation management specifically from a contractual viewpoint. Innovation should continue to play a vital role throughout the life of a project, from initial discussions through to completion. How, however, can we ensure that a healthy attitude towards innovation runs throughout the life of the contract?  This is the area that I have tasked myself with tackling.  

There is a widespread acceptance that once a contract is in place, the scope for further innovation is governed by that contract and the nature of the contractual relationships. Under current industry models, the potential for innovation diminishes as a project develops because innovation by its very nature carries a degree of risk. When innovations don’t achieve the desired result, relationships can become litigious.

As part of this work I shall identify barriers to innovation and devise practical measures to overcome them. There are many benefits which stem from eliminating these barriers:

  • It removes the need for hasty decision-making which can often result in errors.
  • Increased flexibility means the client is not locked into dated technologies and processes.
  • There is far more scope for improved asset lifecycle management and optimisation.
  • There is more of an option for research and development to be an integral part of a project.

Indeed, many involved in mega-projects are increasingly aware of the impact continuous innovation can have. One example of this is Crossrail’s Innovate 18 platform, which had success in attracting, capturing and utilising innovation throughout the life of the contract, leading to the adoption of best practice, a speeding-up of innovation and project savings.

I shall also examine how contracts could be drawn up to allow for an increased level of innovation would be an extremely valuable exercise.

One key debate is centred on how prescriptive a contract should be, what influence have current contract forms had on innovation, whether NEC is well suited to delivering innovative projects and, at a basic level, what innovation in contract form looks like. This does seem to be a subject which has hit a nerve with many in the industry already and there is a recognition that this is an area ripe for improvement, which is very encouraging, and there is real enthusiasm for change.

I’ve seen a few of you already and I will be here at least once a week until at least June 2018 so if you see me around, please do say hello and if you have a view and would like to get involved, please do contact me at: adam.golden@ucl.ac.uk

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