How cultural and digital initiatives enhanced integrated working and delivery of the A14
Author: Mark Berg, A14 Integrated Delivery Team and Costain senior project director
More than 14,000 people have worked together as one team over the past five years to transform 21 miles of strategic A-road network connecting the Midlands with ports in the East of England. Jim O’Sullivan, CEO of Highways England was proud to declare that the A14 is the only £bn+ project in Europe that has been delivered ahead of programme (eight months) and on budget.
The first phase of the Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme was completed a year ahead of schedule, and the second eight months early with £196m in efficiencies realised against the client target of £108m. One of the questions I’m often asked is ‘how?’.
This complex scheme involved widening the existing road to a three and four-lane dual carriageway and improvements to over 20 miles of local road network. It was delivered by a Costain, Skanska and Balfour Beatty contractor joint-venture, working alongside designers Atkins and Jacobs, as an Integrated Delivery Team (IDT) with client, Highways England, supported by various strategic supply chain partners.
From the start, the IDT wanted to set a new standard for major project delivery, and to do that, we’d need to foster a high performing culture of collaboration, continuous improvement and innovation. In this article, I’ll explain how we used data and digital tools to help us achieve this, and how we built trust - in the information and in each other - to deliver on budget, ahead of time, and with a strong safety record.
Identifying the optimum pavement solution
With the largest pavement package of its time to be awarded, the IDT needed to identify the optimum commercial pavement solution, with efficiency and sustainability at heart. Tendering pavement contractors were provided with all available data from the outset and tasked with value engineering the pavement design to use local sources and minimise impact on the surrounding communities. The winning solution would lead to c.£5m cost saving efficiencies.
Creating a collaborative environment
We knew that one of our most significant challenges would be bringing together five delivery partners, our client Highways England and suppliers, and enabling people to work effectively - on site and remotely. Our solution was to create environments that supported collaboration.
From the outset we set-up system access for all site offices to be the same, so people could move seamlessly from one physical space to another, without the hassle of accessing unknown systems. Consistency also helped us build a ‘one team' mentality.
But the scale of the project meant we had to go further to strengthen people’s connections with each other. At the commencement of work on site in 2016, the Office 365 tools many of us rely on now were just being released to the market. We worked with Microsoft to maximise the benefits of them so people could work from anywhere and still share information and ideas.
Agreeing strong leadership and common ways of working
To ensure we had a high performing, Integrated Delivery Management Team (IDMT), a competency framework was developed and used to select the right person for the right role, with a strong focus on collaborative skills, behaviours and leadership qualities as well as technical expertise. This behaviours-led methodology was extended across the project and incorporated into supply chain procurement.
Every organisation involved in the project had its own way of working, so our next step was to develop a shared vision, values, culture and quality management system, or integrated management system as we called it, that established clear and consistent processes to guide our work. To do this, we drew on best practice from all joint venture partners. The initiative, which was led by the work streams rather than a central team, created a common way of working for the project - ‘the A14 way’ - that people could relate to.
Establishing a single source of truth
As a leadership team, we had to make timely decisions on behalf of Highways England. We also wanted to be open with our client, partners and suppliers about our progress and performance in key areas. To achieve this, we created a cloud-based platform to hold project data and act as a single source of truth. We then spent six to 12 months working with our client to refine the content and frequency of the reports that would be generated from it.
We established what we referred to as a ‘rhythm’ to ensure we could deliver on the commitments we made. Beginning with the end of month report that was aligned to Highways England’s objectives, we asked ourselves what data was required to produce that document. We then put a schedule in place to ensure the information would be available in time.
Building trust in the data that helped us build trust in each other
To build trust in the single source of truth, we started by encouraging people to move data from spreadsheets to our cloud-based platform, so we could unlock the value of the data that was held within individual, digital tools such as Oracle’s Primavera P6, Business Collaborator, Mosaic and EnterpriseOne – systems which normally don’t talk to each other. But in doing so, we were also asking people to embrace a more collaborative and open approach – and that took time to develop.
At first, some people feared the data would be used to point out where they might be under-delivering, and – understandably – they were reluctant to share information. We worked hard to drive change from the top down. As a leadership team, we demonstrated the trust we’d developed in each other, and shared data to promote transparency and keep people informed. Having robust data to hand built our client’s and colleagues’ trust, enabled us to take an objective view of performance and identify areas of work that would benefit from receiving greater support.
Then, when it was clear the data was being used to inform and empower colleagues, people embraced it. Within six months, many realised its value, and a year on, they wanted to contribute even more. We also made sure that information was accessible - to our partners, colleagues and supply chain. The data was brought to life through dashboards that were displayed on 79 digital signs installed at three main compounds, two sub compounds and permanent welfare facilities across the 35km site.
Democratising data to enhance productivity, safety and innovation
Instead of asking colleagues to take a leap of faith, it was important to demonstrate the benefits of data – that is, provide the information they needed to respond to challenges or opportunities. Several examples are below.
The IDT developed an app called Andon, which enabled our surfacing works partner, Aggregate Industries and our slipform partner PJ Davidson, to monitor in real time when work on site was either ongoing, had paused or stopped, using digital signage in the construction operations office just like a control room. On a project of this scale, if someone is unable to start work because of delays in another area, it can have a significant impact on the schedule. Having access to up-to-date data enabled us to boost surfacing productivity by 50%, Cement Bound Granular Material (CBGM) pavement by 50% and slip barrier and drainage by 30%.
Health, Safety and Wellbeing
Safety observation cards provide valuable insight into safety culture. But when we introduced our Observation app, the number of safety observations increased from around 500 to more than 4,000 per month. More importantly, the data we collated demonstrated that as the number of positive observations increased, negative ones decreased, and the number of incidents reduced. That showed us how important it is to recognise the right behaviours. Making the data visible helped us maintain our positive approach.
A team called the ‘Red Team’ was set up to reach out to the wider workforce when we needed help to solve difficult problems. The digital signs in the offices were used to share people’s good ideas and demonstrate how they were making an impact. In one case, we were struggling to find a way to build two bridges over the existing A14 without significantly impacting drivers or our schedule.
Inspired by a solution he’d seen on YouTube, a young engineer responded to our call for suggestions. He put forward a plan to construct the bridges off-site, transport them to the area, and lift them into position. We worked with the engineer to develop the idea and conducted a digital rehearsal to demonstrate to our client that the innovative approach could work. The result was two bridges were installed in one weekend, which meant we avoided 80 night-time full closures of the A14.
Having a consistent and reliable data source also enabled us to explore the potential of predictive technologies. As work on the scheme progressed we worked with Highways England and Microsoft on a pilot study into the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to understand how 140 different factors influenced the risk to workers, for example, working time, incidents and observations, ratios of supervisors to different operational roles and schedule activities. The information was shared with our safety teams, who could carefully monitor the situation on site. The pilot achieved 75 percent accuracy, which reduced to 65 percent after rollout, due to a decrease in incidents. The technology proved to be more than 160 percent accurate compared with a statistically random guess.
Sharing data and lessons learned
The cultural and digital initiatives the IDT implemented on the A14 improvement scheme helped us build people’s trust in each other and in the data. The digital solutions and real time reporting enabled the project to stay on programme and be handed over early. It’s worth noting that less than one percent of the total budget was allocated to these digital initiatives.
Our team won the prestigious Digital Initiative of the Year award (Civils) and Overall Initiative of the Year award at the British Construction Industry Awards in 2019 and was the first project to achieve 44001 collaborative accreditation. The hope is that the cultural methodology, digital approach and data leveraged on this project will help the many projects that follow.
Costain has evolved many of the digital tools developed on the A14 such as the Power BI dashboards, Safety Observation and Andon Apps as part of our own smart delivery platform (SDP). The SDP will soon enable data to be the fulcrum on all complex programmes in a similar way. In addition, we’ve leveraged our experience to help create the Intelligent Infrastructure Control Centre (IICC) which federates data at project, framework and enterprise level. Through tools such as these, data’s power to make infrastructure delivery safer, faster, greener and more efficient can be grown exponentially.