Making a Problem Solving Culture a Reality in Highways Frameworks

A contract dispute or an unexpected claim for additional funds should be seen as a major failure. It probably means that the framework team didn’t pay enough attention to risk identification and management, or that the culture wasn’t one where potential issues could easily be flagged up and dealt with quickly.

Our success is based on openness and transparency. This is the foundation on which we consistently deliver budget compliance and end user satisfaction.

Short communication lines for decision making ensure that any difficult conversations around sensitive issues or potential disagreements take place early. The priority is to protect cost and programme certainty.

By using the right behaviours and confronting difficult conversations early, we have completed over 200+ works packages with our Network Rail Framework with no disputes. Similarly in a recent £24m M4 Pier strengthening programme was completed £6m under budget and one month ahead of programme.

Rules to engage collaboratively

Issue resolution is all about proactive management. This means raising early warnings, collaborative risk mitigation and a clear understanding of each other’s expectations of what is necessary to make the project work. With the right culture it’s possible to have a frank exchange of views and arrive at a consensus. The shared aim is to get it right together

Empowered collaborative approach

Our recruitment programmes focus on finding and developing people that thrive on innovation and problem solving. We actively seek people who can work collaboratively in open dialogue with integrity and understanding. These qualities are every bit as important as technical skills.

Training plans, developed to ensure we deliver the performance and cultural objectives of individual customer programmes, build on these fundamental personal characteristics of integrity and openness.

Identifying issues before they become a problem

Issues left unresolved always escalate. It is essential to create forums that encourage dialogue around critical issues and resolve them without escalation to the commercial directors. This happens when the whole team is focused on a proactive ‘no surprises’ approach.

Maintaining an open mind is critical. A shared understanding of the perspectives of everyone involved avoids misunderstandings. Shared goals, openness and collaboration ensure that teams never hide away from situations. It is better to report and learn than stay silent should be the common mantra.

Activities and structures vary depending on the needs of each project. Typically they include the following:

  • Proactive “pre-mortems”
  • Visualisation of all project stages
  • Early review of commercial and programme risks
  • Early engagement of suppliers
  • Promoting swift and proactive communications
  • Joint risk register
  • Change control – proper and timely contract administration

‘Early’ is a recurring theme. A culture that prioritises early identification and resolution of potential issues is one that delivers superior value, quality and safety for the whole framework community.