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Intelligent clients mean successful projects

How often do you hear the phrase “we want to be an intelligent client”? At first glance it’s a vague-sounding notion. After all, I have yet to meet a client who aspired to be stupid.

But being an intelligent client is more than a mere mission statement soundbite. It is a set of behaviours that enable those commissioning infrastructure projects to do so more successfully. These behaviours include: “questioning” (are we clear what we want to achieve? Why and what this will involve?), “honesty” (do we really have the capability to do this?) and often “courage” (are we willing to change what we’ve done before?).

The intelligent client is also the concept at the heart of the Project Initiation Routemap, a guide recently published by HM Treasury with support from the Infrastructure Client Group.

The Routemap combines a distillation of the lessons learned on a huge range of infrastructure projects with lots of practical guidance. If adopted itwill help the UK infrastructure sector achieve the 2025 target of 33% construction and whole life cost savings

Every stage of a project is important but the one that tests the client’s “intelligence” the most comes right at the start – project initiation. The key question clients must answer at this point is not: “am I doing the project right?” but “am I doing the right project?’’.  But even answering yes to this latter question won’t guarantee success.

When he was programme director at Crossrail, Andy Mitchell summed up the key to success as “understand the delivery environment you have, then create the one you need.”

The Routemap is not a golden bullet that will ensure success.  But it can help identify and address many common reasons why projects aren’t successful. It does this through a series of tools that clients can use to check whether they are doing the right project, understand and define fully the specific needs of that project; and then create the environment needed to deliver a successful outcome.

Used in the right way, the Routemap allows clients to assess how complex their project is, the capabilities needed to deliver it and – where there are capability gaps – identify the best way to fill them.

While all projects are as unique as the environments in which they are delivered, successful ones often have many common characteristics.

Identifying these key drivers should not be limited to academics and consultants. Intelligent clients too constantly absorb the practical lessons from their own projects and those of others.

The Routemap should help everyone in the industry with this learning process, and the Infrastructure Client Group is encouraging clients to share their experiences to build up an invaluable industry knowledge bank. 

But intelligence is about more than just the accumulation of knowledge – it’s about the effective application of knowledge.  The variety of potential challenges posed by a new project is vast, but there is invariably only one optimum approach – the intelligent one.

  • Bill McElroy is managing director at Turner & Townsend

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