There are two years until the torch is lit in London’s Olympic stadium and work on the Olympic Park continues apace. Mark Hansford meets the programme management team keeping it on track.
Construction of London’s Olympic Park has stayed largely out of the headlines, which suggests that the project has avoided the pitfalls that often plague Olympic host cities. Remember Greece, and its roof-less Olympic pool?
That this is the case is testament to the team charged with programme managing the project. That team is CLM, a joint venture of US programme management giant CH2M Hill, contractor Laing O’Rourke and project manager Mace.
The whole team is headed by a former Bechtel man Ian Galloway. He says the biggest success came right at the start - way back in 2007.
“CLM came together as three very different companies,” says Galloway. “And the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) itself was a completely new organisation. One of our primary objectives was to find a way to make sure we could work together in as integrated and as open a way as possible.
“Given what we had to achieve, nothing else would have worked,” he says. “The biggest thing we did was to achieve that fairly quickly.”
Galloway says the scale of the challenge should not be underestimated.
“You have to view this as a mega-project right in the centre of the capital city. And the British construction industry’s record in delivering those sorts of projects was not great. When you remember the market at the time was red hot, we knew this was going to be extremely
“When we looked at the budget, the schedule and the sheer level of infrastructure required - it was seen as a tremendous challenge.
“We don’t make any money unless we deliver on cost and on schedule. So there was only one result that was going to work for us”
Ian Galloway, CLM
“We really thought this was going to be the most difficult situation any of us had ever faced,” he says, not least because CLM is completely targeted
“Our contract was such that we don’t make any money unless we deliver on cost and on schedule. We don’t get paid to be here. So from our point of view there was only one result that was going to work for us and playing with the contract was not going to do that,” he says.
“So we set ourselves the challenge of compiling a baseline definition of the cost of the programme. And the effort that went into that has stood us in good stead. It gave us a base point of reference and then the issue became for us to organise ourselves, and then to some extent the industry, to support our need to support the schedule and budget.”
Getting the right team - at the right price - in an overheated market to build the bigger venues was the chief concern, explains Galloway.
It is no secret that after the Wembley Stadium fiasco, firms were wary of getting involved in another high profile stadium project - let alone one with such a fixed deadline as the Olympic stadiums.
“It was a pressurised market at the time. But we were very successful [in getting good tenders] and we were very pleased with the awards we made,” says Galloway.
Meetings are now cut to the bone. A bespoke project management system makes sure everybody is up to date with progress and issues, and monthly reports summarise the issues as having either red, amber or green status.
“In the very early days there would be 45 people in the room at the monthly progress meeting, from the ODA and CLM, and it would go on for four and a half hours. Now we run it with six or seven people and it lasts 90 minutes. We can do this because everybody has the latest information on an ongoing basis - so we are not giving data and educating people. It makes it so easy for everyone to contribute.”
Issues that are flagged red or amber are addressed at project level, but picked up at monthly meetings from an overall programme point of view. Only then is an issue rolled up as a key issue, explains Galloway. Those key issues then become the focus of the monthly meeting,
“It really simplifies the prioritisation of management effort,” says Galloway. “Because when we get a key issue, it needs to be dealt with,” he says.
“In terms of risk there is next to nothing left. There is absolutely no doubt that early next year we will begin handing over all of the big venues to the ODA”
At any one time Galloway estimates there to be 10 or 12 key issues being managed, with two or three of those demanding what he describes as “immediate active management”.
Most of those key issues are around integration - with so many individual projects happening at the same time on such a constrained site, it is hard to see how there couldn’t be issues here.
“Integration is the word that defines the most common issue we have had and will have from start to finish,” says Galloway.
“It permeates every aspect of what we are doing - space is limited, the road network is constantly moving, there are limited entrances and exits and so on. And while we’re doing that we’ve got to achieve a build rate of 2% per month.”
Good decisions made early were again key - for example the decision to set up common facilities for concrete batching. It meant CLM, and ultimately the ODA taking on risk for quality, but it made best use of available space.
CLM also invested heavily in what it believes are “world class” welfare facilities such as canteens, in the belief that that investment would be returned in greater productivity.
However CLM has done it, the results are self-evident. The programme is on track and the site is now changing fast.
“It is now beginning to change dramatically from a major construction site into the conditions of a park environment,” Galloway says. But integration issues are still “paramount”, he says.
And there is still work to do on the main venues, although the riskiest stage is now behind everyone.
“The stadium is now getting on for 80% complete. The Aquatics Centre is 50% complete and the landscaping and public realm is underway. But the big risks - the construction of the superstructure and the roof -
are now history on all three main venues.
“In terms of construction risk there is now next to nothing left. We are in a very strong position. There is absolutely no doubt that early next year we will begin handing over all of the big venues to the ODA,” he says.
The Velodrome is first on the list, and that should be handed over in January. “There will be a huge feel-good factor when that happens,” says Galloway.
Delivering the venues
Stepping through security and into the Olympic Park, five things stand out - the now fully-roofed Olympic Stadium, Aquatics Centre and Velodrome, the largely complete Basketball Arena, and first and foremost, the enormous Olympic Village.
CH2M Hill man Michael Szomjassy has taken charge of delivering the Olympic Village as CLM deputy programme director. For him the challenge has been the size of the constrained site.
“The Olympic Park site is a quarter the size of Beijing’s, but with the same number of venues. We’d certainly have liked it to have been bigger!” he says. “But that’s the way it is.”
During the Games the village will accommodate 17,000 athletes in around 60 buildings.
In legacy mode after the Games, it will be affordable housing. Fifteen different architects have been engaged to bring character to what is effectively a giant housing estate. Bringing it in on time means having up to 4,500 people at work on the project at any one time, and getting it done to a consistent standard is the real challenge.
“The sheer volume of the handover is immense - we’ve got 14,000 rooms to sign off in an incredibly compressed time frame.”
Moving from the Village to the venues, the scale of the infrastructure challenge strikes you. The infrastructure has been delivered under the direction of Laing O’Rourke’s Louise Hardy as CLM infrastructure director. For her, the challenge has been working to a fixed end date across a site that has got more and more fragmented as more and more venues have been built on it.
There will be around 300km of utilities in the Park - including an 11kV buried power line. The chief task now is making sure no-one strikes something, as more and more work above ground gets going.”The infrastructure is now 80% complete and the big issue is making sure someone innocently digging a hole doesn’t hit any of it,” she says.
Hardy’s teams have also got to stay one step ahead of the venue builders. The big venues - including the Olympic Stadium, Velodrome and Aquatics Centre - are the domain of Mace man Jason Millett, as CLM director of venues.
For him, getting the entire supply chain involved was key.
“We recognised early on that we could choose to either rely entirely on the UK construction industry’s tier one contractors, or get specialist firms involved. We chose to do the latter, and it worked.”
Barr has built the basketball arena, and many other smaller firms have been engaged.
“We’ve had the best of UK plc and regional contractors working together and sharing best practice,” he says.