The rail industry has been among the first sectors to adopt the new British Standard for collaborative working. Report by Julie-Anne Ryan.
Collaborative working is not new. As an idea it seems simply to be a logical way of going about things. In all walks of life, from playground games to the more lofty ideal of achieving world peace, working together surely reaps greater rewards than individual, independent efforts.
But the eagerness of commerce - and the infrastructure sector in particular - to embrace the concept is a relatively new phenomenon.
Collaborative working is about sharing - primarily skills, knowledge, resources and risk
Growing numbers of businesses are now seeking certification to BS11000, the British Standard designed to improve collaborative working between client and supplier.
BS11000 is seen as a major stepping stone in the pursuit of behavioural change and, if adopted correctly in the rail industry, “will have a profound effect on the industry’s ability to work more effectively and efficiently”, says standards organisation BSI.
There are a number of key drivers to the emergent importance of collaborative working, says BSI performance management specialist Carla Whyte.
“There’s the intensity of competition - the growing need to produce projects faster and cheaper than ever before. In a tougher economy, companies have to work leaner and quicker; they also have to be more risk averse.
“The most common type of relationship, the customer/supplier one, is traditionally adversarial: the client calls the shots, needs to get as much as possible for the lowest possible cost. It’s not conducive to a successful outcome - corners are cut on the way to delivering on time and on budget,” she adds.
“Now, we are looking to make things more strategic, as we look for a faster time to market with a reduction in cost - the best outcome for all parties.
“In summary,” Whyte says, “collaborative working is about sharing - primarily skills, knowledge, resources and risk.”
Best practice beginnings
BSI dates the first instance of implementing collaborative best practice back to 1998, when the Ministry of Defence produced its own handbook on partnering. This showed that a consistent and structured approach to business relationship management was a key factor for delivering a successful project. It led to publication of the Publicly Available Specification 11000 (PAS11000) in 2006, which provided a framework for collaborative business relationships that would eventually become the British Standard by the end of 2010.
A lot of businesses think they are being collaborative when they are not
Whyte says: “The early adopters were defence, rail, aerospace and construction. From the rail perspective, one of the things that kick-started it all was the McNulty Report in 2011, commissioned by the Department for Transport, which led to the summary report Realising the Potential of GB Rail.
“This was a review of the industry,” Whyte explains. “It identified collaboration as an opportunity, and also highlighted the lack of collaborative working as a barrier.”
Whyte describes that report as a turning point for the industry, and says Network Rail has been leading the way ever since.
The structure of BS11000 aims to support a project lifecycle from concept to disengagement, and includes eight detailed stages, over three phases: “strategic”, “engagement” and “management”.
The strategic phase highlights how, before anyone enters into a relationship with another partner, they need to understand what might initiate the ending of the relationship: who owns the intellectual property, and how to ensure that everyone disengages successfully.
A relationship in this context might be years or even decades long, and the exit strategy should mean that all parties are able to disengage so successfully that the possibility is there to work together again.
Engagement includes partner selection, and BS11000 provides a framework for this and supports partners through the process. It is about agreeing how to work together and create value, including creating a “relationship plan” and making operational decisions.
For the management phase, the parties look at how they are going to stay together, and create a document identifying how to ensure the relationship is successful, including managing the exit strategy.
“A lot of businesses think they are being collaborative when they are not,” says Whyte.
“The standard provides a common standing point, a common platform to provide support for a successful relationship.”
It’s all about risk sharing - every party is needed to meet every deadline. Everyone wins, or everyone loses
In the rail industry, projects can be worth many millions of pounds and involve a huge number of suppliers, so collaborative working is very important to retain the integrity of the supply chain.
“Network Rail at a very high level is running multi million pound projects all the time, and it’s absolutely vital that all projects are delivered on time and on budget,” says Whyte.
“There is a finite number of days per year they have to work on tracks, for example - involving all sorts of organisation, including road closures - so they need absolute confidence that everyone in the supply chain will ensure that those deadlines will be met.
“It’s feasible that if one deadline is missed, they will have to wait 365 days for that particular window in the plan to come around again, so that part of the job can be completed.
“The cost implications are huge.”
Whyte concludes: “It’s all about risk sharing - every party is needed to meet every deadline. Everyone wins, or everyone loses.”
Network Rail was the first organisation in the rail industry to be certified to BS11000, working to redefine its partnering approach within the supply chain to improve levels of performance, introduce greater levels of innovation and deliver cost efficiencies.
Its main challenge at the start was to overcome the rail industry’s reputation for being uncollaborative. Where collaboration had previously existed, it was considered ad hoc and deployed in the wrong places, so there was a need to demonstrate that the standard would help to deliver tangible business benefits.
The first task was to identify the corporate changes needed to put the principles of the standard into practice, so Network Rail recruited the services of BSI and the Institute for Collaborative Working. A gap analysis workshop compared the requirements of the Standard with existing processes and exposed the corporate changes that needed to be addressed. This in turn generated the Relationship Management Plan (RMP).
Different plans were developed for four different pilot projects since they were at varying stages of development. As the suppliers had different needs and aspirations, plans had to be developed for each supplier, and each supplier had its own RMPs.
The four pilot projects were Crossrail south east section (partner Balfour Beatty Rail), Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace capacity improvement (partner Balfour Beatty Rail), Hitchin grade separation (partner Hochtief (UK) Construction) and Reading station civil engineering works (partner Bam Nuttall). A fifth project, the Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Programme, was added later.
Independent consultant Neill Carruthers, who was Network Rail head of collaborative working at the time of the pilot projects, says one of the biggest benefits of working to BS11000 was that Network Rail realised the requirement for greater structure and process in the management of relationships.
“The requirement to focus on continual improvement and demonstrating value through the collaboration, rather than only meeting the project outputs, has helped to create a focus on the effectiveness of the relationship for our project teams and its overall contribution to success,” he said at the time.
According to High Speed 2 chief executive and former Network Rail managing director of infrastructure projects Simon Kirby, BS11000 gives the organisation the strategic framework to develop, with its key suppliers, the policies and processes, culture and behaviours required to establish successful collaborative relations and to drive continual improvement.
“Maintaining collaborative business relations can only lead to benefits for Network Rail and its suppliers, for the rail industry and for Britain,” he says.