Listening to the customer
'The operators were involved right from the beginning of design,' says Costain construction manager Huw Llywelyn. 'They had a representative on the core team so we could make quick decisions when we needed to introduce changes, and when we moved to site the future plant manager came with us.'
The theory is that if operations owns the project from the start there are no surprises when they actually see it built.
'Traditionally,' explains Hyder Consulting lead designer Phil Pickersgill 'the operators would ask us for a Rolls Royce, the client would want it for Mini Metro price and we ended up as piggy in the middle pleasing no one. This way the operator can ask for brass knobs but the client is sitting on the other side of the table and can explain why he can't have that. Everyone understands what they are going to be getting.'
If there are no disappointments, there should be no complaints. Proof of the pudding will be at handover.
The single team
The core team started off in a single office in Swansea for the design stage.
'The milestone was when we moved to site,' says Costain project manager Martyn Evans. 'It was danger time with new people joining, so we made an extra effort to build team spirit.'
There were workshops to explain the job and the philosophy behind how it was being built. The suppliers were initially suspicious when they turned up in the morning - expecting a Dutch auction perhaps - but by the end were full of enthusiasm.
Light-hearted events built on the goodwill. 'We went to the pub quite a bit but we had a treasure hunt too,' says Llywelyn, who is still surprised to have come second to a team of suppliers in a panel van. 'Four of them were in the dark in the back of that van,' says Pickersgill and they still came first. It shows you we have a lot to learn from our suppliers.'
Process mapping - risk management
At the start of the job the team identified the top 10 risks that could throw the Afan scheme off target and worked out how to deal with them.
'They were things like discovery of contaminated land, which we did find,' says Evans.
Another was a delay in access to the site - which also happened, resulting in a two month hold up. The risk planning meant they could work around the delay with no damage to the project schedule.
Learning from experience
Many of the team had worked together before on another DC/WW job at Llantwit Major and that experience led to the decisions to:
have a full time operations co-ordinator (Adrian Collins) as part of the core team. He was based on site to co-ordinate construction and installation work and assist in commissioning. At Llantwit operational personnel had no time to help co-ordinate, while doing their main job.
have a design co-ordinator (Peter Williams) based on site to offer speedy value engineering proposals to the team and resolve queries. At Llantwit, site engineers would contact many different designers and communication suffered. At Afan the presence of the design co-ordinator allowed suppliers to feed ideas direct to the designers, many of which resulted in savings. 'We were dewatering excavations and had planned costly mains supply water or pumping from the sea to fill tanks for testing,' Llywelyn says. 'One of the gangers on site suggested pumping the groundwater into the tank for testing purposes. We tested the water and the designers checked for suitability.'
plan the commissioning sequence with the end user early in the project so everyone knew their responsibilities. At Llantwit a sequence was agreed but not widely publicised and at commissioning stage there were communication problems.
Organising the supply chain
Costain used DC/WW framework subcontractors and suppliers with experience and knowledge of previous jobs. There was a full partnering contract with MCS as the key supplier, but shared savings and incentives were incorporated into all agreements.
'You do need a contract on a partnered job,' says Evans. 'People can get too complacent about their relationships.' There have been disputes on the Afan job but they have all be resolved by the core team, or a management steering group 'We are comfortable enough to have shouting matches over say the level of a pipe, or if, hypothetically, I missed a deadline with design information,' says Pickersgill to groans from the rest of the team. 'They are the sort of things that could get out of hand on a traditional contract, but not here.'
To check that partnering attitudes were finding their way to all levels on sites, there were regular one to one partnering health check interviews by independent consultant David Maxwell of John Carlisle Partnerships.
They highlighted areas for improvement - such as speedier decision making by the client, fewer meetings and less double checking of suppliers' work. Lack of recognition of people's efforts was also a big issue, and ineffective appraisal arrangements were improved as a priority.
Average partnering approval ratings rose from 71% for the first health check in November 98 to 87% for the most recent one carried out in September. The checks helped keep the partnering on track, say the team.