IN CASE YOU MISSED IT - event summary

ARE rail projects really
are a “nightmare” to deliveR?


This week we hosted the first webinar of our Sustainable Megaprojects series in partnership with Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. We were joined by Mark Wild, CEO of Crossrail Ltd and Anthea Dolman-Gair OBE of Bechtel to discuss their experiences delivering high-profile rail megaprojects and detail how these projects can be delivered successfully.

Watch the full event here:

In case you missed it, here are the highlights:

Mark Wild outlined five key lessons for the successful delivery of rail megaprojects:

  1. Fixed end-dates are deadly – Fixing an end date is not a mature view of a mega digital programme. Mark likened Crossrail’s programme to a digital programme, which is agile and commonly allows for “windows of uncertainty”. According to Mark, “it is absolutely crucial that in the world of mega digital programmes, we talk about windows of uncertainty and explain to people why that window exists but drive the internal team to that early date”.

  2. System integration is vital – Crossrail’s system engineering was “sensational”, however system integration was missing. System integration must be central to organisations’ thinking and engage the C-Suite directly. Put aptly, “system integration, and the art of it, must be central to the mission”.

  3. Design modularity is key – Crossrail relied on a huge amount of highly bespoke systems, with hardly any modularity. Mark believes that if he was to start a project from scratch, he would ensure modularity from the get-go. The leading question at the beginning of a project should be: “could we build this in a factory and bring it to site and plug it in?”

  4. Focus on the right risk at the right moment – Mark argued that key risks such as the aggregation of systems integration were overlooked early on in Crossrail’s development due to focus on other complexities that seemed the most pressing at the time. Teams must have a holistic view of project risk at all times.

  5. The human element – For Mark, this is the most important lesson. Organisations must transition from collaboration to something higher, what Mark calls “owning the whole”. Every single person’s successes or failures are the interests of the whole organisation. He argued that “the only way you can own the whole is by being completely transparent and having a clear line of sight”.

Anthea Dolman-Gair OBE shared three highly insightful reflections on achieving success in rail projects:

  1. The people element – For Anthea, the three key aspects to getting the people element of rail megaprojects right are diversity, leadership and capacity. Firstly, as well as the diversity of genders and ages across teams, a diverse set of disciplines and sharing of fresh ideas between teams is vital for success. Secondly, leadership (both top-down and throughout the organisation) is key. Thirdly, having the right capacity of people is hugely important in order to keep the project moving smoothly.

  2. Thinking systems – Having started out as a mechanical engineer before undertaking a systems engineering Masters degree, Anthea highlights the importance of thinking in a system-focused way. She believes that taking a holistic view of the whole system, the whole life and the whole cost of a rail project is fundamental for successful delivery.

  3. The one team concept – Making co-operation the rational thing to do is incredibly important. By working together as one team, you ensure that people are able to make the best decisions for the entire programme on an hour-by-hour basis throughout the life of the project.

The discussion was led by Dr Atif Ansar and received input from Jack Van der Merwe, who successfully led the Gautrain rail project in South Africa and Dr Peter Ewen, former Engineering Director at MTR.

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Madeleine Jones Casey

Madeleine Jones-Casey

Business Writer at Foresight Works

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