An interview with Jeremy Beeton, who previously led the London 2012 Government Olympic Executive and multiple major projects around the world.

“90% of the project’s cost is committed in the first 10% of the programme, and so if it’s not set up properly, and we don’t get the right levels of team building and relationship-building, then the project inevitably falls into trouble along the way.”

This article originated with this quote by Jeremy Beeton at a Mutual Value web seminar on infrastructure. Jeremy led the London 2012 government team , and has a long and distinguished career in senior project leadership around the world.

It led to the Mutual Value MDs to sit down and consider: if this is true, then how can we use our proven approach to ensure the first 10% of major projects build teams and relationships successfully?

We then discussed this further with Jeremy to refine the thinking – and this article shares our thoughts.

Effective mobilisation is critical to the success of a project. Everyone wants the project to succeed. But what stands in the way?

The criteria for selection

It’s amazing that the inception or procurement process almost always omits to establish excellence in team and relationship building as a critical capability for the successful bidder.

What’s more, even if it were, this would assume that the contractor needed to demonstrate these skills, with no obligation on the buyer to have them. Yet for the project to be successful all parties need to be part of the team and relationships can only be built if all sides are willing and have the ability to do so, the point being that culture and behaviours are not nice-to-haves in addition to technical skills, they are critical in a world in which many firms can provide the service. But who do you want to be working with when things change or go wrong? The cheapest?

The reality in most cases is that price dominates, supported by a legalistic, risk focused approach to deciding who gets the job. Jeremy put it to us like this:

“I have worked on in my career several projects where the legal framework was so stringent that it was almost impossible to operate properly; designed to be legally perfect, bullet proof and place the client at absolutely zero risk of anything but was in itself a hopeless impediment to sensible progress by destroying trust and any concept of working together for the good of the project.”

In other words, the focus on dividing contractors into specific work packages, the lack of trust , dividing and ruling, exerting power to impose conditions, all sought to reduce specific exposure but ended up risking the whole project because it was so inflexible. When things change or go wrong – they usually do – the apparently stringent procurement process was master of its own failure.

At the mobilisation stage, this is often apparent to everyone involved and the challenge is how to fix it before work really gets under way. 

Jeremy put it to us this way:

“Doing things right is not the same as doing the right thing. Tone from the top is not enough but needs to be matched in action where leadership takes personal and professional responsibility. Leaders must set out what the right thing looks like and ensure these behavioural norms are embedded and constantly reinforced throughout their organisation and projects. 

A presumption of trust rather than a presumption of mistrust helps individuals, projects and organisations to flourish; it requires we distinguish between trust as in honesty, and trust as in competence. Hence the need to set out clear and explicit project values, keeping words and actions aligned and remaining congruent.”

A presumption of trust rather than a presumption of mistrust helps individuals, projects and organisations to flourish

In Mutual Value , we have a three sided Trust Model which provides the framework for this. We establish absolute Clarity about the vision and the ambitions of the team; define the Character of the relationship, which sets out the agreed behaviours; and ensure we have agreed collective Capabilities, which seek to generate synergies from working as a team, not as a set of discrete suppliers and a customer.

Whats needed: a unified team

Put simply, the critical outcome of the mobilisation stage is that there should be a unified team with a clear purpose, motivated to work closely together on an aligned mission, understanding who does what and – most critically – with a strong relationship that will be better able to adapt to change and challenges.

This needs to translate into tangible outcomes to be adopted as an approach.

Jeremy asked: “What are the mutual values of all the participants? Is it money, reputation, rewards, best practice, efficiency, minimisation of cost, safety – that concept of mutual value has to be converted into something….You can have a lot of this soft, touchy feely stuff but in the has to be converted back down into hard, deliverable things which those entering in to the contract understand and believe in.”

We agree. In fact we have a clear view of the outcomes which will emerge from starting projects by establishing an aligned team of all the key players. It’s totally in line with Project 13 principles. Project 13 was set up because:

“The transactional model for delivering major infrastructure projects and programmes is broken. It prevents efficient delivery, prohibits innovation and therefore fails to provide the high-performing infrastructure networks that businesses and the public require.”

So by mobilising in a Mutual Value way, the exact opposite is the aim: efficient delivery, the very best ideas that include innovation and higher performing networks delivered in a timely way with value for money. We would add to that a critical additional benefit: fair margins for prime and sub- contractors involved in the process.

There’s also an intangible benefit of getting this right. The feeling of those involved. Jeremy told us about a major project in which he was involved where this was done well.

“In the beginning, at the set-up phase, the whole combined project team thought we could rule the planet. It was the sort of feeling at the beginning that you sometimes get at the can just conquer anything. To achieve this at the beginning is very powerful.”

“ You want to get the benefit of aligned interests right from the beginning, not hope you get there by the time you’ve finished”.

“ You want to get the benefit of aligned interests right from the beginning, not hope you get there by the time you’ve finished”.

Mobilisation should begin long before the project is underway

The Regional Delivery Partnerships programme at Highways England is seeking to put Project 13 into practice. Among the key elements is to involve the delivery partners earlier in the process so that their expertise, ideas and designs can be harnessed as part of the decision-making process.

It’s obvious – isn’t it? – that, where implemented, this will result in better decisions: open exploration of the right solution, better procurement because those who have to do the work help decide what works best, and faster mobilisation because everyone’s more up to speed. Instead of a bunch of requirements landing from the procurement black box, there should be a project which is well understood and with a team ready to go.

For this to work there is one key requirement which is not commonplace in the construction sector: trust.

  • There must be trust between the prime contractor and the buyer, so that there can be an open exploration of ideas without the fear that the best ones will simply be put out to tender for the cheapest bidder to deliver.
  • That works both ways: the buyer has to trust in the intent of the contractor and expect ideas and inputs that are focused on the best outcome for the end user and the investor, not simply designed to benefit the contractor.
  • There must be trust between the prime contractor and their supply chain. If this is in place then they can bring to the table a full range of experts in the details of delivery who can help make the project more successful.

The only way this can be evident is if the relationships between the prime contractor are based on a strong sense of mutual value and a commitment to everyone’s success.

Jeremy put it this way:

“As a client what I would want is a really well integrated team of people at the beginning of the project who had the project interests at heart. So they were not merely defending their corner and maximising their own positions at the expense of others; they were looking at the entirety of the project.”

Those that can demonstrate this is genuinely true of them will win the trust – and therefore more of the business – of the client.

We call this trust-based approach ecosystem thinking. Its foundation is the understanding that everyone is interdependent, not in hierarchical power relationships based on transactional behaviours. Once that understanding is established, then it becomes easier for all the parties to build a team mentality – and that creates mutual value.

Mobilisation: fail to plan, plan to fail

At the heart of our approach to major projects is that you have to consciously decide how you will behave together, how you can build what we call Relationship Capital collectively, and that these things don’t happen by accident.

Mobilisation is where the rubber hits the road. So much focus goes into governance, process, logistics and responsibilities that it can be the case that the collective ethos is lost. Yet the behaviours will often be the critical factor determining the success of the project.

We argue for a structured, conscious approach to team and relationship building, based on Mutual Value principles, that seek to create a collective winning mentality based on an aligned view of what success looks like.

At Mutual Value we’ve developed a process to help mobilisation of major projects be more successful. Through consultation and facilitation, we help the teams war game the project so that difficulties can be anticipated and tackled, with a focus on team building. Then we can support the whole process through training and coaching focused on building trusted relationships.