Hight Speed 1 train. Credit: Daniel Clements

+ The successful outturn of construction projects has a lot to do with the clarity of the client’s objectives and how the client establishes and instils a culture throughout the project team.

The successful outturn of construction projects has a lot to do with the clarity of the client’s objectives and how the client establishes and instils a culture throughout the project team. Arguably nothing is more important than an informed client, suitably engaged and able to take the key decisions – one that can articulate what will represent success. 

I’ve observed projects where the client may not have an approach to plan for success. The tendency is to rush into the implementation phase and appoint a ‘delivery partner’. But it’s important to be clear on why and what is to be achieved, before embarking on how to do it. Well-intentioned procurement takes over to drive the ‘how’ with the presumption that a successful project is attributable to their processes. Providing advocacy to help clients interrogate the ‘why’ and be really clear on the ‘what’, in a development partner role, can be invaluable to the long-term success of projects.

Making it clear who is responsible for which activities is essential from the start. All parties should know who is empowered to take which decisions. Equally important is identifying risks and establishing which party will be most able to handle them.   

Characteristics for clients to achieve success will also include:

1. Knowing what they want to achieve before they ask others to do it 
So don’t do a Wembley Stadium and progress before deciding between a football stadium and an Olympic stadium.

2. Considering what adds value rather than just what seems to be a good idea
Design competitions such as for the New Scottish Parliament are great but is it clear, and who decides, how much of the winning design can be afforded and where the essential value is?

3. Planning up-front: it’s more sensible than planning on the run 
Once you reach the implementation phase time costs money, so one of the best ways to control the outturn cost is to keep control of the schedule. So trying to introduce unproven, developing technology such as moving block signalling on the West Coast Mainline (WCML) was a good way to overrun. By comparison CTRL (HS1) researched and picked the most modern proven technology at the outset and then stuck with it to deliver to time and budget. 

4. Weighing up changes and new ideas carefully 
Introduced at the wrong time, changes such as late value engineering, are one of the easiest ways to lose control.

5. Spending time and effort with those they do want to work with, rather than putting too much effort into eliminating them 
One water company framework went from an open prequalification to shortlisting 12 firms for a first stage tender, to a second stage tender with seven firms, and then appointed four onto a framework that still required a pitch for work packages. This was costly and lengthy process for the client to discard firms often on marginal diferences. I believe that increasing the emphasis on building relationships with those actually appointed would achieve more streamlined and reliable results.

Most people want to be associated with success and will put in considerable personal effort if they believe it can be achieved and they support the goal. If you can couple this with a 'no surprises' environment where difficulties spotted early enough to overcome them, then you might well have a recipe for success.

Achieving Successful Construction Projects – A guide for industry leaders and project managers is an insightful book which develops these thoughts further.