Converting learning opportunities into best practice in public sector frameworks

Local highway authorities are progressively turning to single sourced framework agreements to balance increasing highway capacity demands with ever reducing capital and operational budgets.

In taking this step the need for surety that continuous improvement is realised through the lifecycle of the framework becomes a key concern for local authorities and public bodies.

The ability of organisations and teams to drive continuous improvement in framework arrangements is fundamentally founded on changing traditional attitudes to how we learn from our mistakes and failures. The contrast between the learning cultures evidenced the aviation and the health industry is a powerful example of the importance of this. The creation of a highly effective and open learning culture is the single most important factor in successfully delivering long-term continuous improvement.

Learning opportunities can come from a variety of experiences. These range from investigating and understanding the root causes when things have not gone so well, to creating a proactive learning environment where innovation and creative improvement is progressively identified and acted upon.

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We all recognise that performance issues can cause reputational damage to our customers, ourselves and our supplies if they are not managed effectively.

In the post evaluation of events the focus must be prioritising the mining of valuable data, thereby maximising the learning for the framework and wider industry as a whole and, above all, avoiding apportioning blame.

A Fair Culture Assessment (FCA) can be an effective part of an investigation and root cause analysis into any failures at framework level, individual project, business, or that of the supply chain. The FCA follows a mapped process looking at the root causes of the failure. Embracing the event as an opportunity for learning enables organisations to take effective and impactful actions without blame. The existence of a blame culture is the most significant organisational blocker in fostering continuous improvement and avoiding the recurrence of incidents.

A strong learning organisation will, of course, do everything to mine the knowledge and learning from their mistakes. At the same time they will create an environment and supporting processes to progressively convert ideas into both marginal and sometimes significant productivity gains. This is so much more than having a suggestion box!

As a learning organisation, Osborne created and has continuously developed and enhanced our Improvement Opportunities (IO’s) platform – including making it simpler and faster to log improvements via the website and mobile apps. This solution is capturing all the good ideas from our people, supply chain partners and customers. IO’s are uploaded to our knowledge management system and reviewed by an IO Panel. This team collates and assesses them for trends. They also escalate framework and business critical ideas and present their findings to the Board. To date over 16,000 Improvement Opportunities have been logged – this typically equates to capturing a learning opportunity every 15 minutes!

Following aviation’s example, our accrued learning is not retained inside our business. We fully recognise that in order for our industry to make the necessary step change in productivity we all collectively have to openly share our learning across the industry community.

An example of this commitment to sharing learning is the publication of our STOP Think! Cascade, that captures our learning, collates industry best practice and highlights emerging industry issues. The STOP Think! Cascade is published monthly and shared openly with our customers, supply chain, competitors and trade associations. One association, CECA, commented that “The STOP Think! Cascade is an excellent piece of work, which many of our smaller members value in terms of their own development ideas”.

Framework continuous improvement is further supported by collaborating in industry forums and working groups to promote knowledge and learning. This engagement includes: a Research & Development Forum (looking at innovation on the highway network); an Industry Fairness Inclusion and Respect (FIR) Steering Group; and through our Wessex Rail Alliance we are members of Southern Shield – a multi-contractor and customer safety and improvement group.

At a local level, every framework project carries out a set down to review performance and capture lessons learned. This information then forms part of the start-up for the next projects, each one evolving and taking the learning on board. This promotes moving best practice to business as usual.

For surety that continuous improvement is realised through the lifecycle of your framework there are some crucial first and vital steps. These include creating a learning culture that embraces the value of what we can learn from our mistakes and failures, and a supporting protocol that can take new ideas from a simple thought into impactful action.

Richard King CEng MICE is a Director at Osborne and Chairman of CECA Southern

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