This fundamental shift in thinking should be reflected in the structures and processes framework suppliers put in place. Driving and planning for quantifiable continuous improvement is a priority. It’s not enough to expect it to happen simply through experience and the passing of time.

Value isn’t just measured financially, it relates to coordinating community activities and innovating to minimise disruption for road users. It also means shifting the focus to the whole life of the asset rather than individual project objectives. The number of interventions can then be minimised, during and beyond the contract period.

Planning for Improvement

Frameworks should be an excellent opportunity to improve the understanding of project risks. This understanding should progressively save more time and cost, maximise asset availability and prevent overruns.

Quantitative Schedule Risk Assessments (QSRA) improve the accuracy of completion date forecasts. When learning is captured from each project using micro programming with actual performance updated live via PDAs, the QSRA tool becomes progressively more accurate.

By forming a community with highways stakeholders and other programme providers, interventions can be rationalised and traffic management costs reduced through Network Occupancy Management Systems (NOMS) and effective road space planning.

Investing in a Visual Road Space Model significantly improves the ability to plan accurately and identify the most efficient methods – particularly when the model is shared community-wide using level 3 BIM.

The innovation that drives improvement also needs planned space to flourish. And framework suppliers should actively seek collaboration with higher education and industry bodies to cast the net as widely as possible in the search for efficiencies and new methods that improve the durability of the asset and any works.

It’s also essential to provide incentives by aligning reward and recognition at all levels to programme objectives, defined success criteria, shared savings, and asset performance levels (using KPI’s).

All of these measures create a platform to achieve better planning and deliver the quantifiable continuous improvement demanded by tightening budgets and increasing expectations.

Learning from experience

Experience (good and bad) is always an opportunity to learn. Even when projects are delivered on time and on budget you can never say, ‘there isn’t a single thing we would change about what we did.’

There’s also the opportunity to identify things that worked better than expected. Things that you might want to repeat.

What happens to this learning?

Often it never gets captured as the focus shifts to the next project. Frequently the customer never sees the benefit as there is no continuity of supplier team or methods between projects.

Single sourced framework agreements should change this. Continuous learning and marginal gains should keep nudging up performance levels.

Black Box Thinking

Most organisations fail to learn from experience. People are hardwired to avoid blame and accept their own fallibility. Fear of failure in a specific task can also blind us to more far-reaching risks.

Black box thinking is used by successful and innovative businesses (including ours). It’s also used in the aviation industry where learning from mistakes is literally a life and death matter.

The process uses the same systematic and impartial analysis as investigating data from a black box flight recorder. Using black box thinking in a highways framework entails detailed reviews of every programme to capture positive and negative deviation. Learning is then recorded and shared through training and briefings across the framework community. Best practice progressively becomes business as usual and mistakes are not replicated.

Feedback and Improvement Opportunities

Continuous improvement should work ‘bottom up’ as well as ‘top down’. Again, this needs a process that makes it easy for the whole framework community to submit, analyse and receive feedback about improvement suggestions.

The aim is to create a ‘whole life cycle’ development loop; taking learning from each project and investing this learning to improve methods and processes across the community.

Embedding collaboration as a culture (not just through contractual relationships) enables the programme community to collectively manage network risk. It creates a learning, no blame culture. Ultimately this feeds into continuous efficiencies and improved programme performance.