The Construction Playbook

Author: Warren Beardall

HM Government Construction Playbook

What role does it play? What impact is intended? Analysed using visibility | behaviour | trust

This blog has been prepared as another test using my experimental method of evaluation through the concept of visibility | behaviour | trust. According to the Construction News the CBI want implementation by public sector to begin quicker. I am trying to find evidence of project procurement having everyone’s welfare at heart, and not just that of the project initiator. So how does the Construction Playbook stand up under this lens?

Context of what follows

My research and attention is asking whether we set our projects up in ways that offer greatest likelihood of success, but necessarily having all project actors welfare within the definition success therein means. My premise being that projects of cooperation only become projects of collaboration when all those invited are intended to be actively within the sentiments of no harm. My assertion that it is better for all our projects if intended to be assessed in this way. Thereby having long-term benefit of this project, but also that of the next as central to the collective business case we should all have in mind.

Does this Construction Playbook therefore have your welfare, the jobs of your employees, your future training and planning needs in mind? Does it have the long-term health of our country and our future project needs in mind. Is it immune to the political vagaries and short-term passing of government terms of office. Is the infrastructure of our administrators of state better guided by this Construction Playbook. Are we?

Or is this just a public sector bringing its own house in order. With less strategic intent and more short-term shoring up. Is the path being set in this guidance one of better collaborations? Or is it leading us all toward new ways of doing old self-serving things under new labels and old deferrals of blame?

This assessment was written between January and March 2021. A number of discussions have been shared since with both academic and industry friends and colleagues. All opinions herein are mine alone. But they are sentiments shared.

Examination of the text

The Construction Playbook : Government Guidance on sourcing and contracting public works project and programmes. Version 1.0 December 2020.

The Construction Playbook has a wide industry sponsorship. It presents significant progress in seeking more consistent approaches to government procurement.  It attempts to remove the singular cost focus of procurement; reinforces a wider sentiment by central government to adopt more strategic and long-term procurement practice; and demands greater upfront preparation and earlier market engagement.

It further introduces an expectation on government departments to apply this overall approach, and to be judged against its requirements.  It advocates more focus upon modern methods of construction (MMC).  More focus on supporting manufacturing ethos within construction.  It states that supply chains should expect to be able to make fair profit.  It advocates cross-departmental buying practices. Standardisation of delivery requirements.  More component and design standardisation across projects, regions, and sectors.  And more consistency and more clarity on key outcome expectations and roles.

Examination with v | b | t

The majority of my analysis here is presented as addressing the behaviours of projects actors. As does the Playbook, itself. This is observed as being principally focused upon the behaviours of the public sector parties, with much of the playbook a reflection upon the controls therein applied separating public sector engagement with private sector, rather than contemplating the controls to govern both. Notwithstanding the collaborative sentiments therefore, I conclude a them and us relationship is being developed from the start. My examination of all that follows highlights and thereafter reflects upon what behaviours this is inviting, intentional or otherwise.

Visibility | b | t

Sharing this Construction Playbook gives a visibility to all parties intending to engage with government procurement in the coming years. Much of the literature being generated through industry interactions is now busily being directed by this clarity, and the stated intended universal application of the Construction Playbook across all of government and public sector.

Within the examination that follows are recurring themes. There is a lack of clarity on the how. Or how to prioritise the what. Some what necessarily contradictory or conflicting with others. The visibility of such prioritisation is therefore assumed to only exist at more localised level. How such priority is to be translated and assessed between local and central expectations remains unclear as a result.

With this reduced visibility, the interpretative space may be opportunity for some. From a risk perspective however, this suggests future scope for split motivations, localised confusion, and possibility of agenda manipulation by those best placed to influence and conflate. These are precisely the interface risks I deem to be the source of much of the risk we introduce into projects, simply because of goal creep, goal division, and the grey space it encourages.

v | behaviour | t

The majority of my analysis sits within these behavioural intentions or implications. Ordering of this more detailed examination follows the ordering of the Construction Playbook itself.

Behavioural changes by Public Sector are offered from the outset

Introduction – “Right at the start” (pp2-3) prepared by Gareth Rhys Williams – Government Chief Commercial Officer; and Nick Smallwood – Chief Executive, Infrastructure and Projects Authority.  I have reordered these key sentiments into what I believe to be three main categories of interest:

Thinking in new ways: thinking of risk, sustainability, and programmes systemically; sector health; productivity and addressing skills shortages in the long term. Advocating front loading of effort, longer lead times for quicker finishes.

Key benefits desired: Outcome based; long-term partners; standardising designs, components, and interfaces; innovation and MMC; win-win contracting for better outcomes; better financial awareness and preparations; better end to end delivery.

Reform via buying actions; safety, cost, speed, and quality; data sharing; investment in training.  All parts of the playbook to be passed down into the supply chain.  Meeting everyday needs of users and VfM for taxpayer.

Beginning from page 14, the five phases are examined in order:

  • Preparation and planning;
  • Publication;
  • Selection;
  • Evaluation and Award;
  • Contract Implementation.

Stage one: Preparation and planning

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning

Pipelines, portfolios and longer term contracts

pp16 – the conflicting desire for longer term contracts but more involvement of the acknowledge higher likelihood of innovative SMEs is left with contracting authorities to reconcile.  Indicating that contractual performance metrics should include this on a VfM basis.  Early market engagement deemed an essential means to do this.  As is feedback being sought directly from the supply chain.

Playbook indicates the solution to SME capacity constraints is using JVs and consortia with SME involvements.  This is not consistent with aims of platform solutions or the procurement options posed on pp34

This also conflicts with the cross-referenced GovS008 Commercial Functional Standard and National Infrastructure and Construction Procurement Pipeline 2020/21

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning

Modern methods of construction

pp18 – contracting authorities are left to determine how to assess MMC wider value to project and programme outcomes.

Harmonise, digitise, and rationalise demand.

pp18 Collaboration between contracting authorities is encouraged.  Aiming at standardised interoperable components across a spectrum of suppliers.  pp19 – achieved by “standardising and digitising specifications; shared design content and approaches across portfolios” supporting wider government priorities. 

Quality Planning | Platform approaches | Targets for MMC

Product platforms are encouraged to standardised assemblies, and cross-sector collaborations of standardised purchasing.  Procurement encouraged to steer markets and suppliers toward these platform approaches.

pp20  Offsite construction to be treated as favourable.  This is now an expectation of departments.

Targets for MMC .  IPA and Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are developing a common set of metrics to better understand and support performance, which will include metrics to demonstrate supply chain engagement.

Further embed digital technologies

Seeking to collate and improve quality of data using the UK BIM Framework.  Standardised information requirements, exchange, and security.  A common framework of standards and protocols.  Digital twin goals also associated with future performance and asset management.

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning

Early Engagement and clear specifications

Early engagement – earlier identification of delivery and risk challenge; options; relationship building across the whole supply chain.  pp22-23 tested at first business case stage but note the complications anticipated in fair marketplace and transparency.  [This seems to conflict with drive for innovation.  How can innovation and open market discussion be accommodated together?]

Innovation – pp23 – open to new ways of thinking; revisiting processes and continuous improvement.  [This seems to conflict with standardisation (and collaborations across sectors and platforms).]

Social value and SMEs – pp23 – early engagement suggested to engage with SMEs and to wider social value initiatives. [this is however left with the supply chain to manage amongst itself – see next]

Early supply-chain involvement (ESI)

Deemed to offer more effective design solutions and overall VfM.  Includes formal engagement of Tier 1 alongside Tier 2 and 3.

pp24 – ESI deemed to need good leadership, governance, commercial management, and wider strength in capability. Above all, building trust with open and collaborative process “in sharing ideas and innovative solutions”. [it remains unclear how commercial sensitivity can sit alongside incentive to share innovation. In this early stage any optioneering opportunity and early evaluation of risk alongside a public sector is lost. Instead reliant upon the supply chain to organise itself across competitive boundaries away from public sector stewardship or prioritisation.]

Outcome based approach

pp24 – Outcomes focused on whole life value, performance, and cost; to include social value model in informing procurement route.  Outcomes, not scope, to unlock innovation and continuous improvement.  Outcomes defined at outset.  Clear and measurable.  Definition of “whole life value” being developed with industry in 2021. [the key question will be how is short-term VfM and long-term asset value to be reconciled against short-termism politics and similarly short-term media and public attention – government and politics are the only influence able to redirect these messages by long-term planning of their own.]

pp25 – Design underpinned by stakeholder informed objectives which meet requirements and specifications.  Specification that are not too prescriptive to allow for innovative solutions.  [These goals seem contradictory.  How is it possible to define all stakeholder needs; develop design against clear specifications; allow for innovative solutions; support standardising solutions and cross-sector platforms across long-term strategic partnerships; and present all necessary information to promote fairness to bidder decision making. This is a wish list – not clear delineation of how to prioritise and why]

It is also envisaged that there will be several design and specification stages but no means to envisage how this will be supported by the necessary upfront stakeholder management, control, and clarity of priority that will not suit all.

See also:  Infrastructure Procurement RoadMap 2013; Collaborative models of construction procurement 2014

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning

People and Governance

Approvals follow Green Book and Orange Book requirements. 

Contracting authorities are required to have streamlined approval processes geared toward outcome success; consider strategic approach and by extension to focus upon additional means to identify portfolio potential; account for complexity, cost, and risk determining rigour of process; use “Should cost” benchmarking; involve accountable Senior Role Owners (SROs) who own the business case and cross-functional teams.

See page 73 matrix.  OKUA.  Owner (Joint-Owner); Knowledge experts; Understanding; Awareness.  [this seems to create difficulty when separating accountability and responsibility]

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning

Deliver Model Assessments (DMA)

Part of First Business Case stage.  Objectives and outcomes defined from the outset.  See pp33 for DMA and pp34 for five potential approaches.  Five potential approaches namely: Transactional – traditional standard competitive service delivery

Hands-on Leadership – complex and in need of close supervision and active stakeholder management more than cost focus.

Product Mindset – lessons learnt focused for optimisation via repeatable manufacturing type approach.

Hands-off design – outcome focused without specifications that influence solution.

Trusted Helper – client is focused upon core business and seeks a supplier who can work within the operating procedures or technical challenges better than the client.

[in the absents of early engagement and proactive public sector input – contractors are likely to develop assumed risk profiles based upon these five approaches – particularly if public sector simply return to contract only interest as the hands off means of project control]

Stage 1 : Preparation and planning 

Effective contracting

Project scorecards are being tested through 2021.  There are intended to be integrated into business case baseline post completion.  Reference is also made to them being part of the project contract and KPIs.  [Note: no specific reference to them forming part of project controls beyond contract]

Key performance indicators are deemed part of a  good contract – includes appropriate specifications and performance indicators; incentivising the priority outcomes; proportionate to project size and complexity; quantifiable and measurable metrics; and inline with wider government metrics; and top three metrics available to public scrutiny.

Commercialise the delivery model means being specific about intended benefit and value and chosen with these at the core of the decisions made.  “One of the most effective ways to deliver outcomes is to create contracting environments that promote collaboration and reduce waste.  Contracts should create positive relationships and processes designed to integrate and align multiple parties’ commercial objectives and incentives” pp40.  [Why focus on contract for positive relationships?  This is cooperation. To collaborate a closer relationship is necessary. Building a shared control environment seems much more collaborative if sharing is a key desire.]

Commercial approach “how much delivery responsibility are we willing, able, or need to take on?” pp41

Procurement strategy consider award method; design responsibility; coordination and integration responsibility. [this is where the lack of clear accountability statements in page 73 “OKUA” invites delegated ownership risk].

Contracting strategy pp42 this seeks early risk allocation; roles / responsibilities and rights / obligations being allocated directly into contract.  Contract deemed the place where key elements of project including specifications.  [Compare this to other guidance on acceptable contract forms and boilerplate clauses on pp43 and 44, which is prescriptive to three forms.  By this early commitment to contract form, this falls into the ‘risk transfer in preference to risk management and control’ trap].

Keeping bid costs down and use of frameworks. [this will be good news for long-term relationships but it is inevitably going to stifle competition.  The relationships with SME supply chain within JVs not with Government is inevitable.  Whilst this page acknowledges the SME barrier to entry of bid cost, all wider sentiment of engaging via JVs of tier one contractors’ conflicts with any means to accommodate SME directly and more efficiently.]

Stage two : Publication

Stage 2 : Publication

Going to tender

Setting the tone encourages upfront preparations prior to going to tender.  It also cross-references the Supplier Code of Conduct v.2 dated February 2019 which whilst not legally binding does offer direct access to the Central Commercial Teams in the Cabinet Office (and in extreme circumstances Gareth Rhys Williams as Government Chief Commercial Officer via pp5 of this CoC).  This code states, “risk is allocated to the party best able to manage it…share intelligence on supply chain risk…we will endeavour to create and maintain a culture that facilitates collaboration between all suppliers and government…” (pp7 ibid).  “we expect suppliers to avoid passing down unreasonable levels of risk to subcontractors who cannot reasonably be expected to manage or carry these risks” pp10 ibid).  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk

Procurement timelines are to be supported with early market engagement and avoidance of inadequate timescales being set.

Risk Management is required to be collaborative but also across portfolios [does this mean government is best able to manage more risk?].  Internal control, and proactive approach is referenced pp47 [but this is in the context of contracts and commercial lifecycle].  Risk appetite is referenced in context of innovation but also references optimal outcomes [rigid contract forms do not support this sentiment]

Stage 2 : publication

Risk allocation

pp48 Risks owned or jointly owned by parties best able to manage them and supported by good risk management and be subjected to extensive scrutiny prior to going to market.  [it is not clear what this scrutiny would entail but reference to National Audit Office suggests the VfM trap.]

Risk allocation is to be considered against practical and financial means to absorb it.  A good approach is deemed to focus upon market testing and balance of risk; risk focus against objectives; use of a risk allocation matrix based upon means to manage; joint risk registers.  [there is no reference to early identification of critical controls best suited to manage risk identified]

Fair return is intent upon avoiding cost driven impacts upon project success, with a profitable outcome to supply chain deemed a sustainability objective.

Stage 2 : Publication

Payment mechanism and pricing approach

Output drivers should be central to payment and the level of risk around the scope and requirements.  pp50 Fixed pricing or scale based upon scope uncertainty are deemed appropriate [this indicates risk is to be treated as a tradeable commodity, not a threat to outcome].  Do’s focus on early warning and joint-decisions, outcomes focus, indexation, and data sharing.  Don’ts list lack of clarity in scope and evaluation; liability limits; avoiding risk pricing due to time constraints; and avoiding the transfer of information gap risk to supply chain.  [there is no consideration given to the control environment beyond contract and price]

Onerous contracts pp51 is a term used to trigger discussion with supplier on cause and options.

Further reading: Green Book; Orange Book; Outsourcing Playbook; Cabinet Office Two Stage Open Book; Construction Hub Value Toolkit.

Section three : Selection

Section 3 : Selection

Due diligence during selection

SQ Standard Selection Questionnaire to be used.  Payment systems to be assessed for all contracts over £5m p.a.

Section 3 : Selection

Assessing economic and financial standing of suppliers.

Key principles financial standing to perform work; be fair and transparent to not prejudice competition; use Contract Tiering Tool.

Stage four : Evaluation and award

Stage 4 : evaluation and award

Evaluating bids and contract award

Value over cost pp56, and social value pp57, low-cost bidding is defined as anything more than ten percent below average or the Should Cost estimates – and are referred to Cabinet Office pp58

Stage 4 : evaluation and award

Resolution Planning and ongoing financial monitoring

Assessment of impact of supplier failure, and upfront resolution planning.  Note it is the supplier who is required to provide Service Continuity Plans and exit plans; separate from contracting party’s contingent plans [no reference to shared project plans].  Financial mitigations include bonds, PCGs.  Project bank accounts to be used as standard.

Supplier Failure Contingency Planning template concludes with a resourcing and funding strategy; stakeholder and supply chain details; risk register.

Stage five : contract implementation

Stage 5 : contract implementation

Successful relationships

pp64 successful relationships deemed to be means for better VfM and advocates standard forms of contract.  Early engagement to include delivery teams and designers.  Management of contract deemed key early strategic decision.  pp66 principles of collaboration, openness, transparency, and flexibility referenced based upon contractual delivery; role allocations; and upfront agreement to dispute resolution. [no reference to decisions of critical controls only contract management].

Reference to one team “win together, fail together”, [but no expansion on what this approach means.]

Early workshops suggested to set expectations of standards, behaviours, and ways of working, success criteria, impact on wider goals [seems a little late to be considering behaviours as these are generally set into a project by the way it was set-up.  Perhaps this would be better as a KPI of the governing party…]

Stage 5 : contract implementation

Transition to Operation

pp68 Prepare from set-up.  Soft landings deemed to be smooth transition from construction to operations.

Exchanging data is included as a critical success factor, and referenced “golden thread” of intended purpose of building or infrastructure.

Pre-handover is focused upon pre-sign off and references as-builts; transfer of information to operator; end user orientation; CDM files; and aftercare plans.  Additional control is envisaged via contract and wrap up contracts in timely manner.  [the lack of ongoing project governance and shared controls makes this process highly contractual in nature and inherently less collaborative as a result.]

Lessons Learnt stated as ongoing process during a project and feedback presented via Cabinet Office email address [no project sharing beyond the public sector entity appears to be considered].

v | b | trust

The remainder of this article will focus upon relationships, cooperation or collaboration, and the sentiments of trust that result.

The distant observer further highlighted

This distant buyer sentiment that public sector becomes in construction is not a new phenomena. It is characteristic of public sector. My MSc dissertation revisit of PFI concluded the buying attitude of the authority party was hands-off in the extreme. Reliance on others to do the checking and the terms of contracts to offload the risk if all else failed. The distant public sector interest inevitably offering space for the ebb and flow of very different powers and influence to take hold over time. This Construction Playbook offers little to suggest anything beyond fire and forget contract control will remain.

Project Control

There is no focus on critical project controls per se. Internal control, and proactive approach to risk management is referenced pp47 but this is in the context of contracts and commercial lifecycle. KPIs and pay mechs geared towards outcomes; risk allocation; control; and reporting; is all driven through contract management. Frameworks, standardised contracts, boilerplate clauses, are all advocated. This seems completely at odds with efforts to develop collaborative one project ideas. Contracts should create positive relationships and processes designed to integrate and align multiple parties’ commercial objectives and incentives” pp40. Key performance indicators are deemed part of a good contract.

Deliver Model Assessments (DMA) offers five potential types but there is no guidance on how this will change control environment or wider governance.  See pp33 for DMA and pp34 for five potential approaches.

Flexible or fixed?  pp42 contract is required to allocate agreed risk allocations and specifications into contracts.  Managing relationships (pp66 referenced one team “win together, fail together” but no expansion on what this approach means.  Both these sentiments are at odds with the wider sentiment to commit to specific contract forms. Compare this to other guidance on acceptable contract forms and boilerplate clauses on pp43-44, which is prescriptive to three forms.

Role allocation is based upon the internal owner, adviser, and awareness needs.  No consideration is given to project roles therein, and no accountability vs responsibility considerations (cf. pp 73 matrix).  Contracting parties are encouraged to consider award method; design responsibility; coordination and integration responsibility.  However, this is where the lack of clear accountability statements in page 73 “OKUA” invites delegated ownership risk.

Pre-handover is focused upon pre-sign off and references as-builts; transfer of information to operator; end user orientation; CDM files; and aftercare plans.  Additional control is envisaged via contract and wrap up contracts in timely manner.  The lack of ongoing project governance and shared controls makes this process highly contractual in nature and inherently less collaborative as a result.

Lessons Learnt – No project sharing beyond the public sector entity appears to be considered.

Risk Management

There is reason to be nervous that deep pockets syndrome will continue. Party best able to manage doctrine is maintained.  Risks owned or jointly owned by parties best able to manage them pp48, “a good approach is deemed to focus upon market testing and balance of risk; risk focus against objectives; use of a risk allocation matrix based upon means to manage; joint risk registers”.  However, later statement clarifies that risk allocation is to be considered against practical and financial means to absorb it.

This document also cross-references the Supplier Code of Conduct.   This code states, “we expect suppliers to avoid passing down unreasonable levels of risk to subcontractors who cannot reasonably be expected to manage or carry these risks” pp10 Supplier Code of Conduct).

Risk allocation appears to be a tradeable commodity not a threat to success.  Outputs and the level of risk around the scope and requirements should be key to payment mechanisms.  Fixed pricing or scale based upon scope uncertainty are deemed appropriate (pp50).  Risk should be subjected to extensive scrutiny prior to going to market (pp48).  It is not clear what this scrutiny would entail but reference to National Audit Office suggests the VfM trap that plagued PFI.

Bigger picture required.  Risk Management is required to be collaborative but also across portfolios. How does this work between contracting parties? Procurement timelines are to be supported with early market engagement and avoidance of inadequate timescales being set. Supplier Failure Contingency Planning template concludes with a resourcing and funding strategy; stakeholder and supply chain details; risk register.

Conclusion : a step closer but not a bridge

There is reason to applaud this new engagement and initiative to present greater clarity of how construction is to be procured across the public sector. My concern remains that this guidance continues a long tradition of them and us contracting with the private sector. A buyer attempting to present a united front but not a uniting goal. As this country looks to build its way through the 21st Century I hope this is just the first step toward closer ties and smarter buys. But to collaborate is to take account of all sides. To lead is to be presenting clarity of vision, interest in control, and steps that build trust between parties, not better contracts for when one falls.

A step in the right direction. But plenty more to go…

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Fresh faced for freshers’ week

1991 Freshers’ week vs 2021 Freshers’ week

30 years separating these two starts to university. 30 years, a city career, a temporary mortgage, a forever marriage, a pretty reasonable life. One I am rebooting now.

1991-1994

Living on the South Coast. Working my summers as a harbour tours commentator since age 16. A level results confirm the 20 points needed for my conditional offer at my preferred choice University, Cardiff. Maritime Studies, my preferred subject. A pause to the debate of whether my life was, like my father, destined to be at sea. Option B was Economics, Kingston Polytechnic.

Young Enterprise regional winner. A level economics, grade A. Better at business than biology – no change there

Then late September 1991. Freshers’ week. Still looking about 12 years old but evidently able to get served in a bar.

Seemingly more than one…

Days I look back on with some fondness. I found a freedom. I found the pub. Uni is where I met my wife – she must have been looking for a project then. I consult within, and research around, the risks impeding projects now.

Second year, 1992 me, still living as a young one indeed.

Eventually, I even found the lecture theatres and the library. Looking back my 2:2 was probably well deserved, but that was a sting I felt long and buried deep. A dissertation mistake that cost me dear. Living to the brief of my local government client, not the needs of the degree. I did so much wider learning here.

2021-

The 2021 me has returned to long hair. Less rebellion, and more compliance with lockdown need. I didn’t need to shave in 1991 – I just don’t bother now. I have grown into my Beardall name.

Never further from maritime influence than now. Never looking more like I have been at sea for 30 years…

No longer young but a modest enterprise still. My consulting work in construction pays the bills. My latter day interest in psychology intent on bringing a little biology back into the complex project space.

Today was a day of turning a house upside down, my parents doing the same to theirs, and a 32 year old document is duly found. And a few old photos.

Nottingham University having conditionally approved my MSc place in Psychology, but insisting I evidence a GCSE grade C in mathematics from 1989. My MSc distinction in Project Management, Finance, and Risk from 2020, a career in risk and insurance due diligence in project finance, none of that an acceptable work-around. Lock-down, remote working, no means to get out. Still no means to register until the GCSE cert is found. A compliance box frantically now ticked.

So how do these two Freshers’ weeks compare? I have no idea, I am not there. I await my instructions for registration. But I was never going near campus this time anyway. Just sat here, quietly getting on with work and research. Delighting in the memories found in some photos of 30 yesteryears.

I do know I availed the sting of my 2:2, with my 2020 MSc. The library I found has claimed me eventually. More so than the sea. Being young was fun. But my third university visit, this one prepares me for a PhD.

Join my journey back to university for a third time.

This blog space will be my place to introduce psychology to projects, risk, and people management. There is a clear research aim here, and this time it is my brief. But I am in no rush. I will be taking time to understand, time to share, time to reconsider much learned in yesteryear.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Mr Optimiser vs. Mr Sceptic

Is it always right to be demanding a committed decision in the interest of cost certainty?

A brief introduction to some old friends

This is an extract from the cutting-room floor of the dissertation from my first MSc, which I would have been preparing to present this time last year. You will find the full details of citations within the dissertation, available to download or review on-line from my homepage.

When I wrote these notes in early 2020, I was retracing the earliest academic PM arguments addressing how much to plan vs how much to adapt. The Public Private Partnership model of project delivery I was researching is up-front time and focus intensive. Whilst it is not immune to change, any change is administratively cumbersome because of the interacting contracts and hierarchy of approvals required. Post the Pathfinder or Vanguard projects therefore, optimisation (or at least certainty of cost, time, and scope), is characteristically fitting for PPP. This is very different to some of the research and development type project environments, post WWII, that reflects where much of the “fragmented adhocracy” of project management theory today begins. These particular notes, primarily the contemporary revisits of the work of Klein and Meckling from 1958, plus the original paper itself, offered an interesting comparison of these motivations.

———start———

Extracts of my unsubmitted summary notes as follows:-

In describing project management theory as a set of models and techniques for planning and control, Packendoff (1995) pp319 observes three shortcomings of preceding research and theorising. The notion that a general theory and field exists in its own right; a lack of empirical rigour; and treating projects as tools. He invites future research to consider expectations, actions and learning in project settings. Referencing a diversity of theoretical perspective, with more focus on middle-range rather than extremes in different types of project.

A second key question to answer will be how to determine whether early optimisation is the correct priority. The counter view is one of retained flexibility and agility. This has been a central debate from the earliest days of modern project management thinking from the 1950s. Brady et al (2012) reflected on the importance of pioneering thinking in mainstream project management in the early Cold War years of California’s Research and Development think tank RAND. The work of Klein et al (1958 pp 361) sought to better manage project environments typified with high levels of uncertainty at project start. Brady et al argue that initial flexibility in project management approach from this early time was quickly (by the 1960s) replaced by a focus on control (Brady 2012 pp719). Klein et al caricatured Mr Optimiser and Mr Sceptic and compared the approaches to project planning in R&D situations (where it was argued the greatest levels of uncertainty exist).

Mr Optimiser (UK spelling) makes key decisions early, plans thoroughly, and creates a clear and highly integrated path to conclude. Mr Sceptic (UK spelling) adopts a strategy of deliberate flexibility in the early stages, opting to take advantage of project learning, making later decisions on key elements and narrowing a range of alternatives as information is acquired to ultimately arrive at a single construction method.

Klein argues Mr Optimiser is cost certain at an earlier point, and will happen upon the optimum unique choices on occasion. Mr Sceptic will be making more informed decisions but incur more cost and waste on average, as a result of allowing several options to be explored deeper into a project. Mr Optimiser is however committed to these early decisions. If sub-optimal decisions are made, Mr Optimiser is either incurring additional time and cost to change, or accepts the sub-optimal outcome (Klein 1958, pp 355).

This comparison is still relevant today. Government procurement is permanently under pressure to show value for money. It is therefore counter-intuitive to expect a Mr Sceptic approach to project procurement. The early commitment to a project programme is a standard expectation of tendering response in traditional or privately funded government new build programmes therefore. In challenging 20th thinking on theory of the firm, Nightingale returns to Mr Optimiser and Mr Sceptic. Mr Optimiser representing determinism and reductionism, internally driven causations, rationally driving towards maximum utility (Nightingale 2008 pp539). Mr Sceptic’s view of the firm being driven by managerial decision making and Boardroom mediation of the external requirements of shareholders and stakeholders. (Nightingale 2008 pp544).

Turner et al (2014 pp44) and Brady et al (2012), return to Klein’s Optimiser and Sceptic analogy in considering the knowledge problem. Brady et al conclude “Mr Sceptics programme is designed in part to produce information…to be able to make more informed decisions” (pp 723). Brady et al pp719 refers to Shenhar and Dvir (2007) who point out project management is based on “predictable, relatively simple, and rational models”. Brady argued that “the role of uncertainty, learning and informal processes are underplayed in traditional models of project management, in favour of simplistic, rule-based models” pp720. Brady et al further refer to Lenfle and Loch (2010) who call for a reconsideration of the concepts of Klein and Meckling, arguing that “project management has come to emphasise control over flexibility and novelty, and that this has prevented the project management discipline from occupying a central position in organisations efforts to implement strategic change and innovation” pp728.

The notion of project management being an operational undertaking, and success being defined in the context of time, cost, and quality, is further challenged by Dvir et al 2011 pp21. They offer alternative key factors (pp20) with utilisation of existing knowledge and integrated project teams with fast problem-solving capability and the ability to adapt being two key elements. Muller (2012) highlights Dvir and Lechler who both examine relationships between three planning variables and project success (2004). Planning variables being planning quality, goal changes, and plan-changes. Planning is significantly a positive contributor to customer satisfaction and efficiency; goal changes having the highest negative direct effect on customer satisfaction (pp 10) and the combination of goal and plan changes were a stronger factor than quality of planning…pp29

———end———

Observations

Mr Optimiser vs Mr Sceptical had military research and development ideals in mind. 1958 had the cold war as its backdrop. The Sputnik shock was in 1957. The Polaris programme and PERT, military research and RAND and universities, ties to contractor becoming more project orientated. The history of PM sits deeply embedded here. What this paper specifically reflects is an innovation centric project motivation vs optimisation of cost. These two character analogies present a useful modern day sentiment when considering if cost or novelty is most desired.

These are perspectives I will be returning to as I introduce other contemporary subjects of the present day. This underlying need to clarify primary motivation, seemingly pertinent in any contemporary setting.

Essays and detailed notes these blogs are building toward include:

  • My views of the 2020 HM Government Construction Playbook. (status: available on request and forming a blog subject soon)
  • High Reliability Organisations (HROs) as a guide to contingent planning and training. (status: an essay plan from MSc exam preparations is being reviewed to share as a blog).
  • Accountability vs Responsibility – the confused position and a fix. (status: first draft completed but still under review).

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Case Study 1 – PPP and me

Truth:

via visibility, behaviour, and trust.

Late August 2021

A year ago, almost to the day, I stumbled across something rather interesting. At the height of the data analytics stage of my MSc dissertation, a final piece of a jigsaw revealed itself. Truth.

Having spent two solid weeks reviewing, categorising, and connecting interview text, this single axial category seemed to connect it all. A suggestion of the one factor that summed up all other categories I had found. Was it the “truth” of a project that alludes us all, and thereby causes us to fail? In reverse, it seems so obvious as to be self-evident. As such I was, and remain, suspicious of a self-fulling prophecy. Finding nothing more than an answer I had steered my enquiry towards, and thereby subconsciously hidden with an intention to find.

By some quirk of research serendipity, two ongoing enquiries in my headspace collided. First was my dissertation. It very nearly de-railed at this point. The analytics of Grounded Theory is a powerful weapon of qualitative analytics. I had self taught it, and I had not accounted for the mental summersaults it can demand. My fragile brain, and compulsive tendencies, had taken me close to my abyss. This reflects my second enquiry. My diagnosed exogenous depression and suicidal moments were only 13 months in memory (July 2019). Yet my mood at this moment was different. On London Bridge, I was emotionally flat-lining. Whereas now, I was emotionally high. This was over-stimulation, the less obvious opposite to life’s depressive pointlessness in my thoughts. Stimulation is a positive, but this was prolonged flow, and it was close to spiralling out of control.

My wife, and my therapist, were necessarily availed. By coincidence, they are both called Angela. And I needed both my angels to intervene. My project was consuming me, and outside assistance presented perspectives on my behaviour that I was too close to see. With less trust in myself, I instigated some changes:

  • My wife, Angela (one) was to watch me more closely.
  • More candid in communication from me i.e., critical attention towards my overzealous moods.
  • I was to report in more regularly with my therapist, Angela (two).
  • I was to report my dissertation findings to my supervisor, just to sense check all was well.
  • I was to report into my business associate and friend, to get an independent sense of my sense.

Being truthful to myself required a temporary change. The framework of my working environment, within which my dissertation project was housed, proved to be inadequate. Proof based upon the new information received, of external factors not accounted for or even known to exist. These resultant actions are intentionally categorise here as follows:

  • Visibility. Necessarily increased visibility of my emotional state by me; and additional assurance i.e., other assessments (in this case, of my behaviour).
  • Behaviours. A new governance framework to contain my behaviours better, which included the relinquish of a modicum of self-authorisation.
  • Trust. Deteriorating trust based upon past events. Regained by the proactive and open dialogue, and reinforced via adjustments to controls of visibility and behaviour.

I can describe this episode in such terms now. They are my three variables. My truth bearers. I now use them in determining the protection of the most fragile commodity in any project. Singular truth.

These actions enabled me to complete my MSc dissertation. Subconsciously, it seems self-evidence this experience offered insight in these terms described. But more than that, my dissertation was about this very subject, and these same categories had emerged from the Grounded Theory (GT) that had knocked me over. [GT is used to seek axial categories (code) to explain the variables of a phenomena. You are required to keep pushing until one category explains all others found]. Since my graduation with distinction (81% in my dissertation) in October 2020, I have been academically reading and professional consulting with this framework of project thinking to hand.

I continue to extensively sense-check the validity of the phenomenon I now hypothesise. That this same dynamic of visibility, behaviour, and trust, can be equated to any project truth. That everything we do as human beings can be described as a project, and critical project controls evaluated by these terms. With caution I also pose one more question. Could it be possible to assess a project’s likelihood of success, based upon the appropriateness of the control framework within which each project sits?

This is how “Projects | Within Projects” began. And an insight into how my life meaning now sits more at ease.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here: