13 JAN 2020


The Project 13 initiative is not a panacea and should not be seen as a one-size-fits-all approach for industry woes, argues ACE's Hannah Vickers.

In response to early adopters’ gathering momentum and being vocal in their praise, I’ve heard more and more proclaim Project 13 as the answer to the industry’s problems. I write this as a huge advocate for the approach. As many of you may already know, in my previous role at ICE I wrote the blueprint and commercial handbook and led the negotiations with early adopter clients. I’m hardly impartial and should declare a vested interest in its success!

You could think of Project 13 as a well-honed Formula One racing car. It will, of course, achieve fantastic things and hopefully break world records. However, stick it on a rally course and it fails. Enter it into an endurance race, like Le Mans, and it also fails. Project 13 is being touted as a winner in all circumstances, but I estimate that it is probably only applicable to between 5-7% of the infrastructure and construction pipeline.

In a sector more than ten times the size of the aerospace industry in terms of jobs and turnover, it’s naive to believe a single, one-size-fits-all approach will work with the range of regulatory, funding structures and diverse client capabilities. Indeed, this is why our Future of Consultancy programme has identified not a single, but a suite of business models for the industry to explore in more detail, including Project 13 alliance-type approaches.

However, when exactly should Project 13 be considered? Probably unsurprisingly, there’s no simple answer. Criteria revolves around ensuring there’s the right governance structure in place to give the programme autonomy, a long-term mindset (the @one alliance took over 15 years to perfect), a mechanism to link outcomes to financial rewards, a commitment from leadership, and robust baseline data. Have all of this in place and one can start to consider using it in an alliance between multiple partners.

"In a sector more than ten times the size of the aerospace industry, it is naive to believe that a single, one-size-fits-all approach will work with the range of regulatory, funding structures and diverse client capabilities."

Yet, even at this stage there are more issues to consider. The overheads to setting up this type of arrangement are significant and developing culture and behaviours as part of the right working environment is key. If clients and businesses are not quite suited to a full alliance, then moving towards buying outputs or outcomes through the use of other models – whether an integrated project insurance, traditional contracting or offsite – might make more sense. 

So, how have we ended up here? I think this shows that there’s a desire by those in our sector to find solutions to important questions. Those incorrectly pushing us towards Project 13 are looking for clear answers to problems inherent in how we design and deliver our infrastructure. We should be pleased that the issues have, at the very least, been identified. In a nutshell though, be wary of the hype around a single generic solution clouding judgement.

Finally, how do we find the right answers for our specific set of circumstances? Our Future of Consultancy work is a huge part of this and will identify and develop a suite of business models that are flexible, fit-for-future purpose and applicable across the entire sector. As these models are developed, we will need to ensure that the ultimate end-goal of helping clients and industry gain the understanding and awareness of when to apply them is not forgotten too.

Hannah Vickers is chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering.


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