Andrew Cullis, risk analyst at risk management consultancy, Equib explains the importance of risk understanding and communication to project speed delivery
Plans to streamline the delivery of active rail infrastructure projects, in line with the Government’s ‘Project Speed’ initiative, are an important opportunity to implement risk-centric management and improve governance processes. However, project teams must take extra care to ensure risks are fully understood by those with decision-making responsibilities.
The Government’s Project Acceleration Unit was launched in August last year to speed up the delivery of infrastructure projects and programmes by improving efficiency and eliminating waste. The move has been widely welcomed by the industry and Network Rail has already shortlisted six projects across the UK where it intends to trial measures designed to reduce the time and cost of delivery.
Among the measures being considered are plans to scrap the existing Governance for Railway Investment Projects or GRIP process, which has been in place since 2012, in favour of a more flexible and streamlined framework for project delivery. The replacement framework will aim to remove bureaucracy and drive value. From a risk management perspective, the proposed changes could also provide a welcome opportunity to raise risk understanding and encourage project teams to adhere to best practice.
When the process changes are introduced, risk identification and assessment procedures are likely to become even more important. For example, if it is decided to do away with current linear processes, which force project teams to complete one phase and get it signed off, before moving onto the next, this could increase risk of cost and time overruns significantly. While many project managers find the red tape involved in the GRIP process frustrating at times, doing away with it altogether, particularly when a project is already at implementation phase, is bound to raise concerns.
While greater flexibility and the removal of red tape could obviously help to speed things up, if project teams are permitted to ‘overlap’ phases during implementation, this could increase the risk of reworks or modifications at a later stage. Without appropriate and timely risk mitigation, this could result in a bow wave of issues being pushed from one phase to another, which accumulate and delay completion. To work well, flexible control processes must be introduced with careful consideration, and tailored to the specific project or programme.
Effective communication of risk is also increasingly important as project acceleration initiatives start to take effect. For example, if a decision is taken to bring forward or defer activity, rather than sticking to the usual sequential way of working, this could mean development capital is committed ‘at risk’. In these instances, it is vital that project teams understand the full extent of the risk, and ensure it is communicated to project funders.
It is possible that the introduction of more flexible controls could lead to wider application of ‘schedule-driven’ processes. This is when delivery plans are set at an early stage, based on the major project constraints of time, cost and quality or scope. If opting to work in this high-risk way, it is particularly important that project teams ensure that risks are identified and mitigated properly and proportionately, according to the scale and complexity of the project. Project managers should also be empowered to challenge plans, if they think the timelines are not feasible.
Where schedule-driven plans are under consideration, quantitative schedule risk analysis (QSRA) should be used to establish whether timelines are realistic and to confirm how likely it is that the date set for delivery can be met. For example, if there is only ten per cent confidence of on-time completion, stakeholders need to be informed and take it into account when approving the plan. Similarly, if the GRIP option selection phase is streamlined, QSRA will become even more important as a risk management tool and assist decision-makers. Using QSRA in these ways can help to indicate when issues are most likely to occur, so decisions can be taken at the right time to divert resources where necessary.
No matter how processes evolve in the future, good governance will remain a priority. Under the GRIP process, rail infrastructure programmes are required to conduct phased gate reviews, which are independently audited, and it is highly likely that such checks and measures will be retained. Risk management professionals are ready to support the introduction of acceleration initiatives across the rail network and are looking forward to playing a role in improving project outcomes.
Andrew Cullis is a risk analyst at risk management consultancy, Equib