There wasn’t much to like about the $620 million alliance project to construct a massive highway bypass. The timeline was tight, the soil was soft and treacherous, and the environment could be unforgiving. And just about no one knew what an alliance really was.
The project won the 2013 AMCF Spotlight Award for consulting excellence
At a glance
Industry: Government Agency
Challenge: In an alliance with many first-time alliance players, deliver safely, on time, and on budget
Objective: Establish and orient alliance management leaders hip teams; put processes in place to deliver
JMW Approach: Alliance support, leadership capability development, high-performance project launch
Results: Award-winning, safe delivery ahead of schedule, under budget, with unusually low staff churn
Awards: 2013 AMCF Spotlight Award for Consulting Excellence
This $640 million project involved taking on one of the most geotechnically challenging projects in Australia’s history. The client was on a firm four-year timeline and would be constructing a major highway bypass, an effort requiring 12 kilometers of local road upgrades, three arches, and 19 bridges. The road was being built on soft, marshy soil and the project came with significant uncertainties because of its expanse, unpredictable environmental and weather factors, safety concerns, a tight funding cap, and high-risk traffic factors.
Given the complexity and demands of the project, the decision was made to pursue an alliance approach, which would require an integrated approach by five partner organizations. This was at a time when alliances were a newer concept than they are today, and the vast majority of staff would be new to adopting alliance behaviors. Building and managing the alliance would require changing mindsets and developing a new kind of work culture. In particular, the Alliance Manager would take on a new type of role requiring strong diplomacy and leadership skills.
One of the challenges would be to seize any occurrences of breakdowns—which were considered likely—as opportunities for breakthroughs that would bring about new, adjusted ways of approaching the work in order to deliver the results required.
JMW Consultants was engaged by the alliance for support from the bid process through final delivery.
The effort began with the development of a Performance Framework which captured the best experience and knowledge of all parties and resulted in the establishment of agreed-upon Alliance Principles. “Champions” (or functional area experts) were appointed from the Alliance Leadership Team (ALT) and the Alliance Management Team (AMT) to “own” each key results area (KRA). AMT Champions participated in training and development workshops and communicated regularly about KRAs at internal meetings, weekly toolbox meetings, in fortnightly e-mails, and at weekly site walks and talks.
A key aspect of JMW’s work involved building the leadership capabilities of the Alliance Manager, the ALT and the AMT. JMW conducted regular coaching sessions with the Alliance Manager and worked with members of both teams to help ensure alignment between key players and progress against targets. The effort initially included “high-performance launch” sessions with leadership teams to develop and deepen understanding of the tools and principles required for breakthrough performance. Launch sessions were also conducted for the broader organization with a focus on commitment to cost KRAs and performance arenas such as safety, and establishing a common language for managing and fulfilling on those commitments.
In the first year of the Alliance, JMW supported the Alliance in conducting weekly AMT meetings that began with performance conversations about each Alliance Principle. Where behaviors were out of alignment with the Principles, individuals and teams were immediately mentored on adjusting those behaviors in everyday practices. In addition, regular Alliance Health Checks (AHCs) were undertaken to gauge the effectiveness of management, communication, and implementation of Alliance Principles. The AHCs involved feedback from staff at all levels through a combination of confidential online surveys and one-on-one interviews, with detailed findings reported back to the AMT to consider recommendations based on the findings.
A fundamental part of the work entailed fully engaging the organization’s front line. After initial interviews with key stakeholders, the JMW team developed a Leader as Coach curriculum for 35 individuals considered to be critical front-line players below the Alliance Manager level. The goal of this work was to shift from a perspective of blame to a perspective of responsibility, and equip people and teams to effectively communicate and deal with any setbacks or conflicts that might arise.
“One of the things that fascinated us about this project is that it was an alliance, and alliances are notoriously tough to manage and make work. So this seemed like a good story about something really tough to do and you pulled it off.”
– Judge, major management consulting award competition
Despite numerous challenges, the alliance achieved a broad range of outstanding outcomes.
“I was away from the business at the time JMW started the work, and when I came back to the office it was like black and white,” noted a leader in the client organization. “I’ve been with the business for about 15 years, and it was quite amazing.”
Overall, the alliance delivered on promises made to the client, including delivery of the southern bypass section of the highway—seven months ahead of schedule. In addition, the alliance eliminated traffic conflict areas at a critical intersection and at two “black spots” where traffic crashes had historically been concentrated. The Alliance also delivered improvements to the town center as a result of less traffic noise, safer roads, improved local air quality, and reduced travel time, especially during peak holiday periods.