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Accessing and Mobilising Diverse Talent to Become a True Capable Owner - Watch Here!

Amy Reed-Gibbs

Watch the second in the Project 13 Capable Owner Pillar series of events to hear how broadening the talent pool can aid collaborative working at an enterprise level and across individual projects.

Three Project 13 Adopters joined the event to share their experiences and perspectives on how their organisation is mobilising a broader mix of diverse talent to achieve its aims, hosted by Andrew Page, Co-Chair of Project 13 Capable Owner Development Group.


·         John Grimm - Smart Motorways Programme (SMP) Alliance Deputy Director at National Highways

·         Stewart Craigie, Technical Director at Sweco on behalf of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS)

·         Jo Theobald, Performance Director at Public Sewer Services for Anglian Water Alliances

You can watch the video of the event here:

“A Capable Owner must identify opportunities.”

John Grimm kicked off the discussion by providing the  background to National Highways and the vastness of the smart motorways project which has an efficiency target of £2.3bn.

“Although we have followed and adopted a lot of the Project 13 ‘thinking’ for many years, we have only recently become an official Project 13 adopter and joined the wider community. One of the key drivers behind this is the scale and scope of the smart motorway delivery targets. To achieve our objectives, we needed to move away from transactional delivery models to improve productivity, and to make the highways sector a more attractive proposition for the supply chain. Through adopting an integrated delivery model and establishing collaborative relationships across our supplier community, we’re able to collectively increase capability and capacity across the wider sector.” 

This SMP Alliance has been created with the sole intention to deliver the government’s smart motorway project over the next 10 years. The vision is to make road networks safer, greener, and more efficient.

“We’ve created a delivery model that is led by National Highways and our six delivery partners. The smart motorways program will be delivered by a single integrated team operating under a single contract with shared outcomes, these outcomes are aligned with all parties under a one, common commercial and performance framework. The fundamental of this approach means that all risks and reward are shared.”

John continued to explore the key attributes that a capable owner must embody:

Recruiting, building, and retaining talent - Understanding the value proposition and the capabilities and skills that are required to support delivery. In addition, recruiting from the supply chain is a valuable strategy particularly on a long-term project like the SMP as there is plenty of opportunity to upskill throughout the project journey.

Value Driven Mindset - A capable owner must support the alliance in its key functions, particularly with governance, defining output and defining operations and the voice of the customer. A capable owner must also work alongside delivery partners as an enabler to support delivery outcomes.

Creating Opportunity - The capable owner must identify products and processes that can be used efficiently across the alliance. It must draw value through logistics and develop new ways of working, it must also develop data use so that intelligence can be garnered and utilised. This ties neatly into digital requirements – this is a skillset that capable owners must nurture and harness to drive organisational value across the enterprise. 

“We need two kilograms of innovation please.”

Up next was Stuart Craigie from BAM / Sweco. Stuart discussed a fascinating project on behalf of the British Antarctic Survey. The project is the construction of an international airport in Antarctica, but the scope of works goes much further. It includes marine works, operations and science buildings, runway enhancements, accommodation buildings and hangars. This diverse portfolio of projects would be challenging under any circumstances, but as the team can only be onsite seasonally for four to five months, there are many other factors at play. Of course, the broad diversity of projects insists on a broad range of skills to support delivery.

“Due to the complexity of the project, we had to open our eyes and welcome a collaborative model and enterprise delivery route. We adopted a four-pronged approach that can be summarised under four simple questions.”

Where do we find our innovation? “The scale and diversity of this project is huge. It is also incredibly unique due to its environment, which means we have to offer continual insight and innovation. Our approach is to steer away from simple ‘asking / telling’ people to do things, and rather inform people of what outcomes we need. This breeds a culture of trust and opens the doors for new ways of working and creating new solutions to old problems.”

How do we engage innovation? “We use a range of tools, including Government Soft Landings which allows us to outline what we’re trying to achieve and how we are going to track it. We also use Information Management tools, yes BIM is integral to this but it’s the project management aspect and process mapping that steers us towards outcome related planning. We also created a Modern Methods of Construction guide that sets out our key drivers and our identified parameters and outcomes.”

How do we create collaboration? “We have created a project directorate to develop strategy and a high-level responsibility matrix that project managers can breakdown and distribute across teams to create engagement. It’s also important to note that innovation isn’t something we can just ask for at any point. Innovation needs to be nurtured through understanding and collaboration and drawn upon at the right times throughout a project. By working together, we can assess capability and create a culture that works for each other, rather than for an organisation.”

“Courage to Challenge.”

Lastly, Jo Theobald drives home the need for ‘people persons’ and looking across sectors for transferrable skills and characteristics.

As Performance Director at Anglian Water Alliance’s Public Sewer Services, Jo started her career in the banking sector and moved on to direct high performing teams. The contrast from banking to the drainage sector is stark, but Jo stressed how certain skills, temperament and character can suit many sectors, no matter how different.

“The core Project 13 principles of innovation, collaboration and transformation are vital in informing how we behave as a business, it informs our culture and impacts our sector. As a wider industry we are all faced with the same challenges – we have a skills gap. However, we must look outside of the box and have the faith and belief that non-industry skills can be of huge benefit to an organisation. The days of blinkered recruitment are over, we must look at those with different experience so that we can learn from each other.

Enabling their leap of faith.

An example of embracing alternative sectors is reflected in our decision to look at ex-army personnel. We have a gentleman in our business that had a HGV license and safety training. After practical training with our delivery teams, it was clear that he was a natural leader with a keen eye for processes and continuous improvement. Now, he is a senior leader of our Alliance."

“A further example, which may be considered a curveball, is a gentleman from the aviation industry. We recognised that we needed somebody that was used to working in harsh environments, able to remain calm under pressure and possess an unwavering focus on equipment and operational safety. The aviation sector was a natural place for our investigation because the individuals would possess the mindset we required.”

These are just two examples Jo presented, but two that highlight the importance of characteristics and mindset, rather than specific qualifications or experience. Jo expressed the need to look further afield for transferrable skills and have the ‘power not to discount’ any individual when fishing in a different talent pool.

Following the speaker’s presentations further questions were raised about broadening the talent pool, agile leadership and the challenges encountered when moving away from traditional recruitment and operational models.

If you would like to learn more about Project 13 and how we are supporting change in infrastructure, sign up to the Project 13 Network.

You can watch the first event in the series: What does it mean to be a Capable Owner? here.

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