Jump to content

Project 13 Early Adopter case study: SMP Alliance

What makes the SMP Alliance such a successful example of a Project 13 Enterprise?  Put simply, they have created an environment of integration and collaboration which has enabled people and organisations to achieve better outcomes.  


Right from the outset, National Highways, as part of the Smart Motorways Programme (SMP), recognised that to make a difference, they needed to transform not only what they did but how they did it. That realisation led them to Project 13 and what is now one of the most mature, class-leading examples of a Project 13 Enterprise.  Together, each of the Alliance Partners, and their wider supplier community, are embarked on a journey to realise the potential of their enterprise and unlock the benefits it can deliver.




National Highways connects people and places across England, supporting economic growth and making our roads safer for those using and working on them.  Formed in 2020, the SMP Alliance is tasked with positively impacting safety, environment, congestion and asset condition on National Highways’ strategic road network and achieving exemplar performance in safety, cost, time and quality.


To achieve these aims, National Highways set about forming an alliance as an 'Enterprise' organisation, with a focus on the outcomes required from key investment programmes (figure 2), with shared risk and reward and a programmatic approach to delivery. Comprising of seven partners, including National Highways, and a substantial supplier community, the goal of SMP Alliance is to create a step-change in the programme’s performance; the ambition is to transform the highways sector and wider industry over the next 10 years and beyond, covering Government’s Road Investment Strategy Periods 2 and 3 (RIS2 and RIS3).


Why Project 13?

National Highways set out with a vision for SMP Alliance “to enable a fundamental shift in the way we work with our Partners, transforming how we deliver Smart Motorways to prepare for the digital roads of the future.” At the core of this vision was the desire to pave the way for setting new benchmarks for productivity and quality, using a programmatic approach and leveraging innovation and continuous improvement techniques, as well as embedding knowledge throughout the entire organisation. Their intention was to move away from traditional approaches and move towards modern methods of construction, reflecting the imperatives of reducing time on site and improving outcomes for customers.


Choosing to adopt the Project 13 model was a natural choice for National Highways. The principles of the enterprise approach aligned strongly with their ambition for the Alliance and the five pillars of Project 13 provided a clear and applicable framework.  National Highways chose to procure through an Alliance model, the ‘NEC4 Alliance Contract (2018)’, comprising National Highways and six delivery partners (WSP, Jacobs, Fluor,  Balfour Beatty, BAM / Morgan Sindall JV, Costain) - all seven coming together to form SMP Alliance.  National Highways acknowledged the improved outcomes they had already seen working in more collaborative, integrated models. Therefore it was a natural step forward to build on the learning that already exists within the Project 13 community and apply this within the Alliance.


For National Highways the Project 13 Enterprise model represented a fundamental change in the way value was understood and measured.  Previous models which focused primarily on cost often led to adversarial relationships, poor quality solutions and lack of long-term value.  


By creating a performance-linked, integrated model within SMP Alliance, all Partners are incentivised to significantly improve on historic performance.  Crucially, in contrast to ‘conventional’ procurement and delivery, where there may be winners and losers, Alliance Partners are incentivised to operate as a single, integrated team where performance is measured across the Alliance as a whole, rather than at individual partner or scheme levels.  This commercial model stimulates integration and collaboration across the Alliance, sharing risk and rewarding innovation, improvement and inspiring mutual support and trust.


From the outset, for both National Highways and potential SMP Alliance partners, the procurement process looked and felt different. Tenderers were required to bid individually for their roles in separate lots. During pre-tender sessions, National Highways focused on communicating their intention and desires for something different from the industry – linking concepts, plans and outcomes to the Project 13 framework.  By approaching the tender process differently, the aim was drive a change in behaviours and performance through the tender period itself and in the resulting submissions.


National Highways evaluated each potential Alliance Partner separately to select “best for task” Partners for each Alliance role.  All tenders were evaluated against National Highways’ three imperatives of improving safety, creating a better customer experience and delivering greater efficiency.  


This approach was supplemented by a series of structured interviews, designed to explore each tenderers’ leadership, delivery, cultural and business alignment to Alliance objectives.  The interviews were led by independent behavioural psychologists working alongside National Highways personnel and provided an insight into the way in which individual tendering organisations lived the collaborative values they described.


The selected tenderers joined together to create SMP Alliance, comprising seven members: National Highways as the Client; one Production Management Partner (Fluor); two Digitally-Enabled Design Partners (WSP and Jacobs); and three On-Site Assembly Partners (Balfour Beatty, the BAM / Morgan Sindall Joint Venture and Costain).


Setting up for success

“We deliberately set about creating an aligned vision and mission that allows people to anchor back to what we’re here to do and why we’re doing it”.

SMP Alliance has always been envisaged as a collaborative, value-based delivery model achieved through Partners and supplier network working with National Highways as a single, integrated organisation.  Creating alignment to that vision and developing and communicating a common purpose were essential elements to SMP Alliance’s early success.  Their intention was to create an Alliance identity, rather than adopting one of the seven Partners’ identities, recognising that there was no single, dominant party – and providing a neutral platform on which to develop.  


Accompanying this new identity was a cocreated vision and mission, intended to enable an understanding of what each party was there to do and, importantly, why. A key aspect to achieving successful collaboration was developing an Alliance brand which complemented the Partners’ culture.  This was intended to help teams and individuals navigate across the boundaries between their own companies and the Alliance, allowing them to feel a part of something new and special.


In line with Project 13 principles, the Alliance Board and Alliance Leadership Team (ALT) were formed early in the process, setting a framework across all Partners to forge strong and lasting relationships necessary to underpin the success of SMP Alliance.  The Alliance Board is formed of senior representatives from all seven partner organisations, committed to being industry leading in their field of infrastructure enhancements and, importantly, committed to empowering and supporting their people to deliver the Alliance outcomes as one team.  The Alliance Leadership Team is formed from the seven Partner organisations and follows the Project 13 organisational principle of integrating the required capability into a high performing collaborative team, using a ‘best for task’ approach based on assessment and interview.


Enhancing collaboration through social capital

Transitioning from mobilisation into business as usual created opportunities to develop and build on the foundations laid for successful collaboration during the earliest stages of the Alliance.  The Alliance team, recognising the complexities around truly successful collaboration, sought to develop and build social capital across the Enterprise to maximise their organisational advantage. This investment focused across the three key elements of social capital; structural; cognitive and relational. Within each of these areas the Alliance team developed practices, supported by processes and tools, to deepen collaboration and enhance the exchange and creation of intellectual capital.


Structurally, the Alliance contract and commercial model provided the density of ties and relationships needed to enable closer integration, but this was supplemented by co-locating the entire team, where possible, under the unified Alliance brand.  


To enhance the relational elements of the enterprise they focused on developing a tailored collaboration model, which set out how the new organisation should talk to the wider partner organisations and key stakeholders.  The Alliance is a discreet part of National Highways, which is a large client organisation.  Setting out communications and ways of working with key internal stakeholders, including sponsors, engineering specialists, safety specialists and operational teams, was vital.  Similarly, for the other Partners, networks needed to be created which would provide ongoing support to people within the Alliance as well as a process for addressing the commercial and contractual specifics of the relationship.



Investing in social capital is key to unlocking the potential of the Alliance enterprise

Arguably the most critical dimension of social capital investment, cognitive, was enabled by the team creating and leading staff from the various Partner organisations on a compelling journey to a new way of working.  The Alliance Leadership team recognised the tangible, people-centred approach this needed, drawing on the new brand and identity, plus demonstrating and role modelling behaviours which underpinned the emerging Alliance culture.  By intentionally and proactively building internal and external networks, the way in which the emerging Alliance culture was developing to complement Partner organisations made it possible and easy for people to navigate across the boundaries. People entering the Alliance team could see first-hand how the Alliance was providing regular communications and proactive support to their home organisations as well unifying within SMP Alliance and delivering to National Highways.

“You can’t underestimate how much of a change it is for people to move into a new organisation with new ways of working”.


Aligning strategy into delivery

Creating alignment and a common purpose were essential elements to SMP Alliance’s early success, but extending this into a productive and efficient way of working was key to sustaining that success across the longer term.  The team focused on developing common, digital platforms, processes and systems which made it easy for people to interact and to work together. A governance framework was established which provided control across levels and through both the client and partner lens. Underpinning these processes and controls was an appreciation and reflection of the emerging Alliance culture, which provided a framework to test and assure that the products would add value to delivery and not constrain teams.


The ambition of the Alliance Board and Alliance Leadership Team is to create clear alignment though everything the Alliance does. This alignment of strategy into delivery is yet another example of how collaboration and an outcomes focus is driven through the leadership team across all parts of the organisational culture.



The SMP Alliance vision flows through the organisation, driving a clear and aligned purpose

From leadership to delivery, the Alliance formed an integrated team by identifying the best person for the role.  The wider supplier network is managed within the Alliance by an integrated Production Hub, deploying resources either directly appointed by National Highways or by Alliance Partners.  


A core function of the Production Hub is to implement a category management approach to all supplier appointments, achieving collective sourcing and contract management as part of the Alliance.  Since it operates programmatically at a site level, work is allocated on a shared basis (for example, an equal share between design partners) and an equitable share across on-site assembly partners.  It takes what would otherwise be a typical client programme delivery team and integrated into an Alliance delivery team with an agnostic, ‘best for candidate’ approach for the Production Hub.


Integrating the wider supplier network

Arguably the jewel in the crown of any Project 13 Enterprise is the ecosystem of partners and suppliers working across a wide supplier network; this is certainly the case for SMP Alliance.  The Alliance boasts a significant supplier network throughout which the principles of Project 13 have been cascaded and embedded.  This has been fundamental to enabling improvement and real transformation in delivery.  Commercially, the Alliance model has provided suppliers with long-term, visible opportunities, incentivised towards out-performance.  This, in turn, has provided suppliers with the confidence to invest in themselves, in materials, processes and, most importantly, in their people. 


SMP Alliance has facilitated a community feel amongst suppliers, making them feel heard, understood and part of the wider team, breaking down barriers so they feel more integrated.  Communities of practice have been established to share best practice, resolve issues and review who is best placed for upcoming works.  


A key and enlightening aspect enabled by the Alliance is integrating suppliers at the earliest opportunity into project and programme delivery.  Where there may have been a lack of engagement or a barrier to entry for these organisations to engage with traditional design organisations, this has served to open up channels of communication and allowed these teams to input very early, allowing innovations to be embraced and leading to improved outcomes, particularly in safety and efficiency.


SMP Alliance is the Integrator and becomes the SMP Alliance Enterprise with its Supplier Network and Advisors


Navigating challenges

“New people meeting each other, in a new way and working differently – it was change cubed”.

Without a doubt, the true test of any enterprise comes during periods of change, uncertainty and challenge.  SMP Alliance has faced its fair share of adversity.  From the outset,  SMP Alliance was faced with mobilising during the emerging global pandemic, getting to grips with meeting new people, developing relationships and getting used to new ways of working, all whilst tackling the challenges of unfamiliar online platforms and tools.  Whereas traditional approaches may have focused on facilitating transactional relationships, the Alliance team recognised the step changes needed in energy and effort to build something deeper.


The team therefore focused on creating an environment which would nurture and enable the developing relationships.  Much time and effort was put into getting to know each other, developing relationships and building trust.  A key element of this was the concept of psychological safety – creating an environment where people felt heard and safe to explore new ideas, thoughts and innovations.  The value of a psychologically safe environment has been felt by the team many times over since those early mobilisation days.  Behaviours, trust, communication and relationships have grown and developed and, combined with the unique contractual relationship between all parties, has led to a diversity of thought and innovation which has allowed people to break across hierarchical and organisational boundaries.


The Alliance Leadership Team has seen the value invested in social capital can drive improved alignment in the longer term and particularly through challenging times.  Back in April 2023, following a period of uncertainty and change, the UK Government announced that no new Smart Motorways Schemes would be built, with the investment instead focussed on safety improvements. That announcement marked yet another substantial change to the scope of activities and overall work-bank the Alliance was delivering.  But the nature of the enterprise itself and the investment in the culture and social capital meant that the response to change amongst the team was solutions orientated and filled with energy and resolve.  The teams focused on what could still be done, on how to successfully and efficiently pivot effort and resources for the good of the enterprise, National Highways and its customers. This ‘can do’ attitude exemplifies the benefit of a behaviourally focused approach to collaboration.


Despite such positivity, the effort, energy and focus required to maintain the quality of collaboration during times of adversity should not be underestimated. During times of stress, when communication and leadership can often default to autocracy and transaction, being collaborative is a much tougher ask. During these periods the Alliance Leadership Team has taken deliberate and purposeful steps to slow the pace of decision making, to seek wider views and alternative perspectives and explore different approaches. This has often resulted in transforming the actions taken and improving the outcomes for all.


The changing work-bank and scope of activities National Highways is seeking to deliver has also impacted the Alliance’s ability to make longer term investments in its own future.  The scale of changes has meant that the team has expended more energy in reacting to and managing that change than was initially expected. This has impacted the level of transformation that has been achieved in important areas such as digital, one of the five pillars of the Project 13 framework. Although progress has been made, most notably with the introduction of BIF (Business Integration Framework) – an integrated platform which blends a variety of data sources from across organisations – the Alliance team admits that momentum has been slowed and the benefits achieved have been lower than expected. However, despite the setbacks, the intention, enthusiasm and desire to transform remains.


Sustaining value

The Alliance has established a track record in delivering the required outcomes. However, Enterprise partnerships such as SMP Alliance are long-term structures set up to deliver continuous improvements in performance. Sustaining energy, avoiding fatigue and keeping motivation levels high can be a challenge, particularly, as in the case of the Alliance, when there is a significant change to the work-bank. The Alliance continues to deliver a range of strategic programmes, but the nature and timing of the programmes has changed signifciantly over the life of the alliance. Unsurprisingly, the Alliance has tackled this through focusing on the integrated team, declaring and celebrating successes and rewarding and recognising achievements. By aligning delivery to the Alliance mission and strategy through the SMP Alliance’s six outcomes, the team has been able to identify and celebrate tangible successes linked to those outcomes, in particular that of ‘Inspiring Workplaces’.


Communication is largely digital and integrated across the Alliance’s c. 1,800 people. Programme updates and news articles are published on the Alliance MS Teams channel on a daily basis, a bi-weekly digest of new articles is emailed to all Alliance and supplier staff, supported by monthly all-Alliance ‘Touchpoint’ and regular ‘Let’s talk about…’ webinars, as well as a bi-annual print and digital magazine plus regular posts on the Alliance’s own LinkedIn page. The monthly Touchpoints are open to all staff and consist of presentations, updates and the opportunity for direct Q&A with the Leadership Team.


Along with quarterly awards based around the Alliance outcomes and the annual 7OGETHER conference that includes suppliers, engagement at all levels is further supported by an annual series of Alliance Leadership Team Engagement Roadshows that allow the leadership to reach out in person to all scheme offices and other key offices. A direct result of feedback received from the annual Alliance Engagement Survey, the Roadshows have prompted enthusiastic dialogue and discussion, as well as opportunities for teams to hear strategic updates from Alliance leaders and to come together to celebrate successes and achievements.


One of the Alliance’s biggest achievements in facilitating sustainable value is with the Alliance Learning Management System - ROU7E - an engaging, bespoke, easy to manage and cost-effective digital learning platform. This system, which has set the bar for future Alliances, provides access to onboarding and training resources including e-learning, videos and documents and is accessible across the Alliance and its supply chain. This, and other similar initiatives introduced by the Alliance’s dedicated People Team, complements parent organisation development aspects and equips colleagues with the skills they need throughout their Alliance journey, from onboarding to offboarding.


SMP Alliance in numbers:

·      7 partners

·      c.1800 people

·      Over 350 nominations received for quarterly awards so far

·      3.1 score on Highways Excellence Lean Maturity Assessment (HELMA) in just 3 years - up from 1.7 in first year (2021)

·      £200m of efficiencies identified

·      350+ attendees at the annual 7OGETHER conference promoting networking and celebrating individual, team and scheme agility, achievement, innovation and collaboration

·      303m of innovative, carbon-friendly barrier installed per day on the M40 / M42 Interchange scheme

·      2,630 tonnes of CO2 reduced through collaboration between designers and on-site assembly partners on the National Emergency Area Retrofit (NEAR) programme

·      £100m social value target

Looking to the future

“As we get that diversity of thought, in a safe way, magic seems to happen. Watching people develop, run ideas, break across hierarchical boundaries, break across traditional operating boundaries, is extremely rewarding”.

For National Highways, adopting the Project 13 Enterprise approach represented significant challenge and opportunity for SMP Alliance, one which has been enthusiastically and successfully embraced by all seven partner organisations and suppliers. In seeking to do something different they have transformed their approach from a traditional, hierarchical, win/lose relationship to something integrated, value driven and truly collaborative. Despite, or perhaps because of the challenges the Alliance has faced, the journey has been much more than anyone thought it would be. It has provided more opportunity to integrate across partners, better understanding of how to drive efficiency and environmental benefits and an illustration of the power of digital tools in a learning organisation.


The promise of the Project 13 framework has delivered to the Alliance long term agreements, repeatable products and incentivised outperformance. It has established a supplier network strategy that has transformed transactional supplier relationships into a rich ecosystem of long-term, strategic, value-driven partnerships. It has created an organisational construct which has enabled the transparent transfer of accountability across individuals and collectives, enabling risks to be managed and efficiencies to be realised.


Most importantly though, SMP Alliance now represents a mature group of integrated organisations and individuals, who have demonstrated they are capable of delivering innovative, value-driven solutions, despite challenges and uncertainty. SMP Alliance has successfully created and sustained a Project 13 Enterprise and environment within which people can collaborate, integrate, grow, adapt, succeed and flourish to deliver better, sustainable, long-term, positive outcomes for their customers. 



Relentless Safety Commitment – Operating at a high level (4) of safety maturity, safety performance is benchmarked and best practices promoted collaboratively e.g. a dedicated weekly safety forum shares any internal and external incidents openly and quickly between all partners. Half of all Highways Passport Gold holders are Alliance schemes, and the Alliance also leads two of National Highways significant risks groups (Occupational Hygiene & Plant Person Interface).


Driving Efficiencies – SMP Alliance has embedded the concept and the practice of efficiency at the heart of the Alliance culture. Through creating a standardised process for logging, assuring and delivering efficiencies and a drumbeat of regular reporting to maintain consistent focus, the Alliance has logged over £200m in the efficiency register.  


Promoting Productivity - Ongoing regular measurement of productivity data supports the incentivised commercial model and promotes Lean ways of working. Actual productivity is measured weekly against baselines / stretch targets. This crucial, highly valuable information is recorded, reported, studied and discussed in regular meetings with key Alliance managers. Should any negative movement be identified, action plans are quickly created for corrective measures. Similarly, where higher than expected rates are achieved, lessons and best practice can also be shared quickly across other schemes. For example the Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) Retrofit programme achieved a 30% productivity improvement, while the pre-construction element of the National Emergency Area Retrofit (NEAR) programme time was reduced by 60%.


Leading Lean Enterprise – SMP Alliance is at the forefront of Lean and has fully embraced and enabled a culture of sustainable continuous improvement.  This has led to over £20m of Lean-enabled efficiencies which have already passed level 2 assurance, and which have been achieved at pace – a HELMA score of 3.1 has been realised in just 3 years (normally 10 years). The Alliance is now on track to obtain ISO 18404 accreditation in March 2024.


Collaboration Delivers Early – Through embedding collaboration and proactive workspace management, SMP Alliance has successfully delivered ahead of schedule in a number of areas. The M40/M42 scheme opened three months early through embracing an innovative new concrete barrier solution from a key supplier together with a highly collaborative approach to roadspace management. Similar collaboration and innovation, including offsite assembly, saw the Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) Retrofit Programme delivered safely six months early and on budget with a 24% carbon saving.


Putting Customers First – The needs of customers are central to everything National Highways does. By introducing a dedicated customer team and customer leads in each programme, the programme has achieved impressive 92% average roadworks audit scores, 83% roadspace booking accuracy and 79% correspondence timeliness.


The recording for the Project 13 Early Adopter case study: SMP Alliance 10th April 2024 webinar will be posted shortly.

  • Like 1

User Feedback

Recommended Comments

There are no comments to display.

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.