Collaborating to deliver projects

On 8 October 2019 Business Transformation Manager, Neil Runciman and Head of Programmes, Claire Trinder went to a joint conference from the Association of Project Managers (APM) and Institute of Collaborative Working (ICW) with the theme of “Collaborating to deliver projects.” They both share experiences and reflections from the day:

Claire Ward and Jeremy Campbell from the Institute of Collaborative Working (ICW) set the scene for the day with their “Delivering more through collaboration” presentation highlighting how embedding collaborative working in to organisations assists in building long term, sustainable relationships which help to deliver projects. They mentioned the House of Commons and UK Home Office had particularly been enthusiastic in their adoption of collaborative working while also discussing reasons that collaboration can fail. Often this is due to perception of collaborative working, some see it as a selling technique or don’t understand the requirements leading to individuals acting in silos and not demonstrating the appropriate skills or behaviours.

Image credit: APM Events

The next session was led by Ben Cross who shared lessons learned from delivering the £1.5billion A4 road programme – collaboration was key to this, not only between three main contractors but also between a myriad of subcontractors to ensure project success. Actions taken throughout the project to encourage a culture of collaboration included:

  • Common procurement, reducing stoppages and securing better pricing for materials and machinery
  • Open book reporting for all contractors
  • Board members for collaboration, procurement and stakeholder management
  • A commitment to recruit or develop excellent project leaders throughout

A common vision connecting teams to a purpose and ensuring sufficient resources and training were embedded throughout the actions above, ultimately helping the team to deliver the project to cost, with minimum traffic disruption and a low accident rate.

Next up was something a little more practical, led by John Doyle to demonstrate working towards shared objectives with shared benefits. The exercise saw us work in teams of six to design and build part-sections of paper bridges to transport a table tennis ball over three metres but using only A4 paper, sellotape and scissors! Our team enjoyed this and were successful in putting our project management expertise to the test by quickly identifying and filling the necessary roles, working well as a team and overcoming last minute obstacles while still achieving a win-win situation with both client and supplier benefitting.

Neil Runciman taking part in the practical bridge building session. Image credit: APM Events

Jonathan Canioni from Warwick Business School offered an academic perspective to the conference discussions, quoting several successful examples of collaboration including ‘Food for the Soul’ – a programme between an established chef, the Catholic church, local markets and supermarkets in Naples to provide food to those living in poverty. Discussions continued to examples where collaboration had failed – a private banking app that misunderstood the relationship between bank and customer – when even best intentions and aligned incentives can be administered ineffectively. Key learning points from Jonathan’s talk were that collaboration and coordination are bound together in a number of ways, therefore, although coordination is not quite as valuable as collaboration, it is a necessary step on the way and worth striving for if collaboration is unattainable.

“Hartree Centre places tremendous value on and recognises the benefit of collaborative work and we embed this in many ways. From multi-partner grant funded consortia, to individual collaborative research projects with SMEs or larger national organisations, to our most recent 5 year collaborative Innovation Return on Research programme which partners with IBM Research and UK plc. The workshop was a great opportunity to step away from the day to day and reflect on how we achieve our collaborations and opportunities for us to improve on these in the future. The presentations throughout the day gave great insight, especially on how to define collaboration behaviours up front and as Neil highlights, the criticality of great leadership in supporting this. I really enjoyed the practical exercise as well, although I think our session was slightly more chaotic than Neil’s! However the same is often true in real life, and it is how chaos and uncertainty is managed that is also key to success.”

Claire Trinder, Head of Programmes

“For me, this was an interesting day full of sharing experiences and offering new perspectives. I found Ben Cross’ presentation particularly worthwhile as it offered learning points that are directly applicable to complex projects with multiple suppliers while also highlighting the wide benefits of great leadership. I would have appreciated hearing a contractor’s view of collaboration to ensure a balanced view of the reality of collaborating to deliver projects.”

Neil Runciman, Business Transformation Manager

Creating value for business and the UK economy – evaluating our impact

Karen Lee, Head of Impact, discusses the importance of understanding and measuring impact following the publication of the Hartree Centre’s first evaluation study.

The Hartree Centre is transforming UK industry through high performance computing, big data and cognitive technologies.

That’s our mission. But how do we know whether the research and innovation support we provide to businesses actually creates any value to them or the UK economy? Do we really need to know?

The quick answers to these questions are ‘through impact evaluation’ and ‘yes, we do’. But I would urge you to humour me a little and read on… Continue reading “Creating value for business and the UK economy – evaluating our impact”

From a Computing GCSE to being Deputy Director

“Life is like a large pond, you are surrounded by lilypads and depending on your capabilities and circumstances you have to pick the next one to step onto.”

When I was younger, growing up in Wigan I was mainly interested in three things: football, computers and radio control cars. At school, I decided to study A Levels in maths, physics and chemistry and then went off to study chemistry at the University of Leeds with no fixed idea of what I wanted to do or where I was going afterwards.

After a period of unemployment, I was lucky enough to get a job as a Research Chemist with Crosfield, a Unilever company at the time. This involved working with Crosfield silica to remove protein from beer, essentially increasing the shelf-life of the product. To me, this was great, I was a beer scientist at the age of 21! I enjoyed the challenge of working on new formulations and eventually discovered a way of improving the shelf-life of beer using 50-70% less material than previous methods. At first, the brewers we worked with did not seem to buy in to the idea so the sales staff invited me out with them to explain the process to our customers. That was my first taste of sales and I really enjoyed it so I started to try to go out with the sales team as much as I could.

My next ‘career leap’ was in to telesales and this turned out to be a terrible idea as it really did not suit the way I liked to work and how I liked to develop customer relationships and insight. From there, I went to work for Dionex in a regional sales role with a remit for selling chromatography columns that separate chemical components. It was this position that helped me to recognise that I was actually quite good at sales and learned an important point:

“people do not just buy kit, they buy answers to the problems they want to solve.”

This led me back to my interest in computing where I taught myself how to use a macro-based scripting process that increased the efficiency of the sales process, helping me to match solutions to customer problems.

Continue reading “From a Computing GCSE to being Deputy Director”

Shaping the Northern Powerhouse

Delegates attending APM Project Management Conference 2016.
Image credit: APM

The Association for Project Management (APM) recently held their first Manchester based conference, and the Northern Powerhouse initiative by UK Government was their key theme. Claire Trinder and Lisa Booth from our Programme Management Office attended the event, and it got them thinking about where the Hartree Centre fits in.

“If the Northern Powerhouse were a country, it would be amongst the biggest economies in Europe. If we can make this region an economic powerhouse, the whole of the UK will benefit.”

Phillip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer

It sounds simple enough when you put it like that, but as we discovered at the APM conference, there’s a lot more to unlocking the benefits of the Northern Powerhouse than meets the eye.

The event, held in early December 2016, zeroed in on the developments in infrastructure, communication and technology projects that are being designed to re-balance the UK economy in line with the government’s Northern Powerhouse vision laid out in its strategy document. In summary, the Northern Powerhouse is a vision for a more joined up region in which northern towns and cities work collaboratively, sharing skills and resources to unlock the economic potential of the area.

Continue reading “Shaping the Northern Powerhouse”

Not just ‘big’ – bringing big data into line

What’s in a name? When it comes to taming big data, it’s easy to just see the challenge as being one of scale – just as the name implies. But as a non-specialist working in this area, I quickly discovered that it’s more complicated than that. And I’d like to use this post to explain why that’s the case.

Continue reading “Not just ‘big’ – bringing big data into line”