The benefits of working collaboratively are well known with many businesses recognising that working constructively with customers, suppliers and joint venture partners is good, both for profit and for people.
The principles of team work are embedded throughout most successful organisations and this is particularly true within the construction sector where collaborative working is seen very much as the way forward. Major organisations such as Network Rail and the Highways Agency are actively encouraging their major contractors to adopt collaborative working approaches.
For civil engineering contractor, BAM Nuttall, collaborative working is nothing new.
Collaborative working was a key requirement of involvement on the delivery of the Olympic Park project, driven down through the supply chain by the Olympic Delivery Authority.
From 2005, it was heavily involved with the demolition and remediation works at the Olympic Park and is now lead contractor for the two main legacy projects which will see the transformation of the Park for future generations.
However, this wasn’t the company’s first experience of collaborative working as David Anderson, Head of Business Process and Quality explains.
“Our experience with the Olympics clearly demonstrated that by utilising collaborative working practices, we could get real value. However our experience on the Olympics wasn’t the beginning of our experience with collaborative working. We have worked very successfully in a variety of alliances, partnerships and joint ventures for many years.
“However, since the publication of the BS 11000 standard in 2010, we have noticed that the profile of collaborative working has risen and there is a growing understanding of its benefits. We are now seeing key drivers in the marketplace from major clients, with questions now being raised at both pre-qualification and tender stages.”
The organisation recognised however that meeting the requirements of BS 11000 would not just apply to clients but also bring benefits when working within joint venture relationships. It had already found that when looking at some of its joint venture relationships, there were elements of inconsistency.
BAM Nuttall recognised that by fully embedding the ethos of collaborative working throughout its business, it would help provide that consistency throughout its operations.
In June 2012, the business therefore set itself a target of achieving external certification within the year, initially at ‘strategic level’.
Closing the Gap
The aim from the very beginning was to make compliance with BS 11000 part of its existing certified management systems and not a ‘bolt-on.’ However, this in itself was to present its own challenges. While the organisation wanted to ensure it built- the requirements of the standard into its day to day operations, it also recognised that a full- blown BS 11000 relationship wouldn’t always be appropriate.
The approach it took was to build choice, resilience and flexibility into the existing system which made sure that BS 11000 was considered at each of the stages of the process. This aligned, with its existing key business process model, its continual drive for system integration and existing culture and values.
Indeed the company’s behavioural change programme, ‘Beyond Zero’, had helped lay the foundation of collaborative working on an internal level. With an initial aim of improving health and safety, the programme had moved onto societal impacts, business effectiveness through improved processes and engendering responsibility within its people.
It centres very much around behavioural aspects which again lie at the heart of the BS 11000 standard.
A first step in its plan was the appointment of a Senior Executive Representative and the creation of a working group which was drawn from many areas and levels of the business and would include support functions such as HR, Training, Business Process, Safety and Procurement. This would not only help raise the visibility of BS 11000 and collaborative working, but also give real opportunity to look at and enhance existing processes.
The business carried out a series of gap analysis workshops to identify the areas that needed to be addressed. It was to prove to be a useful exercise. The external challenge was to help the team really focus on its processes. The feedback from the workshops confirmed that the company was already doing a lot of what was required by BS 11000. This was valuable confirmation that the organisation’s values and ethos supported collaborative working however, as expected, there were some areas that needed addressing as David Anderson explains.
“While we had considerable experience of working collaboratively with customers, our supply chain, joint venture partners and our own inter-business relationships, the gap analysis did show that we lacked defined procedures for Customer Relationship Management. “It was clear that we were undertaking the work but did not have a clear, detailed and consistent approach to documenting it. By looking at the structure that BS 11000 gave us, we were able to identify pockets of best practice and then roll this out throughout the business.”
Benefits of a structured approach
Since beginning work on its implementation of a collaborative working management system, the organisation has already seen significant benefits. It has increasingly been asked to take the lead with BS 11000 relationships and therefore has been able to form a number of collaborative relationships more quickly and more effectively than in the past.
This was apparent on one recent initiative, where BAM had entered into a partnership with another organisation to collaboratively target certain market sectors. Their chosen partner didn’t have certification to BS 11000 and BAM Nuttall was able to use its management system for the benefit of the joint venture. While discussions over joint working practices would have taken place as a matter of course, following the principles of BS 11000 gave a structure and framework to those discussions.
For example, this has seen both parties discussing up front about exit strategy in the event of unresolvable issues, identifying potential problem areas and putting processes in place to deal with these.
In early discussions, it became apparent there were issues with knowledge sharing where individuals needed to check with their line managers before they could discuss certain areas. This was causing lengthy delays and interruptions, so by clearly establishing the ground rules and therefore the type of information that could be shared freely, those involved in the process knew exactly what was expected of them.
David comments: “BS 11000 brings a structure into place that makes individuals stop and think about things before they become a problem. Having this structure has allowed both organisations to establish the boundaries of the relationship, given the bid teams a greater understanding of what each other needs and an appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of both. In other words, it puts the joint venture in a position to go forward much stronger.”
A unique approach to certification
BAM Nuttall had decided in June 2012 to go for certification at the earliest opportunity, however it had already begun to look at taking a different path to many other organisations. From the outset, the organisation had wanted to embed the BS 11000 into its ethos and this would have an impact on the approach it wanted for certification.
It would also have an impact on its choice of certification provider. While it had met with a number of certification bodies, BAM Nuttall chose to work with LRQA.
David Anderson picks up the point: “We wanted to go with a recognised name and LRQA has a good reputation within the industry. We found that they immediately understood our reasons for going for a corporate approach, as opposed to the project by project approach that many others were taking in our industry.
“It was an ambitious target but we wanted to make BS 11000 and collaborative working just another element of what we did. We recognise that the BS 11000 approach isn’t appropriate to all projects.
However, we could already recognise the benefits from having an embedded system, even on those projects where we weren’t going down the formal route.
It was already making us think about potential issues and how we could better understand what the other party was looking for.”
LRQA advised a two-stage approach to certification. This would allow BAM Nuttall to gain early recognition of its strategic processes which it knew from
its gap analysis were generally in place already. Importantly, it would also allow the business to further develop its deployment processes to increase visibility and alignment with BS 11000.
The two-stage approach worked well for the organisation. The external view brought by its LRQA assessor in the first stage helped determine areas for improvement on which it could work in the run-up to the second assessment stage.
The value of certification
As the first in its sector to do so, BAM Nuttall achieved company-wide certification to BS 11000 in May 2013 with LRQA.
Certification to BS 11000 was the goal from the outset of this project. Having held certification to ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 for many years, BAM Nuttall was keenly aware of the value that robust, certified management systems bring to the table.
BAM values, partly the rigour that comes from a formalised assessment programme but also, the external challenge aspect that prompts it to look again and again at its systems.
“One of the main benefits from the certification process was our LRQA assessor challenging us on our existing systems. This helped to highlight areas which we thought were clear cut, but were actually open to interpretation,” explains David Anderson.
He cites supply chain management as a good example. The organisation has a number of vendor agreements with key members of its supply chain. Its LRQA assessor was able to point out that feedback was only one-way whereas it takes two to collaborate.
Following this advice, the Supply Chain Manager introduced forums to create dialogue and, in so doing, initiated a situation where suppliers can also discuss between themselves.
Margo Logie, its LRQA assessor was able to bring a fresh pair of eyes to the process. With experience gained from other industries that have embraced collaborative working, she was able to help identify areas for improvement.
“Margo’s flexible and open approach was ideally suited to BS 11000 certification. She was also able to call on advice and support from other areas of the LRQA team which further helped the integrated alignment of our management systems while incorporating BS 11000,” concludes David Anderson.
David Anderson offers some tips for those organisations looking to implement a collaborative working management system and to gain certification to BS 11000.
Start with what you know: align your existing systems to BS 11000. Make sure you really understand your own organisation, how it functions, the culture and how this can support BS 11000 and finally how your processes can affect and drive the right behaviours to make collaboration work for you.
Time: do not underestimate the amount of time and effort needed. This isn’t just for the certification but also for the relationship building aspects of the project.
Involve your people: we took the decision from the outset to involve our people in the process of development. Any organisation thinking of certification must really involve people throughout the organisation. This means you will get the buy-in which is so necessary to the success of the project.
It is in essence an internal collaborative approach that will help you achieve the certification rather than a dictatorial hierarchical approach. The behavioural aspects of BS 11000 make this particularly important. Processes may help shape and drive behaviour but, without the inclusivity, it may not necessarily drive the correct behaviours.
Project manager: we had one person appointed to lead the project team. This helped avoid silos and conflict within different areas of development. While the ownership of the system rested with people across the business, the co- ordination helped bring consistency.
Certification: choose your certification body carefully. Determine a strategy for certification and make sure that your chosen certification body aligns with your thinking.
True collaboration: don’t assume you are right. You are – but so is your collaborative partner. You need to design your system and processes to be flexible so that alignment and true collaboration can be achieved.