‘Partnering’ has become a hackneyed term that is over-used but underpracticed. Nevertheless, collaborative working really is the key to successful delivery. Nowhere is this more important than in a project where the vision is ‘To make soldiers’ lives better’.
At the strategic level the contract that Aspire Defence has with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) could not be simpler. It is a contract between a single supplier and a single customer to provide an agreed level of service to soldiers based in four major army garrisons across Salisbury Plain and at Aldershot for the next 28 years.
At the tactical delivery level it is a little more complex:
- the range of services includes everything required to support the equivalent of four small towns
- the four garrisons comprise some 18,700 soldiers, 35% of the UK-based army
- the garrisons are spread over a distance of almost 100 miles
- each garrison has a different main purpose and hence a unique structure
- the requirements of the army change on an almost constant basis, and never more so than while it has been deploying to and recovering from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan
- to raise the standard of the estate some 550 new or refurbished buildings have been delivered, an average rate of two buildings a week – all within busy operational garrisons.
Under Project Allenby/Connaught, the largest infrastructure PFI ever let by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), the quality of life for over 18,700 soldiers, 35% of the UK-based British Army, has been improved thanks to the provision of modern, high-quality, fully serviced and purpose-built living and working accommodation provided by Aspire Defence.
Aspire Defence comprises three related entities: Aspire Defence Limited (ADL), which is owned by shareholders KBR (45%), and funds managed by Innisfree (37.5%) and InfraRed (17.5%). It holds the contract with the MOD, arranges and manages the funding, and oversees and manages the two operating companies – Aspire Defence Capital Works, which is delivering the eight-year construction programme, and Aspire Defence Services Limited, which is delivering the wide range of services over the 35 years of the contract; both are 50/50 joint ventures between Carillion and KBR.
In the seven years since we signed the contract, the enduring lesson has been that the only way to succeed in delivering the strategic intent while managing the tactical complexity is through a strong collaborative relationship between Aspire and the MOD. Our experience is that there are a number of planks on which this collaborative relationship needs to be built:
Identify the real customer. Not who holds the contract but who benefits from the service being provided. For us that is the soldier.
Share a purpose, vision and values. A truly shared purpose, vision and set of values is key. These need to be live documents that are discussed and reviewed on a regular basis. The documents describe the ‘way things get done around here’. They are not a gilt-framed but sterile charter that hangs in the main reception area. People should feel they can challenge behaviour or actions that are not aligned to the purpose, vision or values.
Communicate. Failure to communicate lies at the heart of most non-collaborative relationships, and hence is at the root of poor delivery. We have taken every opportunity to communicate well.
Openness and honesty. Our successful collaboration is based on trust between parties and, more importantly, between individuals. One of our shared values is ‘Openness and honesty at all times’, and communication needs to respect this value. A culture of ‘no surprises’ has taken time to build but is vital.
Short lines of communication. Delivery has been devolved to each of the four garrisons such that there is a senior, empowered Aspire manager as close as possible to the point of service delivery. At each of these locations and at the central office, the Aspire team is co-located with the MOD team. This builds relationships and trust, and ensures quick problem resolution.
Joint forums. Joint management forums start at the level of the Aspire Chairman and the senior MOD official, to drive home their importance, and they are replicated at every level of the structure.
Shared communication. Although some channels of communication remain discrete to the separate entities, as many as possible are shared. This ranges from joint briefings to new staff through to joint workshops and to shared contributions in the in-house magazine. All briefings on the project or visits are conducted jointly.
Wider range of stakeholders. It is not just the various executive teams that need to communicate. We have found it important to ensure that a broad spectrum of stakeholders need to be kept closely in touch with the project. These stakeholders range from shareholders, to lenders, to other departments within the MOD and, indeed, to other government departments, such as HM Treasury. Any of these can have a negative impact on the collaborative relationship, and hence the communication between stakeholders has to be managed.
Managing risk. Our collaborative relationship is not, as some would have it, ‘cosy’. It is based on a clear contractual allocation of risk, and this needs to be respected by both parties.
Joint risk register. However, there are broad-scale risks that are best managed, if not together, then at least in a way that both parties have the same visibility of them. This is achieved through a joint risk register, which is managed by the executive teams on each side and is reviewed by regularly senior stakeholders.
Management of change. Our experience suggests that one of the quickest ways for the relationship to become adversarial is if contract change is badly managed, and particularly if one party or the other feels it is being taken advantage of. To avoid this we have put in place clear and agreed processes that ensure transparency; we ensure that all discussions about change are open and honest and that there are no surprises. Senior managers monitor the change process closely, and become involved if there is any sign of conflict. Both parties need to be prepared to give and take. We have successfully managed some 1500 changes since the start of the contract. Only two have had to be referred outside of the project teams for resolution.
People. Finally, it is people, individuals, not corporate entities that form collaborative relationships. Good selection processes, the setting of clear expectations of appropriate behaviour, training and continuity in post are all important in ensuring the right relationship between individuals. We have found, however, that even with this preparation some individuals cannot work in a collaborative way and need to be removed from the project.
As the UK armed forces reduce in size and become ever more dependent on support from contractors to deliver military capability, including on operations, then collaborative relationships will become ever more important in ensuring successful delivery.
Together, MOD and Aspire will manage and deliver a modern, flexible living and working environment for soldiers in the Aldershot and Salisbury Plain area that will support military fighting power, enhance army recruitment and retention and provide long-term value for the MOD and Aspire.
Making soldiers’ lives better.
- Safety first – always.
- Customer focus.
- A challenging but supportive culture which values and develops people.
- A fulfilling and enjoyable place to work.
- Openess and honesty at all times.