Does collaboration work?

Source: Rail Technology Magazine June/July 2013

It is recognised that collaboration will help companies deliver rail projects more efficiently, but is this really the case? A year on from gaining BS 11000 certification, Steve Higham, managing director of Rail Engineering Projects at Atkins, explains the real benefits collaborative working has brought to the business.

Charles Darwin once said that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed – and this quote is timely for the rail industry. Following Sir Roy McNulty’s Rail Value for Money Study and the Government’s Command Paper, ‘Reforming our Railways: Putting the Customer First’, the industry is working to reduce costs and deliver real improvements to passenger and freight services.

BS 11000 certification

Atkins’ BS 11000 journey began in January 2011 after Network Rail announced that it was looking to deliver projects more collaboratively. Working in partnership was nothing new to Atkins’ rail business and we saw accreditation as a fantastic opportunity to be a frontrunner in the industry on an important topic.

It also provided an avenue to show how Atkins embraces best practice to develop good working relationships, improve profits and be more competitive. There was also an expectation that BS 11000 certification would become a requirement of working with Network Rail in the future, so Atkins started to familiarise itself with the standard.

Having done our homework, Atkins decided to focus our certification process on our rail engineering projects (REP) business. REP was delivering a railway resignalling and recontrol project that needed to be completed in just 12 months, when the usual time to complete this sort of scheme is around 18 months. The project, Northampton Silver, relied heavily on collaboration to meet this tight deadline, with Atkins and Network Rail co-located on site.

This meant that the team could tackle issues as they arose and drastically reduced ‘man-marking’. By working together, the project was commissioned with just three staff (one per eight hour shift over a 24-hour period), which is unprecedented for a major resignalling project. Northampton was used to collect evidence for Atkins’ BS 11000 certification, along with the Stourbridge to Hartlebury resignalling project, which, now complete, has also received high praise from the project team and route asset manager.

After meeting the requirements of the BS 11000 certification process, in May 2012, Atkins was awarded its certificate at a special ceremony at the House of Lords. So just over a year on from receiving accreditation, has Atkins benefitted?

Benefits: life after accreditation

The strength of Atkins’ BS 11000 certification is evident, having been awarded a contract to deliver the £250m Stafford Area Improvements Programme (SAIP) in a ‘pure alliance’ with Network Rail, VolkerRail and Laing O’Rourke.

The project is a radically different employer/ contractor relationship in the UK rail industry; not only is Network Rail a client, it is also part of the delivery team.

Based around a unified agreement where all parties share the benefits and the risks, this is a clear move away from the more traditional ‘hub and spoke’ style of contracting towards a completely integrated ‘one team’ structure. It is possible that Atkins would not have won this important work without certification.

Unlike other projects, the bidding process for SAIP was done in two phases.

From April to June 2012, Atkins, Laing O’Rourke and VolkerRail worked in true collaborative style to develop how they would deliver the project as an alliance with Network Rail.

During this first phase they produced a charter which outlined the principles and values that all team members will follow to successfully complete the scheme.

For the second phase of the bid, all four companies moved into one office so they could hit the ground running, should they have won the contract. At this time they set up a joint management team and one operating system to drive efficiencies.

They also spent time looking at each other’s processes to work out which ones they would use to deliver work effectively.

Working collaboratively for nine months before the project was even awarded has meant that SAIP is well and truly out in front.

With relationships and rapport already established, the team could get on with improving the railway on day one of the contract.

Other benefits include being seen as an expert on collaborative working having been one of the first companies in the rail industry to do so. Atkins is now being approached by other contractors and members of its supply chain for guidance as they embark on their BS 11000 journey.

BS 11000 certification has also brought about some changes to the way Atkins does things; for example, formally recording values and behaviours for projects delivered in partnership with other companies. When a relationship is set up, the entire project team needs to establish how they are going to work together, which not only gets the project off to a good start, but also makes it easier to measure intangibles such as values and behaviours.

Once these aspects of the project have been agreed, they are recorded in a spreadsheet and all team members regularly assess the actions and interactions of their colleagues, against those values. It is a simple process based on green, amber and red colour codings. Green shows that people are going beyond what is expected, while amber highlights that people are exhibiting some of the values and behaviours and red indicates that people are not exhibiting values and behaviours. While it’s quite a subjective process, it gives management from all companies in the partnership an opportunity to review and address any issues in the team. It also provides a chance to identify the reasons why things are going well.

Making collaboration a mindset

In September 2012, the rail business lent its engineering skills to improve St Paul’s Place in Hammersmith for Resurgo and TLG: The Education Charity (TLG). It was an opportunity to support the local community while giving senior managers a taste of collaborative working.

Over two days our team transformed St Paul’s into a more usable space for the 54 students a year that TLG helps back into education.

The team pulled together, sharing equipment and resources to get the job done. While the tight timeframes didn’t allow for the charity work to be a full BS 11000 learning experience, complete with setting up a joint risk process, it did give all involved an insight into collaboration.


At this point in time, the key challenge for Atkins in BS 11000 is not to rest on our laurels.

As collaboration is nothing new, it’s important that the business continues to challenge itself to incorporate the standard into everything we do. This challenge has been acknowledged by the board and the team has also had a fresh look at the standard to see what changes need to be made.

At the moment the team are looking to better understand the types of relationships that the business has. This will help them identify where they want to collaborate, what would be the most beneficial, what potential risks are involved and then develop some more detailed implementation plans.

As the rail business is now over 12 months into BS 11000, it’s timely to tell staff how far it has come and where it is going. Having successfully gained accreditation for the REP business, Atkins is looking at gaining accreditation for all of its rail business units.

There is also a plan to include the standard in staff’s professional development as well.

Given the changes in the rail industry, collaboration without a doubt is the way forward. Since gaining BS 11000 certification, Atkins has successfully won a major project which will be the first to be delivered by Network Rail under a ‘pure alliancing’ framework.

The standard has also brought other benefits to the business, such as being an industry leader in collaborative working.

It will also mean that Atkins and its partners can share resources and expertise, which will save time and money on projects.

Collaboration is seen as the way forward and Atkins’ BS 11000 certification will help the company deliver lasting benefits to the UK railway more effectively.


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