Three Project Management Lessons Learned from the London Crossrail Project

Author: Henry Bennett

I just read an interesting article about London’s Crossrail project which connects London’s west, east and centre via a 118-kilometre light rail system. You know the one, you’ve been stuck behind lorries for years due to the endless construction—and it’s only 70 percent done. The good news is that the project is on time and on budget.

The Crossrail Technical Information Manager Malcolm Taylor recently weighed in on why they’re doing so well and I’m going to weigh in on the “why of the why” based on what we’ve done for IT PMs just like Malcolm.

1. Start with the End in Mind

“If you start with the end in mind, know what it is you need to collect and then collect it, you can be sure that you have got the right data at the right time,” he said.

Me: Malcolm’s main resource asset is information because he’s the enterprise portfolio manager for Crossrail’s myriad, interconnected projects. He talks about how this information must be managed starting with the end in mind. He stresses the need to understand the type of information you need at each stage. The right PMO tool can take care of this in the agile or directive PM modes by managing the appropriate information on a demand continuum that includes each lifecycle resource – before the project even begins. Appropriate reporting tools then feed into your projects’ and your portfolio’s resource assets—and ensure spot-on allocation across multi-disciplinary roles and among cross-functional sponsors.

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2. Efficient Technology is Crucial

Malcolm: “The need to adopt efficient technologies in terms of data collection and along with that (sic) to give appropriate recognition of the people side of the technology. Whereas the second half of the 20th century in terms of data collection and information gathering was all about using folders and personal computers, the modern way is all about databases, and it is imperative to use more modern tools so that this can be done as efficiently as possible,” Taylor said.

Me: Old PMO tools did not include what most organizations need: Both a utilitarian tool for simple projects as well as a tool that handles enterprise-transformation projects and can grow with the maturity of the PMO.  

They were not designed for people who are actually on the ground, running the project along with those responsible for keeping a database of what was happening when.

Project leaders and teams today possess attitudes that mirror the attributes of their PMO tool: They’re about making each project user comfortable with the tool--  they’re practical people with vision—but vision that can be translated into a spreadsheet, if need be.

They are useful to the organization, collaborative, their decisions are not siloed or self-serving to their particular function. And their new platforms have several built-in macros that run on the back end and create paths for future decision-making. The hallmark of these modern tools (and ours) is to never forget who is using, not using, their database.

Imagine how many people from different walks of life and with different skills had to report in to the Crossrail project. That’s why we develop personas for each potential user in the industries we serve and those with the most need for PMO software that can be used with promptness right out of the box.

3. Measure Twice, Build Railway Once!

The article discussed other best practices used in the Crossrail PMO. They fostered collaboration among multidisciplinary teams by establishing a “single version of the truth.” They also stressed the importance of pre-construction planning and scoping to the current on-time, on-budget success.

Our tools at KeyedIn Projects are all about empowering disparate teams with a single version of the truth we’ve built from solid scoping functionality. Wherever you happen to be in your PM maturity journey, even if you’ve got a mix of adaptive and predictive projects – or even adaptive or predictive moments in your projects -- you can get there from here. For more information, please download our new eBook Big Change-Navigating the Directive and Adaptive PPM Dilemma.