The Olympic Park romped home to defy the pundits. It’s a team thing.

Two years on from the Olympics, we can look back with a warm glow and the sense of pride the event gave us. But to learn lessons, it’s worth looking a little further back.

In 2010 and 2011, we were still reeling from the construction crash of 2008. Some doubted whether the UK construction ­industry was capable of delivering the promised Olympic Park at all, let alone on time and on budget with the environmental and legacy promises fulfilled. The Daily Mail repeated the view that ‘London 2012 is doomed to fail’, while others claimed that ‘over budget and late’ was the norm for UK construction.

But there was the Olympic Park on 27 July 2012: on time, on budget, and delivering what was promised. So what went right?

The answer, clearly, is a lot; but we wanted to know whether contract selection and use was a factor. During qualitative research with those involved in the Olympic project delivery, we found that collaboration was a hallmark of the project. Collaboration was embedded not just in the contracts and dispute resolution processes, but also in ­attitudes and working practice. There was a strong sense of shared purpose and pride.

The Olympic Games was the UK’s most high-profile construction project of recent years. It brought with it intense media scrutiny, and a significant number of ‘Freedom of Information’ requests about all aspects of the project, which needed managing and placed an additional burden on the team. But it also helped engender a collective responsibility, a shared desire to demonstrate excellence.

 

Project structure

From the outside, the company structures behind the delivery of the Olympic Park could look complex. The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) had overall responsibility for the Olympics. It appointed CLM to construct the Olympic Park and its associated infrastructure. CLM was itself a collaborative venture of Mace, Laing O’Rourke and CH2M Hill. In turn, CLM appointed, among others, teams of contractors and architects. However, this arrangement was both clear and successful to project team members. Indeed, many praised the role of CLM and the associated delivery structures. This may be due to collaboration being built in to the ­delivery mechanisms from the outset.

Good planning also played a part. The major sub-projects were timetabled to finish well in advance of the Games’ start, leaving enough time for in-use testing. This collaborative delivery led to real benefits, bringing the project in on time and under budget, with cost savings to budget of over £500m. 

 

Contract use

The ODA appointed CLM on a ­‘heavily ­amended’ NEC3 professional ­services cont­ract, although changes were mostly ­procedural, changing neither the balance of risk nor the emphasis on collaboration. This worked.

At the next stage down, the NEC3 suite of contracts was the preferred standard form, (although some works used JCT contracts). NEC3 contracts were not used ‘off the shelf’, however. The standard form of contract was amended frequently and significantly. Typically, a large number of NEC Z-clauses were added. Those on the client, or CLM, side suggested amendments were necessary for smooth running of administrative processes, covering forms of indemnity, intellectual property rights, freedom of information and consistency of branding. Those appointed by the client, however, feel the amendments were there, in part, to transfer risk away from the client. Collaboration did not overcome all traditional differences.


Dispute procedures

There was a widespread willingness among project team members to prevent disputes happening in the first place, rather than ­resorting to contractual procedures. Where possible, potential disputes were resolved at the time they were encountered, rather than being allowed to become formal. Dispute prevention was not just contractual, but came from a shared sense of purpose and collaboration. Where they did arise, Dispute Resolution Boards, actively engaged in the project from the very start, helped minimise any escalation. Independent Dispute Avoidance Panels for each discipline also helped reduce escalation. 

So we can look back at the delivery of the Olympic Park with satisfaction. It was one of the biggest demonstrations of UK construction excellence in most people’s memory. The collaboration that underlay its success was evidenced in the choice of contracts and dispute resolution procedures; realised in a shared ownership and pride in the project. Now we’re moving to the buildings and venues being successfully ­converted and re-used, contributing to a better east London. 


Full research report available at thenbs.com/ 
Adrian Malleson is head of research, NBS 
Koko Udom is head of contracts and law, NBS

 

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