TfL and The Four Lines Modernisation Programme

by Amy Hatton / 10/3/2018 10:18:57 AM

The Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines are amongst the oldest on the London Underground – some dating back as far as 1863. A £5.4 billion programme is underway to transform the world’s oldest metro into the most modern, boosting the capacity of the network by 33%.

A key driver in the delivery strategy has been a focus on transforming programme controls: a process that demands not only the right technical toolkit, but also a strong leadership commitment to cultural change management. Former Editor of PM Today, Amy Hatton, spoke to Guy Phillips, the programme’s outgoing Head of Programme Controls, to explore the challenges.

London is growing - and fast. The city’s population is set to rise from 8.7 million today to 10.8 million by 2041 and its transport infrastructure is under immense pressure to keep up. The current Mayor has responded with an ambitious development strategy – a major component of which is the upgrade of the four ‘sub-surface’ lines (which were originally built by using cut and cover from the roadway above rather than tunnelling for the Deep Tube lines) to create a high capacity, high performance digital railway.

Some fifteen years ago, the first iteration of this programme was known as the Sub Surface Upgrade Programme and was contracted out as part of London Underground’s Public Private Partnership structure. In 2008, though, responsibility for the shallow line network was reincorporated into London Underground. Subsequently, in 2015, the upgrade was re-branded as the Four Lines Modernisation Programme (4LM). It is a Herculean endeavour spanning 310 km of track, 113 stations and more than £1.5 billion of re-signalling activities – all executed on a live rail network.

This is the scale of what Guy refers to as “arguably one of the most complex signalling upgrades anywhere in the world today. 4LM is differentiated from other London Underground and Transport for London projects in that, rather than operating via one main contractor, we’re managing two main contracts with Bombardier and Thales - but London Underground retains responsibility for both the overall system integration and a variety of enabling works across the signalling infrastructure. The sheer scale of managing that is a huge challenge. It’s not like a single contract project where all the information is centrally visible. It stretches the bounds of complexity.”

Such complexity was originally hard to control, says Guy. “In the early days, we didn’t have a dedicated cost management system. We were using the company SAP finance system and multi-user spreadsheets to try and keep a grip on all the cost and schedule information. Then, in 2013, we welcomed a new Programme Director, who initiated an external baseline review to understand the scale and challenges of the programme.

"That process identified that we needed to establish a more stringent level of controls appropriate for a programme of this scale. We needed to implement a core structure and process that would equip us to produce quick, accurate data and establish a single source of truth – not just to monitor cost versus schedule, but also to give us visibility across our planned contract expenditure across multiple years. This represented a fundamental strategic change to our programme controls approach.”

Two areas were key to the transformation; selecting the right technical toolkit and deploying the change management expertise to successfully onboard it. The first came in the form of enterprise project lifecycle management solution, ARES PRISM. Guy explained that this was selected for “the ability to onboard quickly due to its out-of-the-box setup, the fact that it was already an embedded tool for Crossrail and the change management capability that it offered us.”

Indeed, according to ARES PRISM’s Lateef Daly, Director of Operations (Europe & Middle East), “PRISM has introduced Earned Value project management methodology and best practices to many of the UK’s major programmes – including TfL, HS2, Horizon Nuclear and Crossrail. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we’re playing our part in driving a cultural change in how the UK project management industry is delivering its projects.”

The second crucial area centred on the cultural change management that Lateef refers to. Key to success here, says Guy, was an ethos of committed and engaged leadership. “Our Programme Director was a strong leader who believed passionately in the importance of this process. By being very clear on what he wanted and why, he placed a firm focus on transforming programme controls as a priority. That made it much more straightforward for me to manage the process and achieve collective buy-in amongst the project teams and stakeholders.”

In support of that vision, PwC was contracted in as Programme Controls Transformation Partner. “They provided a lot of fire power to us in terms of revising our procedures and making the changes that we needed to onboard PRISM,” Guy recalls.

“When you implement a new system like this, success is ultimately about how you use the tool as an enabler. PRISM allowed us to re-baseline our scope with more scrutiny than we had ever been able to apply before. We could drill down into our control accounts and work packages and formalise our scope and costs at a very detailed level. We also redefined our programme controls processes, with PwC and ARES’s strategic input.

"These were key enabling activities and they demonstrate from the front line how technology can underpin strategy. The process was, of course, more of a challenge because we remained a programme in delivery. Even as we were undertaking the transformation, we were still operating in a live environment on a Tube network that carries 1.3 million passengers every day.”

Indeed, Guy points out that one of the interesting things about PRISM is the ability to integrate schedule and cost in real time. “I can’t overemphasize the benefits of having schedule and cost linked, so that you know that a change in the first automates the related change in the second. It means that, at any snapshot in time, you have the confidence of knowing you’re working with accurate, consistent live data – and you can therefore make intelligent, informed decisions. These days, everyone involved in 4LM takes that benefit for granted.

"But at the time, it was a significant cultural shift. As with any organisation or programme, we were dealing with some deep-seated ways of working. The new processes challenged those, and it was a journey to achieve that change in mindset. For example, we had to acclimatise people to a new structure governed by spending authority caps (which are absolute), rather than baselines (which are not). It sounds simple, but it took a lot of work to reach a collective understanding of the governance impact of breaching those authority caps.

"Our Programme Director, though, was prepared to challenge the status quo. He was very clear that the purpose of programme controls was to enable leadership to make decisions. It took some time to get that clarity of message, but there’s now widespread recognition that all our major programmes should use PRISM. Today, we use it on 4LM plus one other major modernisation programme. Plus, it’s now being explored for other complex programmes – particularly TfL’s Deep Tube Upgrade Programme, which is upgrading four Deep Tube lines between now and 2037."

4LM is still some years from completion – but even at this stage, Guy says, the programme is “forecast to deliver earlier and at lower cost than we were when we were originally re-authorised in 2015. In that respect we’re headed for success. How much credit you can give programme controls for that is difficult to measure.

"Traditionally, ours tends to be a silent role. It’s only when things go wrong and we’re able to analyse the problem and suggest a solution that people understand why we’re important. It ought to be easy to give a simple explanation of progress and problems – but often there’s massive complexity of information. Even though there’s a vast wealth of data, it can be tricky to break it down and present that data to the stakeholders as a clear, straightforward message. A lot of our job is around that challenge.

So yes, there’s no doubt in my mind that, with the support of the experts at PwC and ARES, we have contributed significantly to the programme’s forecasted success. In particular, the transformation we have implemented gives the Programme Director clear and early visibility of potential problems and these can be addressed before they become catastrophes. The change control that PRISM gives us has allowed tremendous traceability.

"We can easily see cost changes over many years. If there’s a desire to know why, where and how something has happened the information is all there at our fingertips - there’s one definitive answer and it’s available within half an hour. Fundamentally, our role in programme controls is to try to understand where things might go wrong and what issues might drive that - but also to make that understandable for the wider project community, so that they can act on any potential problems.

"Making the cultural shift to PRISM has allowed us to get a much more integrated view. It’s a significant benefit and we sometimes forget that benefit because it has become so inherent in what we do. It’s like having a smartphone. You take it for granted and forget what life was ever like without one!”

Latest Book

Cover for Management of Portfolios