Phil is the interim Head of Efficiency and Value Management. His role requires a creative approach to management and for the company’s community to expand.
Ahead of the Chief Innovation Officer Summit in London, we sat down with him.
What do you see as the key challenge that you are addressing?
My biggest challenge is defining innovation and deciding what it means in the context of the benefits that HS2 will deliver. We have an immensely complex task establishing an organisation and building a programme which will deliver the biggest civil engineering project in Europe. The technical implications of being innovative are well understood, but this does not lessen the risks that need to be managed to deliver a safe railway, which meets the technical criteria, to time and to budget. The benefits that we aspire to deliver, within these constraints and in a volatile and, at times hostile, political background perhaps offer the most interesting challenge to innovation.
What can we do differently to gain the most value for the project?
What areas can and must we challenge ourselves in to be as creative as we can? How do we net all of our threats when embarking on innovation; which risk are worth taking? For example, in safety, we must take no chances during construction and operations but if innovation can provide a convincing alternative which creates or protects more value then we need to have a conversation. In construction, most people see innovation as new concrete recipes or modular construction methods (same but different), so how do we get people to challenge in the right areas so we can go faster, more cheaply, safely and exceed the benefits we are going to deliver.
Would you describe your organisation as having an ‘innovative culture’? If so, why?
HS2 is a start-up, probably less mature than many would expect. We are majority staffed by contractors and interims, which precludes the ability to have any identity, much less a corporate culture. However, we have people who have a passion for the business case and leaders who know that we will succeed. As a result I would say that our ideas base is as broad and hierarchy flat as I have ever seen and we see ‘innovation’ as core to our success. I am not sure we really know what ‘innovative’ means yet but it manifests itself in a creative climate, which responds positively to ideas, and says ‘Yes, and…’ and sees leadership as the ability to unlock value-add in people.
Does a specific ‘innovation’ role need to have a position in the boardroom, such as a Chief Innovation Officer?
In a word, no. However, the facets of innovation that affect the project should be represented, and the Board need to know how Value is being created and protected. In our case, Innovation is ‘managed’ by our Technical team, and this is to align refinements in engineering and scope with the tolerances needed to run a high-speed railway safely. However, value-based decisions are a Sponsor role, and this includes understanding scope and creating value.