Innovative Thinker | Balfour Beatty’s Steve Tarr advocates early supply chain involvement for major projects success

Effectively embedded collaboration results in better design decisions says Balfour Beatty's Steve Tarr.

Balfour Beatty transport, energy
and power major projects chief
executive Steve Tarr

Collaboration is a much debated topic in many areas of industry, but in the engineering and construction sector where stakeholders can have conflicting priorities, success can be elusive.

Balfour Beatty transport, energy and power major projects chief executive Steve Tarr believes collaboration is not only attainable but critical.

It is particularly important in an environment where cost control, sustainability and using skilled resources efficiently are at a premium.

He believes collaborative initiatives can be advantageous for participating organisations in terms of shared resources, as well as clients who benefit from earlier engagement with a coordinated team and standardised working practices.

He adds that harnessing and pooling organisations’ experience “ensures that we’re effectively designing for productivity rather than trying to change design downstream”.

He emphasises the importance of this approach for design for manufacture and assembly where, by optimising design early in the programme, structures and their components can be manufactured offsite and assembled quickly, safely and cost effectively.

Apart from improving productivity, collaboration can help to reduce a project’s carbon footprint. Tarr gives the example of Balfour Beatty’s recent work on £1.2bn Roads North of the Thames works package for the Lower Thames Crossing (LTC).

The real value of collaboration comes from a combination of construction expertise and designer expertise

Collaboration helped the team minimise the use of carbon intensive materials such as steel and cement and analyse design solutions such as standardised components.

The driving force on the LTC – as well as projects including High Speed 2 and National Grid’s Hinkley Connection – is Balfour Beatty’s strategic design partnership (SDP). Founded in 2017, the SDP engaged Atkins, Mott MacDonald and WSP as “engineers of choice” to bring their specific expertise to the team.

Jacobs joined the partnership in May this year, taking the place of WSP.

While Balfour Beatty had worked with all these firms previously, the partnership introduced standard terms and conditions for partner firms and regular partnership meetings to solve problems and improve operations.

Tarr notes that implementing a collaborative framework can entail a complex overhaul.

“Whenever you’re trying to embark on cultural change, it isn’t a quick fix. We’re six years into this and we’re all continuing to learn,” he adds.

“What we do not want is a cosy little shop or a club. That is not what this is about.

“It is about professional collaboration. Where you’ve got firms with a particular expertise coming together and avoiding duplication by bringing a specific capability, that’s where collaboration can work really well.” 

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  1. Nothing new here.
    Most construction professionals have always realised that collaboration, rather than confrontation, is the key to successful completion of major projects.
    The ethos needs to be embraced by all, including the Client, and there must be trust, honesty, understanding and mutual respect at both corporate and individual level throughout the supply chain.

  2. Steve Tarr in his position is out of the day to day interfacing of Client and Contractor we need comments from further down the line.

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