I’ve worked as a civil engineer in highways for the last 25 years and I specialise in continuous improvement through the Lean Six Sigma approach. I currently manage the National Highways Scheme Delivery Framework (SDF) in the South Super Region as well as supporting continuous improvement for change management across WSP’s infrastructure business.
Using the voice of the customer
Engineers love solutions, but it’s tempting for us to leap too quickly to a solution without considering different perspectives. When we train our teams to use the voice of the customer tool, we get them to think deeply about everyone who might be involved or affected by a project before devising a solution.
For something like a bridge widening scheme, this could include not only drivers but local businesses, operators of nearby sports facilities, schools and residents. It’s amazing how many people works can affect. Thinking about all these people and their needs enables our engineers to target delivery and work with their clients – whether that’s National Highways, a local authority or a housing developer – to understand and mitigate the potential impact.
Complementing the voice of the customer is something we call a quad of aims. This uses key questions as a constant reminder of the purpose, customers, deliverables and measures of success for a project – preventing scope creep. It includes the crucial question, “How do we know when we’re finished?” which enables us to pinpoint what the client will get for their money. Any ideas for further improvements can be reviewed against this and budgeted.
Embedding continuous improvement
Thinking hard about different customers and their needs is part of the wider effort we make to support and empower our people to find and implement better ways of working. Anyone in our transport and infrastructure business can contribute ideas to our I3B database and we work with the business leaders to decide how best to take them forward using continuous improvement methodologies and recognised Lean development.
Our goal is to implement a culture change for continuous improvement, just as the industry has done for health and safety. When I did my undergraduate sandwich year in 1986, I worked on the last contract for the construction of the M25. In those days, it seemed, the only people wearing hard hats were the civil engineers when the press team were there or the people putting up wooden formwork – and that was because they used the hats to carry their nails. A site in the UK today looks very different, with safety boots, high-vis clothing, goggles and hard hats in abundance.