9 out of 10 mega projects run over budget. And for Infrastructure, innovation has ceased to be an option —it's a must-have to deliver on time and within budget. However, for the traditionally risk-averse industry, leaping blindly into innovation is the opposite of natural.
Here’s how innovation teams we work with support innovation adoption with risk management.
Challenges in innovation adoption
This sector faces an unprecedented call to evolve. Across most infrastructure organisations, Heads of Innovation are being tasked with exploring and updating traditional methods to meet the growing demands of sustainability and productivity.
However, this mission has its share of obstacles. While some innovation teams spearhead efforts to enhance efficiency and sustainability, others barely tip-toe towards it. For a risk-averse industry, this friction is not surprising.
How to balance the demand for rapid innovation with the associated risk in infrastructure
To make new technology implementation successful, planning is essential. In infrastructure work, it's good to begin with small proof-of-concept projects. This reduces risk and helps to build confidence and support in the technology. By using technology in smaller steps, teams can create momentum, gradually growing value. This enables Heads of innovation to more easily quantify the return on investment to decide on its success. The proof of concept can help to set up what further any rollout into other projects and teams could look like.
“Projects fail badly because they do big bang delivery, they build the thing until it is 100% done and deliver it right at the very end ” — Henrik Kenberg
Projects often fail when they follow a ‘big bang’ delivery approach, completing everything to 100% before user delivery, risking a mismatch with user needs and an investment sink. Henrik Kenberg likens this to building a car: a mere wheel doesn't convey its value, but delivering the fully assembled car does. The issue arises from the absence of user feedback during development, potentially leading to a disconnect between the result and user requirements.
This mismatch in time, cost and expectations happens more often than one might expect. “Over budget, over time, under benefits, over and over again,” is what Dr. Flyvbjerg calls the Iron Law of Megaprojects. The data analysed more than 16,000 projects from 20+ different fields, in 136 countries and found that only 8.5% of projects hit the mark on both cost and time. And a tiny 0.5% nailed cost, time, and benefits. Put another way, 91.5% of projects go over budget, over schedule, or both. And 99.5% of projects go over budget, over schedule, under benefits, or some combination of these."
To overcome this, consider thinking big but delivering in small, functional increments – an agile approach. In the car analogy, focus on the core objective: moving from point A to B. Providing incremental value in stages, like a skateboard, scooter, and bike before the final car, lets users better understand their needs and offer feedback. This ensures the end product aligns with their expectations.
Applying this concept to technology implementation, starting with small projects before a company-wide rollout is less risky. Demonstrating iterative and incremental benefits helps teams grasp the technology's value.
3 tips for your project rollout of new technologies
1. Evolution, not revolution
Start small. Rather than replacing existing technologies, find the gap where innovation can complement your existing processes and ecosystem. It's about making manageable, tangible progress, one step at a time. For example, rather than replacing existing technologies, find technologies and processes that fit with your current ecosystem.
Teams are using Sensat to add to their software ecosystem to get use of the information they already have—maximising the value of their data.
2. Building trust with innovation through Pilot Programs
Consider initiating pilot programs or small-scale trials for emerging technologies or novel processes to enhance innovation and minimise risks. These controlled environments allow for assessing feasibility, performance, and associated risks before committing to full-scale implementation. Such initiatives help identify potential challenges and vulnerabilities early on and foster a culture of collaboration and engagement among team members who can contribute valuable feedback to refine the innovation. Successful pilot programs can serve as persuasive cases for broader adoption within the organisation, making it a strategic approach to innovation management that promotes continuous improvement and informed decision-making. Think agile rollouts as opposed to ‘big bang’ delivery.
3. Implementing effective change management
The successful implementation of innovation hinges on effective change management. Matt Higham, Chief Technology Officer at PA Consulting, emphasises the need for a fundamental cultural shift. "The mindset and approach towards everything from procurement to risk need to evolve," he notes. This means democratising risk while also privatising value—a challenging but necessary balance.
"Implementing new technology is 90% change management. It's about preparing and helping the organisation to embrace change." — Anders Killander, Founder of SwedeConsulltants AB.
** Bonus: Continuous Learning and Training
Continuous learning and training are crucial in today's fast-paced technological landscape. The widespread rollout of new software presents an opportunity for teams to fully comprehend the importance of these innovations right from the start, ensuring their enthusiastic participation.
A recent survey conducted by Sensat among civil infrastructure professionals revealed that 100% of respondents had adopted new technology in the past year, but a concerning 1 in 5 lacked a clear understanding of why it was necessary for their projects.
To bridge this knowledge gap, it is essential to invest in comprehensive training and development programs for your team, focused on enhancing their understanding and proficiency in using the latest trial technology or software. This investment ensures that everyone is on board and can maximise the benefits of these valuable tools.
Embracing Innovation as the Way Forward
Though the path to innovation in civil infrastructure may be challenging, it's a journey that cannot be avoided. For industry leaders, the adoption of innovative technologies is not just about keeping pace with the times; it’s about shaping a more efficient, sustainable future.
As we move forward, the industry needs to build more trust with the latest market innovations, and rightly so this must be earned. Innovation in civil infrastructure is the key to unlocking the sector's full potential in a world that increasingly demands smarter, more sustainable infrastructure solutions.
Download 'The Guide to Productivity and Sustainability' which covers the importance of technology adoption and the role of innovation champions within infrastructure.