Client interview - Sydney Metro Northwest

Fast-track procurement, effective data management and embedding the right culture are key to success on Australia's largest infrastructure project

It’s all systems go on Sydney Metro Northwest. Four years into the AUS$8.3bn, eight-year programme, Australia’s largest live infrastructure project is ahead of schedule and AUS$300m under budget.

Fast-track procurement

“Using fast-tracked procurement has been an important part of our strategy for getting an early start,” says Stuart Suthern-Brunt, Deputy Project Director, Operations Trains and Systems. “We’ve divided up the scope of the work into packages so that contractors could jump on the programme quickly.”

The effects of this strategy are already being felt: tunnelling started four months early. And now four Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) – the most to be used simultaneously on a transport project in Australia – are powering through the ground at a rate of roughly 35m per day. Construction of the concrete boxes for the stations is also advancing fast.

Meanwhile, the on-site manufacturing plant which is producing the concrete tunnel ring segments – a critical element of tunnelling progress – is already breaking records, producing up to 380 segments a day and an average of 1,700 segments a week.

Document and data management

These early wins are being underpinned by collection of detailed data, which is essential for tracking and monitoring the programme. “Data underpins all of our activities. We’re measuring everything from the direction of travel of the TBMs, to the rate of concrete cure, to manufacturing rates – in particular making sure that the 100,000 concrete ring segments for the tunnels are delivered on time,” Stuart says. “We’re analysing data to ensure that the programme is rock solid, and that each phase will be ready for completion and handover on schedule.”

But he acknowledges that data is only effective when it is fully standardised. “Data is king. We’ve been agreeing naming conventions and categories from the outset. We’re setting things up to ensure that there is plenty of early warning and no surprises further down the line.” Getting the data right is just one aspect of successful delivery. It must be backed by close collaboration and working as an integrated team. “We’re using long-term partnering to achieve consistent outcomes. We’re working transparently and encouraging the sharing of information,” Stuart says.

The right culture

Encouraging teams to break out of silos and interact with other disciplines can be a challenge on traditional civils projects. Here, an integrated project office was set up and uses the physical design of its headquarters to facilitate integrated working. Gone are the heavy desktop computers, personally assigned desks and yards of drawing racks: instead employees move their laptops to the part of the building that most suits their immediate needs.

“Our project office was a blank canvas, which was a fantastic opportunity to create an agile working space,” says Stuart Suthern-Brunt, Deputy Project Director, Operations Trains and Systems. “The environment really encourages teamworking.” The building has been divided into three main zones, each with its own ambience. People assemble and mingle in the lively ‘town hall’ for large meetings and discussions. Alternatively, they can choose the ‘village’ zone where disciplines cluster together. “This is where you might review programmes or coordination matters,” says Stuart.

For focused work, employees head to the ‘mountains’, a calmer area with booths. Here you might find people wearing headphones at sitting or standing desks. “It’s the place where people write reports away from noise and distraction,” says Stuart. “Culturally, this layout has made a huge difference. People are using the zones really well. It has given a new energy to the workspace.”