Costain's A19 team drives programme accountability with Aphex

“They’re more engaged with the plan and it gives them a sense of empowerment, they’re more accountable for making it successful.”
Neil Kendrew, Planning Manager
Project type
Neil Kendrew
Planning Manager at Costain
Victoria Yates
Business Improvement at Costain

If you’ve sat through hours of traffic due to congestion, you’ll undoubtedly understand the real need for junction improvements to reduce journey times, lower the risk of accidents, reduce carbon emissions and improve the economic growth in the local areas.

If you’re one of the 80,000 vehicles that travel through Testo’s junction - located between Sunderland and Newcastle on the A19 each day (it's unlikely, we know…) you will know exactly why this project is very much needed. The £125 million junction improvement scheme comprises construction of a new flyover at Testo’s roundabout, realignment of slip roads and construction of new link roads.

“One of the most difficult things as a planner, is that people think you do all the planning. It's unfortunately just not the case. The engineers and delivery teams hold all the detailed knowledge about how to build the job and we are here to help bring those plans together to manage a robust planning process across the project” says Neil Kendrew, the Planning Manager on A19 Testo’s. “One of the first things the team did was set up a great collaborative meeting room to host their short-term planning process, fully equipped with boards, magnets and sometimes snacks.”

However, Neil really wanted to push the engineers to plan beyond tomorrow and start planning a little further ahead. “The further into the future you go, the harder it is for everyone to plan well, but actually that’s where it becomes really important” explains Neil, as often certain things will need to be in place in order to perform a particular task in a couple of weeks time. The team needed a solution that would get buy-in from the engineers to help them plan their own works.

Creating planners from engineers

“I’d always had this intention of spending more time with each of the engineers and teaching them a little bit about planning, but just never got the time to do it” says Neil, as he explains that he ultimately wanted the team to understand the importance of planning ahead.

However, after meeting Aphex’s CEO - Carlos Carvalho - at an event, Neil said he “saw an opportunity to make life easier”. Since implementing Aphex, he hasn’t had to put that time aside, as the collaborative planning environment has given the engineers planning responsibility and helped them understand the consequences of what happens when things aren’t carried out as they should be. Instead of having to teach the team himself, Aphex has successfully helped teach the team how to become “mini-planners”.

Although Neil was keen to implement Aphex, the choice was never going to be made solo. Neil engaged the team and much to his relief, Planner got a rave-review and complete buy-in from the team. “They’re more engaged with the plan and it gives them a sense of empowerment, they’re more accountable for making it successful”

Removing wasteful tasks

Aphex gives the team “the space and the time for important conversations that really drive the level of engagement with the programme and the plan” according to Victoria Yates, Business Improvement for A19 Testo’s. A big part of A19 Testo’s success is the engagement with the plan that Aphex is driving, however, one of the main benefits that Victoria saw was how the removal of manual processes enabled the team to focus on what’s important.

“To me, one of the massive benefits of Aphex is that it automatically gives you the success rate, with no administration or human input required” says Victoria. Previously teams have had to use complex spreadsheets to mirror magnet board plans and track what was committed to, what was actually achieved and any reasons for not meeting the target. It requires someone to have expert knowledge of the spreadsheet and be present at all of the collaborative meetings in order to keep it up to date, as well as it just taking a lot of time that could be spent on more enjoyable work.

With Aphex, all these key parts of a good production control system are collected by using the tool itself, so it saves a lot of time duplicating information and removes administrative burden.

Inspired by the Analyse dashboard, the team were curious to do more reflection on what went well over the last week, and what could be done better, introducing problem solving tools like root cause analysis to get to the bottom of any blockers. “Using Aphex has been a springboard for more creative thinking, which the team do at the end of every weekly collaborative planning meeting. It’s been really great to see the team engage with the plan, and you can tell they value this more creative time because now it happens whether I’m there or not” says Victoria.

“Aphex just automatically calculates the Planned Percent Complete metric just by using the tool and it happens whether or not the planner is in attendance. It’s a double win”.

Victoria Yates
Business Improvement

“It’s great to have something like Aphex which automatically tells us where we’ve lost time and how successful we’ve been”.

Neil Kendrew
Planning Manager

Building a dynamic working environment

Not needing the planner in the room (or rather, not needing anyone in the room!) is another big benefit for the team. “We’ve got a more dynamic way of working, some people might be sat in the collaborative meeting room, whereas others are sat at home and are present on Teams but still contribute using Aphex on their computer” says Victoria, who feels that the dynamic ethic is really liberating for the team. Collaborative planning can be done anywhere.

This dynamic working environment is particularly beneficial to the team, after Covid-19 struck and teams across the UK (and the world!) had to adapt to new ways of working. However, for the A19 Testo’s team, things just simply carried on as normal. “We were able to just carry on as normal and we wouldn’t have been able to do that without Aphex. That was a huge bonus to the scheme and one of the reasons we pretty much managed to carry on, unaffected by Covid-19 in the early days” says Victoria. It’s also meant that the team can continue to work where they feel safest, which has been incredibly important for the team’s well-being.

How does the A19 team deploy Aphex Internally?

The team take a bottom up approach to building the plan: Neil gives the team up-coming milestones and the engineers work backwards from there, planning their work in detail.  

Their streamlined short-term planning process goes something like this:

  • engineers and subcontractors get together to challenge their plans in Aphex on a Wednesday afternoon, understanding interfaces and resources
  • The agents and senior engineers present this plan to the management team on a Thursday afternoon. This meeting utilises Aphex’s Analyse Dashboard, with a key focus on the success rate, trends and subcontractor performance. The Analyse Dashboard helps to really “drive the conversation to make us improve” says Neil.
  • After problems have been solved or issues tackled, a final update to activities in Aphex brings the plan up to date with commitments
  • The last step in the cycle is for Neil to simply press print on a Friday afternoon and distribute a three-week plan to the team.

This process is repeated every single week, and what’s great about this for Neil is that “it ties everything together and records everything in one place, so we can appreciate what went well and what didn’t and pass that information on to others”.

Costain A19 Project Early Budget Aphex