Strategic Leadership Group - Dr Alistair Hitchcock

16 Jun 21
Strategic Leadership Group - Dr Alistair Hitchcock

What do you hope to achieve by being part of GIRI’s Strategic Leadership Group?

I want to elevate the message of GIRI. Within HS2 my intention is to lift up the key message of zero error in a major client organisation, while also using the influence that HS2 has, to highlight GIRI’s work more widely. 

While the importance of getting it right is acknowledged and understood by quality professionals, the message needs to land at executive level where strategic decisions are made. With support at this level on a major programme of works such as HS2, I believe we can help drive productivity improvement in the construction sector. 

How does your current role align with GIRI's objectives?

I’m responsible for engineering across phase two of the project, which is a really broad-ranging role, and as part of that I’m involved in the HS2 productivity drive. This is a strategic activity that has been set by our CEO Mark Thurston; and a zero error programme has been identified as one of the activities that helps address this challenge. What GIRI has done to date – the research, the thinking and the next steps – is a ready-made part of the answer that we are looking for. 

I was previously a member of the ICE’s best practice panel with Ed and Emer, so we were there at the very start of the GIRI project work within the ICE. So it is great to be back, actively involved with GIRI.

What do you see as the top priority for the SLG?

As a strategic leadership group, the key is to set the direction for the coming years; to ensure that there is consensus about the direction of travel, that we have set out what we want to achieve, and that the team can move towards. 

Alongside that is the need to continue raising GIRI’s profile, which starts with being absolutely clear about what the message is, and getting it out into the industry. 

Within HS2 we recognise the value of some kind of demonstrator type of project, showing how the GIRI strategy could work and how it might be applied on a major programme. Being able to demonstrate the ‘value add’ is crucial. It’s no coincidence that we have two major infrastructure clients involved – if we can use those projects as the catalysts, that would make sense. Do it well, communicate it, and demonstrate value; that’s the top priority. 

Lots of people are talking about productivity as the next big challenge, and no matter what size of project you are working on, a zero error programme has got to be part of achieving that. 

What do you see as the biggest barrier to reducing error on a meaningful scale in the construction industry?

Scaleability itself is the biggest barrier. You can use it on bespoke projects, and you will always see examples of some really good things happening in isolation. But it can be very difficult, sometimes almost impossible, to scale that across an industry-wide sector to deliver the benefits that everyone is striving for. 

The key is all about meaningful action and promotion at all levels. If it only happens at grassroots on sites or projects, it is unlikely to get the recognition that someone is making a positive change. Equally if it only sits at chief executive level it may never filter down. We need a joined up approach – those at the top say yes, we’ve bought into this, this is what we want to do, this is the strategy, this is how we are going to implement it, and here is some meaningful guidance and actions for those implementing it at whatever level it applies to – from design office to operatives on site. 

How do you think the industry's priorities have changed in the last 12 months and what impact has this had on error reduction?

My feeling is that the attention that people might pay to initiatives such as error reduction has been taken over by having to address the critical issues that the Covid pandemic has generated. This is totally understandable and keeping the construction industry going through this tough period has rightly taken precedence. With the return to the office in what is likely to be a hybrid fashion, and to a more substantial presence on site, the key driver is likely to be making up for lost time and the worry is that this might stifle progress in areas such as error reduction. In some senses though, this is the ideal opportunity to focus on the great work of GIRI and error reduction.  

What first step/easy win would you suggest to someone just starting on their journey towards zero error?

The easy win is really understanding what has already been done – some of the GIRI research is fantastic, there is really clear messaging about the scale of the issue, and some really effective steps to address it within the GIRI framework. 

I would suggest everyone who works in and around the construction sector goes onto the GIRI website and spends some time reading up on what is there.

I know it sounds obvious but reducing errors in construction has such a wide impact – looking at the bigger picture, the benefits to cost and carbon reduction alone are massive. If you can avoid mistakes and errors, you immediately reduce material wastage, and you save time and the cost of repeating work. Given the call to arms on net-zero carbon, the work of GIRI and error reduction is therefore massively timely.


About Dr Alistair Hitchcock

Alistair is Head of Engineering for phase two of HS2. He has more than 20 years’ experience in design consultancy with a technical background in geotechnical engineering and tunnelling. He has an engineering doctorate (EngD) in innovative underground construction, and has worked in senior design management positions on major programmes including Crossrail, Melbourne Metro and London Underground station upgrades. Since 2012 he has led the development of the hybrid Bill design for three sections of HS2, totalling 190km of route length. 

In his current role at HS2 he has ultimate responsibility for the development and assurance of all engineering activities covering phases 2a and 2b. He is a chartered civil engineer and a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers.


Meet the other Strategic Leadership Group members

Paul Lowe, Partner, Kennedys

Emer Murnaghan OBE, Innovation Director Civil Engineering, Graham

Mark Hansford, Director of Engineering Knowledge, Institution of Civil Engineers

Ed McCann, Director, Expedition Engineering, and ICE Vice President

Back Back