The Manchester Engineering Campus Development (MECD) will provide over 87,000 sq. m. of world class engineering, advanced manufacturing, materials sciences research, teaching and collaboration space to propel the northern engineering powerhouse.

The MECD development is the largest project ever undertaken by the University of Manchester and currently one of the largest university estate investments ever seen in the UK. The size and complexity of the scheme presents a project managers dream. Following an extensive four year briefing and design process, the project is now on site and will top out 21 September 2018.

We asked our project and programme management team about their achievements so far on this remarkable building

What has been your biggest achievement so far on the project?
“Getting into contract and making it happen! The world has changed a lot over the last four years with external factors such as Brexit. We led a 2-stage tender process in order to get the most advantageous and realistic tender package for the project. We were instrumental in the development of the NEC Option A form of contract and the development of the works information to ensure a robust level of detail was incorporated. We thoroughly market tested the works information to provide the University with the greatest certainty on cost.”

What has been the most complex problem to solve?
“Relocations, relocations, relocations. The building work, although large-scale, sounds straightforward in comparison to the intricacies of relocating over 3000 substantial pieces of equipment from around the existing campus into MECD. Complex equipment including robotic laser welders, water jet cutters, electron microscopes and x-ray diffractometers, in addition to over 15,000 smaller pieces, academics and staff will all require relocating following completion of the build.

It was essential that the equipment and decant strategy was developed from day one in conjunction with the overall project strategy, and all varying equipment requirements were incorporated into the design from the outset, along with a degree of flexibility to allow adaptability to new technologies over time.

The equipment decant is being meticulously coordinated around an ongoing programme of world-class research and academic activity. Easy! Our dedicated move project manager has led the coordination of 42 different user groups and an excel spreadsheet of epic proportions and over 200,000 cells with an exceptional level of precision. Once strategies were in place, we led a ‘virtual box’ exercise throughout the design to test the move paths of all pieces of substantial equipment to ensure the proposed installation methodologies were achievable.”

What has been most important element to get right?
The most important element of this project by far has been the people. The significance of capturing, understanding, co-ordinating and delivering the requirements of thousands of students, academics, researchers, estates & facilities functions, environmental & sustainability, the site neighbours and the community members is colossal. It is essentially the only true measure of success in the project, and also one of the most challenging things to get right.

Stakeholder Management was a major work stream from day one. We developed a detailed Stakeholder Plan which identified all parties with an interest, their needs and priorities within, and the level of engagement needed which supported the University’s governance and approvals processes. We then identified 84 different stakeholder groups and produced Engagement Plans for each, detailing the purpose of the engagement, requirements, meeting schedules, input and outputs required at each stage of the project.

It would have been very easy to get bogged down in the organisation of such a large stakeholder group to engage with, however the most important attribute to get the best from all engagement with every individual has been the ‘human’ factor. Each person we consult with has a personal vested interest in the project and its success. We have placed importance on creating and maintaining good relationships and communication throughout, making sure people feel valued and listening more than we talk. This process has required the whole team to buy into the approach. The advanced planning and organisation has enabled the success of the process throughout the project and the benefit has manifested itself in the quality of the works information.

Looking back, what did you do at the outset that has helped the project?
An invaluable part of the project planning process was a very detailed Planning and Programming exercise that was undertaken right at the beginning by our in-house programming specialists and project management team. The overarching aims and objectives were considered and the scheme was interrogated in order to develop a Master Programme that was able to achieve efficiencies and progress from the outset.

The planning and programming ethos was maintained with master plans of work for each of the project stages. Having a plan meant that when issues arose we could proactively deal with them and had the plan to keep the project on track. In order to ensure that the main construction works were able to start as planned, we let an advaned works package in 2016 that not only cleared the site but also managed a complex utilities diversion. This strategy enabled critical path activities to be progressed prior to full contract award it also mitigated the extensive inflation impact and prevented a delay on the overall programme as it enabled a progressive design freeze approach allowing fixity of the structural design whilst the internal layouts were finalised.

What has been the biggest lesson learnt?
We have actively reviewed the project performance and captured lessons learnt from the earlier project stages to improve our processes and support the project delivery. One of our positive lessons learnt is being able to adapt our project strategy in response to any changes or new initiatives, being agile and choosing the right approach, This has focused on continuous improvement, scope flexibility and ensuring the whole team input to deliver the best quality for the project. In order to support timely decision making and maintain the project governance this has included carefully planning the work stage transition, approvals and any comments.