Delivery partner principles: a defining moment for major programmes

In 2022, when the delivery partner model was beginning to gain traction as the preferred approach for major programme delivery, I wrote an article explaining why this was a smart move for the industry.

Awareness, understanding and uptake has soared in the time since and we’re seeing clients around the globe benefitting from this integrated approach. Perhaps most promising is that the model, traditionally viewed as a solution for large and complex infrastructure programmes, is increasingly finding its way into the property space, with clients around the world looking to a delivery partner setup to build hospitals, prisons and schools.

But while an increase in uptake is positive, the industry is still struggling to properly nail down a definition for what a delivery partner is. Different terms are used interchangeably and often, clients are asking for delivery partners but actually describing a more typical integrated project or programme management role.

If that’s what’s needed – and it often is – that’s fine, but a conflation of terms risks hindering the success of the delivery partner as a concept. So how can we clarify both the service it offers and value it adds?

It’s time to define

In order to ensure consistency across both geographies and sectors, clarity is key.

Put simply, the delivery partner model provides an end-to-end capability across all elements of a project or programme lifecycle – including but not limited to PMO, cost consultancy, design management, procurement advice, stakeholder management and sustainability guidance. It combines the principles of programme management during a pre-construction phase and construction oversight during the delivery phase, to provide consistency, value for money, transparency and single point of responsibility.

Smart procurement is central, with the chosen route in any given scenario based on an assessment of a range of critical factors unique to the situation. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, with contracts split in a way that best suits the project or programme. Once procurement is finalised, the delivery partner manages the contracts between the client and suppliers, dealing with design, co-ordination, interface and technical issues, as well as providing a reporting function that advises on progress, cost and change. At every step, the delivery partner works hand-in-hand with the contractors to align goals and support the client’s ambitions.

Underpinning this is a commitment to staying agile and constantly evolving. This drives adaptability and innovation, keeping the delivery partner model at the forefront of the industry. 

‘Skin in the game’

Of course, there are other approaches that provide aspects of the above, but nothing ties together everything with the same degree of focus and coordination as the delivery partner model. If I delve into the detail of what truly differentiates this approach from others, it’s that the delivery partner has ‘skin in the game’. This comes to the fore in the construction oversight aspect of the model. Indeed, in Mace’s case, this could even be as the ‘contractor of last resort’, such is our construction heritage.

Often, project and programme management firms, irrespective of whether they’re integrated, are not intrinsically linked to the outcomes on site. There’s a responsibility to oversee and push on cost, quality and time, but there isn’t an inherent accountability.   

Delivery partners, on the other hand – through oversight of the physical construction – are intrinsically tied to the site works. This, combined with smart contracting and appropriate incentivisation measures, instils a greater sense of accountability and allows for performance to be driven by ‘pain gain’ mechanisms that are spread across the entire supply chain – including the delivery partner – and aligned to shared objectives, KPIs and commitments. It means success is shared, as is failure.

From past successes like Birmingham New Street Station and the Lima 2019 Games, to live commissions, such as Metrolinx in Canada, Qiddiya in Saudi Arabia and Manchester Airport in the UK, at Mace we’ve seen the positive effects of this approach many times over.

In all these cases, success hinges on unifying the client, Mace and the supply chain through a clear set of objectives, aligned to incentives. This encourages all parties to act transparently and share accountability, emphasising that the opportunity to effect outcomes that are best for the programme is available and beneficial to all.

Keeping the client at the centre

While a delivery partner does take on more accountability, it never diminishes the importance of the client across the project or programme lifecycle. One of the core benefits of the approach is that the delivery partner enables the client to think more strategically and spend more time focusing on the things like corporate governance, financial planning and external marketing; just some of the important functions that can get swallowed up by the day-to-day doing. The procurement approach I mentioned earlier is a great example of this, with the number of contractor interfaces reduced, meaning less management time and effort needed on the client side.  

So, although a delivery partner will take on a larger role than seen in other models, the approach hinges on a truly collaborative culture. Building a one-team mentality is an essential early step in the process, as our President for the Americas, Priya Jain, recently explained.

Making it work

Mace has proudly pioneered the delivery partner approach since forming part of the very first one for London 2012 venues, and we’ve not stopped promoting it as the best way to deliver complex programmes since. Through definition and experience we know how to make it work and I’m excited that, as more and more clients around the world come to understand the model, new sectors and geographies across the world will not only be able to reap the benefits of the approach but also play their part in the continued evolution of the built environment.