MVP or... MVP…

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Let me explain.

Like many acronyms, MVP has multiple meanings. In the UK infrastructure sectors it has been used to refer to a Minimum Viable Product. That in itself is a very contentious conversation to have with multiple perspectives on what an MVP is and means depending whether you are a funder, a client, a contractor, an asset owner or an asset user.

Whilst I’m not a massive American sports fan (they seem to specialise in taking a short game and making it last interminable hours in order to sell hot dogs and insipid beer..!)*, I do believe there is something in their use of MVP to mean Most Valuable Player.

*note on self-awareness… hot dogs and insipid beer aside, I recognise that as a Cricket Fan, I am not perhaps in a position to criticise here… but hey, this is a blog.

In recent years the debate has raged (still rages) on the cost vs value equation. We have seen collateral by the yard (sorry, by the metre) oozing from the pores of anybody in the sector worth its salt whether the Construction Playbook, the Value toolkit and many others.

In budget and cash-profile-constrained times, especially in the public-funded realms, MVP (minimum viable) has been seen by many as a salvation route to keeping projects going. But are we really driving best value and outcomes?

I was recently at a Major Projects Association event hosted by our friends and colleagues at PA Consulting on the topic of Sponsorship of major projects and the MVP debate was rife. Whilst many argue that MVP is the only way to get projects over the line and into delivery these days, others would argue we are setting ourselves up for a vast herd of future white elephants.

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At the annual Transport for the North Conference in Liverpool in February this year, Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham was critical of a MVP Solution for the TransPennine route to Liverpool that would result in Liverpool Lime Street Station being closed to traffic for 18 months. Rightly so, he said in what reality is it sensible for the major rail hub into a major city to be closed for that time... is that viable?

There is no doubt that understanding the value equation is one of the most complex things we need to do to understand our asset programmes. We now need to factor in dimensions that were never “above the line” generations ago such as sustainability, biodiversity, social value, diversity and inclusion. Don’t get me wrong, these are absolutely fundamental to delivering good and great outcomes for now and future generations, but they make the job of funders, sponsors and clients even harder in setting requirements and outcomes and ever more confusing for designers and contractors and the wider supply chain in working out how to meet often paradoxical and competing requirements.

So, what would a MOST VALUABLE PLAYER look like here? If you think back to the source, to sports, the MVP is quite often not the headline act, the social media star, the highest scorer. The MVP is often the glue that holds the team together, the enabler, the connector, the... dare I say it... influencer.

How do we get to a position where all stakeholders vote for the Most Valuable Player in the online poll before the game finishes?

In infrastructure terms an MVP might be the solution where we build nothing at all…

Or where we actually spend a little bit more (and consider the use of separate non-public funding to do so) in order to achieve exponentially better outcomes.

Or where we spend a significant amount less to get slightly worse, but still fundamentally acceptable, outcomes (I recall the story told by one of the speakers at the PA/MPA event about the cost of journey time decreases on a rail project – the cost/benefit curve became exponential (extra billions) yet it was fundamentally difficult to descale the requirement by... 2 minutes.)

Or where we focus on non-infra outcomes such as biodiversity and social value over the scale and longevity of the asset. Less gold-plating in the design stages, less ego in the architecture, more value in the community..?

How do we get to a position where all stakeholders vote for the Most Valuable Player in the online poll before the game finishes?

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As you’d expect me to say, part of the answer lies in early and Professional Collaboration. Here, I do NOT mean all working together and being nice, I mean the spiky, uncomfortable, challenging way of working that unseats and unpacks all the difficult issues early on. Engages all the lifecycle players from the start (INCLUDING Closeout and decommissioning!).

But Professional Collaboration needs the right type of leaders… Accountable... definitely... robust decision-makers, absolutely... but also humble and vulnerable, learning leaders, able to engage the value if diverse thinking and to create true environments of psychological safety.

Simply put, you can’t think of your lifecycle of Professional Collaboration too early in a potential project. And when you do have that thought, do reach out to organisations like us. We live and breathe this; we have the scars and medals from our own experiences to bring to bear.

We can challenge and support you on your journey. You know where to find us, let's have a chat, and together we can work out who (what) the Most Valuable Player is.

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