Learning Track

Crossrail's Lessons Learned Framework Will Help Keep Other Megaprojects On Track







THE megaproject to expand and upgrade the iconic underground rail system in and around London, England will deliver benefits for generations of commuters when it's completed next year. With 42 kilometers (26.1 miles) of new rail tunnels and 10 new stations, the £14.8 billion Crossrail program is the largest engineering and infrastructure initiative in Europe. It will increase the rail system's capacity in Central London by 10 percent and carry an estimated 200 million passengers per year.

But the U.K. Parliament insisted that the marathon makeover also had to generate a long-term benefit to help ensure future taxpayer-funded initiatives would avoid costly mistakes. So a specialized team captured and curated lessons learned to give tomorrow's infrastructure project teams a vast template for efficiencies and help them navigate the most complex challenges. Launched in 2014, the Crossrail Learning Legacy initiative generated and shared about 650 documents that cap decades of planning and nearly 10 years of construction. All lessons—from how to keep an eagle eye on contractors to how to limit environmental impact—are shared via the Learning Legacy website.

“Learning Legacy pushes out our lessons learned to the rest of the world,” says Simon Bennett, head of Learning Legacy, Crossrail Ltd., London, England.


2014: The House of Commons recommends that Crossrail share the lessons it learns with the larger infrastructure industry.

2015: Crossrail completes the themes and formats for the Learning Legacy content and begins gathering documents.

2016: Learning Legacy starts to publish content.

2017: Learning Legacy passes a milestone: 500 documents published.

2018: As Crossrail begins operations, Learning Legacy publishes its final content—bringing the total to about 650 documents.

The comprehensive and ambitious endeavor required the team to build a precise and collaborative framework that helped synthesize the insights for a global audience. Beyond creating a robust website to publish the lessons learned, the team had to develop a strategy for identifying the most valuable types of content and most effective and accurate ways to generate it.


Establishing scope wasn't easy. With so many day-to-day activities and tasks, it would have been impossible—and overkill—for Learning Legacy to document every lesson from every project manager's lessons learned process on every Crossrail project. “Those lessons tend to be so very detailed and in many cases applicable only to that particular project or situation, and they tend to be written in a way that would not translate to the outside world,” Mr. Bennett says.

It was clear that a more customized approach was necessary to ensure the lessons would be applicable for future project teams. To build a consensus and make sure the lessons would deliver long-term benefits, the Learning Legacy team sought feedback from a committee of representatives from relevant organizations to find out what they and their members would want to learn. Those organizations included the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. The feedback gathering was led by Karen Elson, who also helmed a lessons-learned website for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Based on the feedback from the committee and a review of the 2012 Olympics’ lessons-learned site, Crossrail chose 12 knowledge subject areas, including project and program management, procurement, health and safety, and talent and resources. “The themes had to be applicable to all major projects, not just railway,” Mr. Bennett says.

—Simon Bennett


The committee also helped determine the ideal types of content for Learning Legacy. Beyond the Crossrail engineers’ technical papers, which are commonly reviewed on U.K. civil engineering projects and had been started soon after Crossrail's launch, the primary content source were documents produced by Crossrail's project team members.


Trains at new Old Oak Common maintenance depot

Crossrail chose an internal subject-matter expert to lead each of the 12 Learning Legacy themes, and those experts helped choose which team members would write the reports.

The team learned from a review of the 2012 Olympics site that case studies and microreports would generate the most interest and value for future project teams. And the committee helped determine that the roughly 3,000-word case studies would undergo a peer-review process so they received the necessary stamp of professional and academic approval. The much shorter microreports allowed team members to contribute insights without having to commit as much time and effort as case studies required. “The shorter microreport format ensured that we did not risk losing lessons by asking everyone to write eight-page documents for peer review,” Mr. Bennett says.


—Simon Bennett

Regardless of length, each document had to “explain what happened, what went well, what had to be fixed and finally provide recommendations for future projects,” says Mr. Bennett. The subject-matter experts reviewed each document to ensure accuracy. Then a two-member Learning Legacy team reviewed each document to make sure the language would be understood by a broad audience. Finally, Crossrail's head of external affairs checked for any risks to project reputation, which typically meant redacting personal names or certain project costs until that particular contract was complete.


1974: The city of London, England publishes a rail study that recommends a cross-city rail line.

1989: The government publishes another study that supports Crossrail and provides a specific route.

1994: Amid a recession, the U.K. Parliament rejects the project.

2000: The U.K. government releases a 10-year transport plan that includes Crossrail.

2002: The government sets up a new organization to define the Crossrail project and conduct a feasibility study.

2008: After a lengthy review process, the government approves the Crossrail project.

2009: Crossrail breaks ground, starting the construction phase.

2012: The tunneling work begins.

2015: The project teams begin fitting out the tunnels: installing track, ventilation, electricity and communications equipment.

2018: The phased services continue to roll out, with full operations scheduled for 2019.


Keeping all Learning Legacy team members focused on their responsibilities wasn't easy—particularly given that they also were juggling full-time tasks on the Crossrail projects. Support from the top helped build buy-in across the enterprise. Crossrail's chief executive and the rest of the executive team constantly emphasized to the entire organization the importance of Learning Legacy. “The executive team was very keen on paying it forward with Learning Legacy,” Mr. Bennett says.

Among the incentives for persuading Crossrail team members to participate in Learning Legacy were including authors’ names, photos and contact details with their published documents. As a result, Learning Legacy became a place for professional promotion. “Learning Legacy started with senior-level buy-in, but it was also a point of professional pride for specialists to be published on its site,” says Walter Macharg, head of change control and cost assurance, program controls, Crossrail, London, England. “It helped to have Learning Legacy on their résumés as they went on to their next projects.”

By 2016, the Learning Legacy team was able to launch the website with 200 documents, including the site's most popular document—a case study on Crossrail's governance structure. “The real success of the governance structure is that it formally established sponsor requirements, such as budget and schedule, and gave the sponsors a formal process to review and monitor those requirements,” Mr. Macharg says. “That let them take a hands-off approach to managing the project so they could let Crossrail get on with it.”


—Walter Macharg, Crossrail, London, England


Simon Bennett,

head of Learning Legacy, Crossrail

Location: London, England

Experience: 25 years

Why did this project have special meaning for you?

I believe Crossrail is a vital addition to the economic and social asset that is London's public transport network.

How do you relieve project stress?

I've never felt stressed by the work, but outside of it, my interests still revolve around building things: classic-car restoration, home improvement and Lego models.

What career lesson did you learn on this project?

The need to internally promote the work of oneself and one's team.

What's next?

After 19 years on Crossrail, I plan to take a few months off to travel.

In the end, Learning Legacy even generated its own lessons learned, Mr. Bennett says. For example, because Learning Legacy did not start until well after many Crossrail projects had launched, it was not embedded in the project management process from day one. As a result, there's less content on individual engineering projects and far more on the program management of Crossrail itself.

“If I do this on another program, I would start Learning Legacy earlier in the process to involve projects more directly and to be linked in with people managing the projects’ lessons learned processes,” Mr. Bennett says.

Nonetheless, the legacy is undeniable. The final piece of content was published in August, and there's no end in sight for traffic to the Learning Legacy site, Mr. Bennett says. “We expect it to have currency for years beyond the existence of the Crossrail organization itself.” PM


The new Tottenham Court Road station in London, England


Crossrail is transforming the underground rail system in London, England. As Europe's largest infrastructure megaproject, Crossrail has a sprawling scope: It is expanding and upgrading service to increase the city's rail capacity by 10 percent. The new lines run across central London, from Heathrow Airport and Reading in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.



Four key lessons learned from the Crossrail megaproject that the Learning Legacy team has shared:


Soon after the project launched, the team needed to demonstrate to its sponsors—the U.K. Department for Transport and Transport for London—that it was capable of entering into high-stakes contracts with significant amounts of public money. So the team set up a governance structure that established incremental review points when the sponsors tested the organization's capability and determined its competence.


The team developed a benchmark to drive and improve contractors’ performance. That framework used traditional quantitative measures such as cost as well as qualitative assessment areas like community relations. The framework led to a 54 percent increase in the supply chain's performance levels over a three-year period. Among the reasons for that success was alignment with corporate objectives and stakeholder engagement.


Crossrail set a high bar for its environmental impact—and the team was eager to share efforts to increase project teams’ environmental awareness and to influence their behaviors in areas such as energy and water use. Crossrail found that, rather than penalizing teams, an award that recognized their environmental work motivated them to raise their performance.


The team decided to improve project teams’ health and safety performance by measuring their activities. Crossrail achieved that by assessing teams’ health and safety metrics frequently throughout the project.

The framework led to a 54 percent increase in the supply chain's performance levels over a three-year period.



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