The establishment of an Alliance is a challenging affair, particularly when it comes to the leadership table, the AMT.  One of the key Alliance principles is the commitment of all partners to bring their best available people, and to prioritise the best person for the role over any urge to appoint an inferior person based on any of the partners belief that a particular role is ‘theirs’.  The primacy of the success and performance of the Alliance must be elevated to drive best for project decision making.

The trouble is, elevating the above principles can come at a high human cost.  It also demands strong leadership from the PAB to ensure that the ‘Cold War’, meaning the unspoken battle for influence among the Non Owner Participant (NOPs), does not undermine what is best for the Alliance, and that the affected humans and their wellbeing are given adequate care.

Adding to this complexity is that in order to be effective through the bid phase, there is normally a much larger leadership group.  The bid phase is very dynamic, requiring almost daily meetings for the leadership group. The key leader for each project discipline is normally represented.  This can lead to a leadership group of 14 to 16 people.  This can be effective, but only for a limited time, as it becomes impossible for the Alliance Project Manager/Director to offer the appropriate level of leadership and personal contact to each direct report over what could be anything upwards from a three-year Alliance duration.  The bid phase also excludes the Owner Participant(s) so there will be additional potential leaders to consider for AMT roles from that organisation.

The upshot is, there may be as many as 20 highly capable people being considered for an AMT that should have an absolute maximum of 9 or 10 at a stretch. Some of the 14-16 project disciplines will need to be grouped together under a single AMT representative.  In some cases this is clean, but in others, consideration will need to be given to the relevant skills of the individuals to adequately represent the disciplines in their care.  As you can see, it is quite the puzzle, made much harder due to the hearts, minds and emotions invested in the outcome.

There are many ways to approach this, but I will suggest what has worked best in my experience.

There needs to be strong communication with all potential AMT members from an early stage so that expectations are managed.  This includes people who may need to be swapped out for leaders from the owner participant.  Although it always seems like a booby-prize, all those senior leaders are needed and there are many important roles that need highly capable people outside the AMT.  The demands placed on leaders in the Wider Management Team and the scale of most Alliances means that the second-tier roles are easily equivalent to higher level roles in other projects in terms of responsibility and need to be celebrated as such.  The Project Alliance Board (PAB) and NOPs can help with this process by ensuring there is something else at a suitable level for those who miss out, either inside the Alliance, on another project, or back at home base.

I favour establishing the Alliance in the structure that best suits the Alliance, then finding individuals to fulfil the roles, rather than fitting roles to the available people.  Often the desire of the leaders to preserve the egos of individuals or to utilise the available resource can lead to convoluted and confusing authority, accountability and lines of reporting.

If it is becoming clear that the wrong person or combination of people is in place, there needs to be decisive and immediate action taken to make the required changes or to rapidly upskill and support the respective people. The Alliance pays heavily when there is poor performance in a particular discipline as it delays the ability of the project team to deliver effectively and to attain operational maturity. Star performers in one environment can be ineffective in another, or sometimes the combinations of people just don’t work. Often the need to change is not based on how competent someone is, but about forming the best possible team.  Alliances are very demanding of their leaders, and sometimes the fit just isn’t right for certain individuals or they find themselves unable to commit to the Alliance principles and the shared risk procurement model at the required level.  It isn’t personal, and if the message is communicated with care and clarity, with appropriate alternatives presented, the wellbeing of the people is preserved.

In order for the above to occur, there needs to be strong leadership, unity, and a willingness to act among the PAB. The commitment of this group to the Alliance principles and getting the right leadership team in place, in partnership with the Alliance Project Manager/Director, is essential to navigating this tricky time, and will go a long way to ensuring that the project sets off in the best possible way.