Comparing Traditional Project Delivery to Systems-Led Infrastructure

How can a systems-led approach improve the way infrastructure projects are delivered?

The Transforming Infrastructure Performance: Roadmap to 2030 encourages the industry to shift towards a more efficient way of delivering projects. The theory has been laid out for a systems-led approach to infrastructure delivery. It brings the delivery model up-to-date with technological change and benefits project teams as well as end users by thinking in terms of outcomes not edifices. But how might it look in practice?

VVB compares timelines across the current approach and a systems-led way of working, to see how the industry can make the shift.

The Approach





A multidisciplinary team plans the systems for the structure and facilities, considering how they will be integrated. Focusing on outcomes for the end-user includes demand on the infrastructure through day-to-day use, preparing the whole system to benefit people. The infrastructure is considered as a live asset with a lasting legacy to serve the needs of the end user. Systems are planned to support the comfortable and efficient movement of people through the asset, to provide the best possible societal outcomes.


The traditional approach focuses on the structure, with systems often having to adapt to the constraints imposed. The job is often presumed to be nearly complete once the civils structure has been built, causing programme delays and potential rework to integrate the systems. Project teams are less integrated, so there are fewer opportunities to identify efficiencies in how the infrastructure will be built and used.

Design & Installation

Involved early and aligned

Enables collaborative engineering to identify design and installation simplifications with sustainable methods. Planning for installation from the start increases time for buildability studies, reducing the risk of rework and improving the overall quality of the design. Designers can focus instead on innovating for improved project outcomes, such as DfMA and reduced embodied carbon. An outcomes focus ensures the design is in the end user’s best interests, for a more successful installation and operational life.

Involved late and misaligned

Design is delivered in isolation from the construction and installation specialists, after the scope and outcomes have been defined, so it’s more likely to need reworking. Installation isn’t planned properly ahead of time, with a greater chance for reputational damage as a result of clashes and issues down the line. A lack of buildability input from other specialists increases the potential for design that isn’t aligned to the scope. The overall design is less outcomes-focused, so a successful project legacy is unlikely.

Testing And Commissioning

Time is expanded

Adequate time for trial running is planned from the start to transition the asset from construction to operation. An outcomes-focus ensures KPIs are defined in terms of adequately delivering commissioned assets. Systems are tested as a whole to ensure smooth integration, rather than independently. Early systems integration reduces the chance of delays from unforeseen issues. The right specialists are involved at the right time, so there’s greater alignment on the planned outcomes the asset needs
to deliver.

Time is compressed

Testing time is often restricted, meaning any remedial action will have a knock-on effect, increasing the chance of programme delays, late delivery and further costs. Testing of systems integration is a late consideration, so programme overrun is more likely. Prioritising the civils structure over the outcomes neglects testing the functionality of the asset against its in-life requirements. Without the right specialists involved at the right time, there’s less alignment on the planned outcomes the asset needs to deliver.

Assurance And Handover

Planned from the start

The right specialists are involved at the right time, so each key stakeholder is aligned and each project phase is considerate of the rest. With handovers factored in from the start and throughout, documentation, testing and maintenance is complete and ready in advance. Assurance is considered throughout installation, to quickly provide all the support needed for a trouble-free operational life. An outcomes-focus ensures systems integration and the needs of the end user are communicated between teams.

Considered later on

The right specialists aren’t involved from the start, limiting the collaborative engineering necessary for planning seamless handovers between interfaces. A lack of collaboration restricts the communication of important data and the requirements for systems integration. Handovers become KPI-driven rather than systems performance-driven, leading to integration issues at the end of the project.


Sustainability and social value from the start

The approach to ESG is based on the desired output and driven from design stage so best practice measures are built in from the beginning. The supply chain is engaged early to make responsible procurement choices. Prioritising the systems minimises waste, unnecessary labour and site emissions from rework required to adapt them to the structure. The infrastructure is planned around long-term value for the society it will serve, to truly become infrastructure in service of human progress.

Sporadic sustainability and social value

ESG is a priority considered by project phases and teams in isolation, so the outcome is inconsistent and inadequate. Late supply chain engagement limits the output to the cheapest available. The structures-first approach focuses less on how the systems used by the end user will improve the asset’s social value and provide community benefits. The infrastructure is designed with civils as the priority, for construction rather than a positive operational life once the asset has been built.

Project Outcomes

On time and to budget

Early specialist involvement enables collaborative engineering to deliver the planned outcomes. This early engagement and stakeholder alignment makes it easier to manage the different interfaces, interdependencies and team liaison. Cost and programme certainty is achieved by the design team working with the delivery team on buildability, with less chance of clashes and rework. This reduces waste and inefficiency. The operational legacy is greater as the focus is on the systems and outcomes
for the end user.

Overrun and overspend

Less collaborative engineering results in misalignment across teams, and failure to deliver the planned outcomes. This makes it more difficult to manage the different interfaces, interdependencies and team liaison. It’s harder to keep control of costs and programme scope due to the greater chance of clashes and rework of the systems within the structure’s constraints. This causes more waste, inefficiency and lower quality. The operational legacy is less positive as the focus is on the structure and civils, rather than the systems and outcomes for the end user.

What Next?

Use cases for systems-led Infrastructure

From supporting the movement of people, to driving towards net zero – find out how the systems-led approach can work to achieve a variety of KPIs and project outcomes. Our series of use cases are focused on the practical needs of your projects and how this approach can improve the way you deliver them.

Find out more