A series of workshops and 1-1 exchanges with the Senior Management Team of a small, global science and technology policy business.  We began by defining the leadership requirements seen by team members and went on to explore key aspects in more depth.  Along the way the team developed their strategy for the company, both in the focus of its activities and markets and in the development of the business’ processes and structure.  One of the team came up with a very neat map which will enable them to explore the linkages between their core capabilities and domains of expertise  across to the issues that their clients face.  Looking at the dynamics of such issues will help them to craft future strategies amidst a fast-changing landscape of complex issues.

An interesting project for a firm working in a niche that I’d not encountered before – a whole new domain of opportunities and threats for commercial organisations and governments and, of course, the citizens impacted by the products, services and governance of technologies across the globe.

A fascinating project with the Institute for Manufacturing at Cambridge University exploring how small manufacturing companies in the UK repurposed their facilities to make PPE in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Prior to the pandemic, the UK made less than 1% of the PPE it used.  So as global supply chains closed down and as demand for PPE soared, many small companies in the UK shifted to the manufacture of PPE.  We spoke with several companies, hearing their stories and extracting common lessons and insights for the future.  I am so impressed by the business owners who took commercial risks to respond to the emergency and who achieved so much so quickly.  And there is so much to learn from their stories.

A deeply fascinating project, fun working with the immensely professional team in the IfM and you can find the report of our work here: https://medium.com/ifm-insights/the-power-of-repurposing-how-smaller-manufacturers-helped-the-uk-withstand-covid-19s-first-wave-2ebc2419dadd

Two projects over the last six months about the future – but very different.  The first, working with a broad and international team for a mining major, thinking through the future implications of hydrogen.  Fascinating work sifting through the hype that currently surrounds hydrogen – and gradually building a picture of real promise as hydrogen takes its place as part of the mix of technologies they could adopt.  Especially as an energy vector – a way of transforming energy and power from one domain to another.  And something that will become much more critical as we abandon the carbon-intensive defaults of the past, oil and coal.  With many caveats about the renewables capacity necessary to meet the needs of green hydrogen. 

But also, I developed a new appreciation for the effectiveness that has been developed over the decades, incrementally, in the whole petroleum supply chain all the way from the well to the user, be they industrial mammoth or the private motorist.  Still much to be developed as hydrogen takes its place – but very impressive technology development and cost reduction so hydrogen with the real potential to make an essential contribution in the roles where it can compete – as it undoubtedly, increasingly will.

(Also – the first time I’ve worked with a team and a client, none of whom I ever met face-to-face).

The surgery project, another new area for me, was helping a niche provider pull together some workshops of key surgeons, opinion-leaders in their field, to explore future trends and opportunities.  What might be the role of increasing digitalisation, and of increasing integration of the whole pre-op, theatre and post-op activity?  Where can surgical systems help as minaturisation of intervention continues and as new treatments emerge?  Where and how can systems augment surgeons’ performance and what might be the barriers to adoption of new tools and technologies?

And the workshops were different too; virtual, international, and run as a series of short events rather than the long single event that would have been the default before because of the tyranny of travel.  Crisp, incisive, insightful and much more convenient for surgeons across the world to participate, as well as for the client themselves.

Followed up by some serious thought about what it all meant.  Which were inevitable trends, which were weak signals, and which were personal preferences?  And which aspects of the story would dominate the purchase, adoption and roll-out of new tools and their underlying technologies?

And through it all I developed a deep respect for the skills and competence of surgeons and the miracles they perform, repeatedly.  And for the supporting technology that allows it all to happen with ever more precision and at ever smaller scale.

Digital built Britain

August 20, 2019

Everywhere we see more data and more information about what we do, where and how we live and about the buildings and infrastructure on which we depend.  It’s just happening.


But if we let it ‘just happen’ then will we get what we want (or deserve)?  Will we live in better places, more sustainably, in a more equitable society?  Or will we follow a different trajectory?  Just choose your favourite dystopian science fiction film.

And so what do ‘we’ (i.e. the decision-makers, policy-makers and citizens of the UK) need to do about it?  What capabilities, what skills, and what insights do we need to navigate this journey into a digital future?  And what is the potential contribution from the UK research base to support and enhance those capabilities, skills and insights?

So the question that has occupied me for the last few years via two consecutive projects is “What research does the UK need to do to build the capabilities to define, manage and enjoy the digital built Britain of future decades?”

The first project to which I contributed, through the first half of 2017, set out to define the scope of the question – and concluded that the scope is very wide indeed.  (https://bit.ly/2KT1VE2)  Values, services, digitalisation – all in the context of the built environment (and recognising the natural environment, urban and rural, central and coastal) – the list of considerations goes on and on.

That project also recommended the creation of the research programme within what became the Centre for Digital Built Britain. (https://www.cdbb.cam.ac.uk/)

Then the next project was the really big one.  What research is needed and what exists today?

If you dig into it you realise there are two ways of handling the question.  One way is to try to answer the question at a generic level for the UK as a whole – which we addressed by creating a Research Agenda for digital built Britain. (https://bit.ly/2Zgior3)


A second way is to realise that many people will ask a similar but different question.  They will ask “what research should we pursue or support in light of our particular objectives in life?”  Most organisations will wish to address only part of the whole jigsaw – both because of the size of the task and because of their scope of responsibility and interests.  So we built a tool to help them think through the question by focusing on the capabilities they will most need and thus the key research areas for them.

The Capability Framework provides a structured hierarchy of the things “we will need to know how to do”.  So by working with the Framework, policy-makers, decision-makers and investors in research can focus in on what they specifically care about – the know-how they will need.  Then we went on to explore the existing and required research to build and grow the know-how.


Capability Framework Categories

Ultimately then, the Capability Framework is a thinking tool – a tool to help people to craft a research agenda for their particular interests.  This has been published as “Capability Framework and Research Agenda for a Digital Built Britain”. (https://bit.ly/2Z1bp9s)

The creation of the Capability Framework and the Research Agenda marshalled fantastic amounts of input and insight from across the UK and abroad.  We couldn’t have done it without the contributions of more than 100 people, in so many ways – thank you to you all.

And thank you particularly to my client – the Centre for Digital Built Britain, (https://www.cdbb.cam.ac.uk/CDBBResearchBridgehead) and to my co-authors, especially Kirsten Lamb, and to Alice Hunt for the graphics and design.

I found the breadth of the project truly fascinating, learned a lot, and have become an advocate for the major contributions that the social sciences and humanities can make to answering the most difficult questions of all; firstly, what is it that we, the people of the UK, really want from our digital future; and secondly, how are we going to discuss it, agree it and then pursue it?

And by the way….  who, precisely, owns the problem of finally deciding what we will build in digital built Britain and what are the best trade-offs?




To see the whole set of publications, visit https://www.cdbb.cam.ac.uk/CDBBResearchBridgehead/capability-framework-and-research-agenda and if you want a quick overview then read the summary: https://www.cdbb.cam.ac.uk/files/cf_report_2019_final_online.pdf


A couple of projects in the first part of 2019 alongside IChemE’s Safety Centre, facilitating boards and senior management teams as they worked through the implications for leadership teams of their role in the whole process safety agenda.  Each session was customised to their specific industry and it was fascinating to see how the world has changed in recent years since I last worked in this domain.  As well as the new regulatory pressures on directors to consider a yet wider range of stakeholders, there have also been great steps forward in the subtlety of considering root causes and the interplay between related contributions to accidents and near misses.  As ever, it was very rewarding to work with competent and motivated teams, especially as the HR and finance people deepened their insights into their contributions to the whole matter of safety and the culture surrounding it.

Scaling up research

June 27, 2019

An interesting project in late 2018, exploring ways to scale up engineering research – from lab to volume manufacture, considering the whole spectrum from materials and devices, through products, to manufacturing systems and all the way to issues such as supply chains creation and novel business models.  Where best to focus, how to identify where particular research skills can be best applied and how to mesh with current industry clusters?  Plus the vexed issue of how best to work with SMEs of all flavours – those high-tech innovators which spun out of a university and are now going for growth, all the way to those companies who simply want a pragmatic and cost effective solution to address an ever-more competitive market.  The work is now being pursued by champions in different domains at the interface between academia and industry.

A couple of projects in 2018 dedicated to mobilisation – how to take fragments of ideas and propositions to build a critical mass behind an initiative and how to mobilise the strengthening of manufacturing supply chains.

Early in the year I helped senior Cambridge University researchers from across a wide range of technical disciplines build collaborative ways of addressing ‘grand challenges’.  I designed a process to quickly focus in on those likely to build a critical mass of support, and ran a workshop that shaped a few key candidates.  In very intense sessions we explored, enriched and refined the ideas, also enrolling people interested in building a robust proposition.  As well as the major ideas that will be developed there were several new collaborative alliances identified, together with a mechanism for accelerating through that notoriously difficult ‘fuzzy front end’.

The second big facilitation exercise was around supply chains – what are the challenges facing today’s UK manufacturing supply chains and what interventions would have the most impact.  And, importantly, what might one sector learn from the experience of another? Working alongside Policy Links from the University of Cambridge, we structured integrated working sessions to help the client open up a range of opportunities, identified from past experience across several sectors, before converging to consider feasibility and pragmatics.  Again, with the frameworks created, work continues within the client organisation.

Just finished three and a half years of part-time interim management with ComAp a.s. (www.comap-control.com/solutions), based in Prague.  The first year was as R&D Director, setting up new NPD processes, developing the innovation and technology strategies, and embarking on the platform principles for future generations of products.  In the midst of this change, the R&D team simultaneously developed a new range of products which launched in 2016.  Having coached a protégé, I handed over to him at the end of 2015 and moved on to become Product Director, establishing a new corporate capability to tie R&D, NPD, marketing and product management together.  Embedded a discipline of product roadmaps, working across the portfolio of products, together with through-life business models for products and greater precision in profitability modelling.  With the product strategy in place, we established processes by which both strategic and tactical decisions could be made with broad visibility and against understood objectives and constraints.

In mid-2016 we reorganized the company, creating business units to respond to customer segments and aligned the product management function within the business units.  I became Deputy CEO responsible for change management through the transition.  I also became responsible for ComAp’s move into products and services based on data, mapping out the strategy for the future and beginning the move.

Then, for 2017, I stepped back into a coaching and mentoring role advising on R&D, New Product Development, Innovation and IP management, product architectures, product strategy and management, and data services strategy.

And so in January 2018, with the areas running well, I return to consultancy after a fascinating, rewarding and enjoyable time working with valued colleagues in a supportive culture, part of an excellent company in a fast-changing domain of rapid innovation and progress.

Thank you all.


A couple of projects in the last few months to helped clients with key workshops.  I identified key messages and the insights we sought, designed effective processes to reach the outcomes and facilitated the workshops.  Synthesized, on the fly, the emerging messages and insights, building a consensus of the majority position among workshop participants, while recording minority views that open up new directions for exploration.  Then worked with the clients to capture the outcomes and think through how best to use them.


A recent small project collaborating with a global consulting firm conducting a review of their client’s corporate R&D strategy.  Finding ways to

  • best maintain corporate capability shared across multiple business units,
  • best direct long-term research of value to multiple business units, and
  • avoid the scourge of annual budgets and short-term targets among the R&D Centre’s Business Unit customers.

And these new ways of working need to balance the influence of past history and heritage, the mores of current corporate culture and the pressures of new business imperatives.