JMW Case Studies

A Project for the Ages: Crossrail Delivers

The Situation
It was a high-profile undertaking that could make history. Known as the “Crossrail,” the proposed £15 billion east-west, 118-kilometer fully digital rail system was one of the most complex infrastructure projects in the world. Upon completion, it would speed 250 million passengers a year through the heart of London, slashing journey times while transforming travel and life in the city.

Crossrail Ltd was formed in 2001 to take on the immense civil engineering challenge. After years of planning, public debate, and government approvals, the company and its network of partners broke ground in 2008. Constructing the mixed railway above and below ground involved serious challenges and risks as crews worked 10 stories beneath London to install advanced digital infrastructure and build 21 kilometers of tunnel and 20 major vertical structures. The first years of construction work brought Crossrail much acclaim, as the tunneling and civil engineering efforts produced unprecedented, extraordinary outcomes.

Crossrail started to run into difficulties after 2016, as it moved into the integration of the railway, a phase that required stitching together the railway’s 37 independent but interconnected sub-projects—each with its own team of contractor organizations. As those efforts became increasingly challenged, Crossrail’s leadership announced in August 2018 that its opening— scheduled for the end of that year—would be delayed. The news caught most stakeholders off guard and by surprise, including elected leaders and the media. Soon after, the government sponsors replaced most of Crossrail’s Board and Executive Team, looking for new leadership and governance to take this critical program from being stuck to being delivered.

Amid newly realized internal issues and heightened external scrutiny, Mark Wild, Crossrail’s new CEO, called JMW.
The Work

JMW was brought in to support the Crossrail Leadership Team and its broader network of contractor partners in getting the program back on the path to delivery. JMW’s first order of business was a candid assessment of the mindsets with which various teams were approaching the project and one another. Their findings would be the foundation for Crossrail leadership’s work moving forward.

The assessment revealed the ways in which external pressures and inevitable barriers to success had taken their toll on the leadership mindset and management of the project. With up to 10,000 employees and contractors involved at a time throughout the supply chain, accountabilities across interfaces were unclear, coordination was poor, and progress slow. In the lead up to the 2018 failure, the remaining construction time had been significantly underestimated—“drift” attributed to an over-compressed schedule that had become disconnected from reality. The intricacies of system integration had likewise been miscalculated. While there had been a strong collective focus on the 2018 completion date, immense deadline pressures had clouded the transparency needed for sound project decisions.

With coaching support from JMW, Mark Wild and the new Executive Team put a few fundamental “stakes in the ground” for how the program would operate differently going forward—principles that would determine the ultimate success of this turnaround story:

  • Transparency: For a program which had become far too opaque between its many constituent parts and to its external partners and stakeholders, Mark and the team committed to rigorous transparency between all those key parties. This led to a whole new regime of sharing the good news and the bad news early and often with players who previously could only guess regarding key aspects of progress.


  • “Owning the Whole”: In its original design, Crossrail was divided into 37 sub-projects to move the massive program into manageable work packages while “sharing the wealth” across many contractors and the UK construction industry as a whole which had suffered through the impacts of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. The well-intended design had also produced the unintended outcome of the “parts” not having a vision of the “whole” program—each of the sub-projects tended to focus on its own patch without sufficient regard for the downstream integration requirements between the sub-projects. Introducing the principle of “Owning the Whole” transformed that leadership paradigm and led to extensive interventions and course corrections in the years to come.


JMW introduced key principles of transformational leadership to help Crossrail’s executives and partners turn around the situation and complete the railway. To deliver on their commitment, critical shifts in approach and implementation would be required consistent with the two fundamental principles already declared.

The JMW team designed an intervention to help Crossrail’s leadership address the gaps identified and execute actions to address them. Over the course of the engagement, five central elements of the effort began to take hold and help produce the results needed for the project to succeed.

  1. Aligning executive teams. Two executive teams led the project’s completion, one that restarted the work in 2019 and one that navigated from mid-pandemic to the line’s opening. Both relied on JMW leadership principles as a common language for setting goals and assessing progress.
  2. Engaging next-level leaders. To help embed an integrated mindset of “owning the whole,” JMW coached Crossrail senior executives on fully engaging—and holding accountable—project leads for all aspects of the sprawling venture, including the multitude of supply chain contributions.
  3. Integrating the supply chain. JMW helped Crossrail generate more effective supplier coordination through a series of integration activities. Lead partners later described the work as a breakthrough that significantly improved their connection to project goals and objectives.
  4. Launching collaborative platforms. In a highly integrated endeavor, issues and obstacles deter progress throughout a project and its supply chain. Crossrail worked with JMW to establish a more integrated approach to recognizing and responding to challenges without delay.
  5. Intervening in key performance gaps. As a result of their engagement with JMW, Crossrail’s leaders adopted a “performance house” (versus “risk house”) mindset, as noted above, to begin immediately intervening in consequential performance gaps before negative impacts cascaded to other parts of the project.
The Results

The new railway officially opened in May 2022 as the “Elizabeth Line,” renamed in 2016 in honor of Queen Elizabeth II. More than a million journeys were made in the line’s first five days of operation as London’s mayor deemed the railway a “roaring success.”

It took significant human and leadership effort, as well as more time and financial investment than originally planned, to reach this meaningful milestone. What may be its greatest achievement was that a cast of thousands of highly committed people aligned on a whole new way of working together that turned a tide which had become severely flawed and rose to the occasion of extraordinary challenges of overcoming those flaws while navigating through the impacts of an unprecedented global pandemic.

Data points on project results to date include:

  • 118 kilometers of new and fully digital railway, including 21 kilometers of twin-bore tunnels and 20 vertical structures nine stories deep
  • State-of-the-art, high-speed trains moving 250 million passengers across London every year at up to 145 kilometers every 2 ½ minutes
  • Regeneration impacts along the length of the route, including an estimated 90,000+ new homes throughout the metropolitan area
  • A minimum 10% boost in central London rail capacity, the largest single increase in more than 70 years
  • For the first time, 19 boroughs across central London connected by state-of-the-art infrastructure
  • As a result of increased traffic to the city, an estimated additional £42 billion flowing into the UK economy
Case study PDF available upon request.  Please contact Jamie Tiska.

Anything is Possible

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the US, the UK’s largest air traffic organization was deep in the red, under intense media scrutiny for financial mismanagement, and plagued by regular system outages. A new CEO was appointed amid the chaos.

The largest air traffic services organization in the United Kingdom was effectively bankrupt in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States. In addition to transatlantic flights temporarily coming to a halt, the formerly public company had never found its footing after being partially privatized in a private-public partnership in 1999. The company was refinanced and geared (the rate of debt to company value) at a devastating 112%.
The Challenge
The organization had also received a great deal of negative media coverage, with well-publicized over-expenditures, failure to make a profit or return a dividend, and regular IT system outages at a new control center. A decision was made to hire a new CEO to deliver a change in work culture, as well as a return on investment for shareholders.

Paul Barron was appointed CEO and he immediately launched an ambitious series of road shows that would take place over the course of 12 weeks. He had engaged JMW in prior leadership roles, and now in his new role, asked JMW to work with his senior management team to help create, in his words, “clear ways of working to generate a greater sense of camaraderie and purpose.” Among other things, it was critical that the collective mindset within the organization shift from one of “civil service” and “business as usual” to one of possibility and new levels of breakthrough performance.
The Work

In a series of sessions, JMW worked with the company’s senior leadership team to introduce them to high-performance tools and techniques, with an eye toward building a team aligned around a future that far exceeded any previous expectations or experience at the company. In the process of embracing new ways of approaching their work, delivering on their commitments, and leading their teams, the group created what they decided to call a “21 Destinations” vision and plan of action, developing a set of three-year stretch targets that would have previously been viewed as impossible.

The next step of the effort involved programs designed to introduce the 21 Destinations vision to the top 60 senior managers and key supervisors in the business. The purpose of these programs was to engage these key players in the vision, and help equip them to cascade the vision and galvanize the organization around a high-performance culture and delivery. Over time, a total of 180 senior managers and supervisors throughout the organization completed the program and became integral ambassadors in the turnaround effort.

An important part of the work also involved enrolling the organization’s board of directors in the new vision and plan. Through a program designed to provide background on the new vision developed and embraced by the company’s senior team and management, the board gained new perspective in advance of a critical senior team presentation. When the next board meeting took place and the 21 Destinations vision was presented, board members’ reaction was, in the CEO’s words, “overwhelmingly enthusiastic.”

In addition, leaders were equipped to powerfully intervene when inevitable problems and difficulties arose. There was forward momentum almost immediately, but to maintain that momentum, they worked with JMW coaches on being leaders who fostered an environment where people were encouraged and rewarded for initiative, responsibility, accountability, and ownership.

The Results

As executives took on roles of facilitators and coaches for extraordinary achievement, a strong collective vision was rolled out across the company. Annual road shows became a part of the organization’s best practice, engaging the “hearts and minds” of all staff at all levels. Employees began to set and achieve targets that previously would have seemed unattainable. Board members demonstrated repeatedly that they were fully aligned with the effort. The culture of the company was transformed, with even skeptics allowing their resistance to give way to the momentum of tremendous opportunity.

Within three years, the organization had delivered on 16 of the 20 destinations, and in another year’s time, they had completed 20. Key advances included delivering a new control center, reducing the total number of centers from four to two, and reducing delay per flight rates by 90%. Management was de-layered and staff was reduced where there were inefficiencies or redundancies. The company made the decision to stop offering a high-cost pension salary program to new employees, resulting in savings of hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 10 years, and reduced total debt by £114 million.


Key Firsts

There were also key “firsts.” At the end of the first year of the initiative, the company turned its first-ever profit. And in a stunning financial recovery, company shareholders received the first-ever return on their investment and would see a 700% increase in share price over the course of five years.

In the five-year period of JMW’s engagement, the organization delivered 340 projects worth £1 billion on time and on budget. The business had succeeded in dramatically and sustainably improving on every aspect of its performance. The same troubled organization that had been the subject of public criticism was now the recipient of well-publicized praise, receiving accolades both as an employer and as the world’s leading navigation provider.

Unprecedented Turnaround

In addition, and more specifically, five years after beginning the work with JMW, the organization:

  • Was voted the Best Air Navigation Provider in the world by an independent panel of peers
  • Delivered profit before tax of £530 million
  • Paid dividends of £202 million
  • Dramatically decreased delay per flight, from 40 seconds to four seconds
  • Reduced gearing from 112% to 57%
  • Increased working capital turnover by 30%
  • Increased working capital turnover of unregulated business by 100%
  • Reduced the number of work centers from four to two, realizing unprecedented efficiencies
  • Reduced manpower by 500 staff
  • Was voted one of 100 Best Companies to Work For by The Sunday Times magazine

“There are very few occasions in one’s career that you can look back and reflect on a simply amazing team, but this was one. JMW had us believe that anything was possible, and we had our managers inspiring their employees to get the bar as high as possible, and then clearing it time after time.” 

     -Reflection from the company’s CEO

Case study PDF available upon request.  Please contact Jamie Tiska.