We have Touchdown

We have touchdown at 13:30 local time. A huge thank you to everyone who has donated, liked or commented. You will never know how much your support has kept me going.

The stats so far for the last 20 days are 643km walked (400 miles), 17,420 ft climbed and £1,121 raised for the MS Society. If anyone else wants to make a donation my Just Giving page is


Thank you!


Camino Highs and Lows

I’m now on day 13 of my Camino. The first six days I averaged 40km a day but found that I couldn’t sustain that pace day after day. Since I only had 19 days for the whole Camino, thanks to an awkwardly arranged college 40th anniversary dinner, I had to fast forward a bit and catch a bus from Burgos to Leon. But I’m back walking again and climbed to Cruz to Ferro yesterday through a blizzard. Have now reached Villafranca del Bierzo, ready for the next mountain pass tomorrow. Despite catching the bus I have now walked 454km since leaving St Jean Pied de Port and have climbed 11,910 feet.

The main reason I’m doing this is because a very dear friend of mine, James, is suffering from MS. I’m hoping to raise money for the MS society which will help sufferers like James and fund research to one day find a cure.

I have set up a Just Giving page https://www.justgiving.com/David-West29

I hope you can make a donation and / or share amongst your network. Thank you!

It’s not just the walking, but who you walk with

I’m a bit slower yesterday and today. Partly it’s my feet. Partly it’s the terrain. But, and you can call me the slowest of thick blokes, but I’m realising that it’s not just the walking, but who you walk with. I fell in with a wonderful group for the latter part of yesterday, stayed, ate and drank with them in the monastery, and walked with them this morning.

These guys are Norman and Ted. Norman is an Irishman living in Oxford. He is in his mid seventies, has had a triple heart bypass and is in remission from cancer. Ted flew helicopters in Vietnam and has previously done a charity hike for MS.

I’m doing this is because a very dear friend of mine, James, is suffering from MS. I’m hoping to raise money for the MS society which will help sufferers like James and fund research to one day find a cure.

I have set up a Just Giving page https://www.justgiving.com/David-West29

Camino, communication and questioning.

I’ve just finished day 5 on the Camino de Santiago and I’ve reached Nájera. I’ve been walking with a Slovenian man I met at the start and he asked if he could walk with me because I’d said I wanted to average 40km a day to reach Santiago in 20 days.

But he’s been trying to push me to go further . He said but we need to do 45 or 50. I said why? What if it rains? I keep walking I said. But his shoes aren’t waterproof and he doesn’t have goretex kit.

So we have parted friends and he’s pushed on to the next town tonight.

I hope we get some rainy days and I’ll catch up again.

A few days ago he told me about some graffiti on a wall in his home town. Someone sprayed “ALWAYS QUESTION “ and someone else sprayed “WHY?”

I’m doing this Camino because a very dear friend of mine, is suffering from MS. I’m hoping to raise money for the MS society.

I have set up a Just Giving page https://www.justgiving.com/David-West29

Buen Camino

Camino Day 1 met a Slovenian at Start called Caspar who asked if he could join me as he also wants to walk 40km a day. Crossed Pyrenees, lunched in Roncesvalles and pushed on to Bizkaretta. Suffered hypothermia lesson learnt when you stop walking get lots of extra layers on. 38km 3,640 ft climbed

Day 2 early start, breakfast in Zubiri, lunch in Pamplona and dinner and hostel in Cizur Menor.

40.4 km 1,580 ft climbed.

Doing this crazy thing to raise money for the MS Society. I have set up a Just Giving page https://www.justgiving.com/David-West29

I hope you can make a donation and / or share amongst your network. Thank you!

An Old Algerian Proverb


I think it was in The Museum of London, or perhaps the British Museum, that I recently saw an old Algerian proverb which was something like: “There is no problem which cannot be solved by going for a walk.”

I’ve been trying to track down the exact wording and provenance, but so far without success. I have however come across several other great proverbs.

“He that cannot obey, cannot command” – that came up as an African proverb first time, but now I look for it again, Benjamin Franklin seems to be the source. Ah, found it – “He who refuses to obey cannot command” – Kenyan proverb. Either way very true and I can think of political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic to whom it might apply. There is not a general or admiral who has not served their time taking orders before getting to give them.

Anyway, I digress. I’m going for a walk -751km to be precise. The Camino de Santiago. I’m going to start from the French village of St. Jean Pied De Port on the 26th March, cross the Pyrenees and traverse northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. The problem I’m trying to solve is MS – Multiple Sclerosis. A very dear friend has it. I first heard about the Camino from him after he walked it many years ago. Now he can’t, I’m walking it to raise many for www.mssociety.org.uk. I will post updates here and on my Just Giving page, which is www.justgiving.com/David-West29

Community and Competition for Space

Regular readers will know that I’m opposed to Brexit. However there are two points at which I think I can feel part of the motivation of leave voters. A few months ago, over lunch, my wife’s nephew, a recent graduate in IT, a Liberal and a remainer, said that the only good thing that might emerge from Brexit would be a house price crash. If so he might then have a hope of getting on the housing ladder. Also, every time I get in my car, I feel there are too many cars and trucks on the road, that we are a small, crowded island.

We have competition for space: space to live in, and space to move through.

We need more housing, particularly affordable housing. It’s easy to build housing estates or tower blocks, but much more difficult to build communities. 

There is a great article in this week’s New Civil Engineer about the future of buildings. My former employer WSP have done a survey of 1,000 Londoners who were asked how many neighbours they could name. The average was two and a half. Of those living in flats, three quarters failed to name anyone in their block.

Communities have pubs, shops, schools, medical centres, business units, sports centres, and places of worship. Communities have a mix of medium rise apartment blocks and houses. Communities have places where people meet, get to know each other, and become friends. I’ve visited a lot of award winning housing developments, but nowhere exhibited the infrastructure of community like Poundbury in Dorset. Developers will not invest in the infrastructure of community, it requires a guiding mind, such as the Prince of Wales to make it happen.

On the roads, technological revolution will come, in the shape of autonomous electric vehicles, which when controlled UBER style will provide transport as a service (TAAS), on demand, with no need of car ownership. See the video. https://youtu.be/2b3ttqYDwF0 Personally, I can’t wait for the day that I don’t have to drive myself. Technology can dramatically reduce road crowding, the related stress, and climate change. The space released in our towns and cities by superfluous car parks can be developed into communities, hopefully real communities, where everyone knows your name. 

When is it too late to cancel a project?

‘I’ve started so I’ll finish.’

‘We’ve spent so much already, we must carry on.’

‘We can’t lose face, we must complete.’

The simple answer is that if the present value of the benefits to be gained by completing the project is greater than the present value of the costs YET TO BE INCURRED, then you should carry on. Sorry about the shouting, but human nature seems to be that we ignore the issue of sunk costs. Sunk costs are those costs that we have already spent, and can’t get back. They weigh heavily upon our thinking, but are irrelevant. How ever much money you have spent so far, the past is the past. It’s gone! What matters is the future. What expenditure is yet to come and what benefits will arise as a consequence? This is the question facing the Project Sponsor, guardian of the business case.

There are however costs that may appear to be sunk, but aren’t. If for example you have bought land to build on, then you could stop the project and sell the land. The money spent on the land is probably not sunk, assuming you can sell it again at something like what you paid for it. The money you have spent on consultants, designers etc. is probably sunk. Money spent on surveys is also probably sunk.

Project governance helps us to assess the issue of cancel or carry on through stage gate reviews. For many projects the most crucial go / no go decision is where the biggest expenditure is committed, and that is often when construction or manufacturing contracts are about to be entered into. If the manufacturing or construction stage is of one or two years duration, then that is perhaps the last point at which it is practical to cancel. Having passed that point, by the time you realise that the business case is starting to unravel, you may not have time to assess it, and stop the project. However for projects and programmes of much longer duration, the problem is more difficult.

Take for example the modernisation and electrification of a railway. Working on an existing railway is inherently very difficult and expensive, because you get very limited opportunities to do the work, e.g. at night, and the process of taking possession of the railway to work on, and giving it back to be used, at the end of the possession, is time consuming. The benefits are great. Electric trains to run at very high speeds are widely available. Electric locomotives are much lighter than their diesel counterparts and have a much higher power to weight ratio. Consequently there is a significant improvement in acceleration and journey time. Electric motors also have much fewer moving parts than diesels and the maintenance costs are lower. Electric traction is also much cleaner and better for the environment. 

But as we have seen on the Great Western Railway, on such a large project unexpected costs can emerge and pressure to cut costs becomes unavoidable. When significant sections of route have been electrified, but some particularly difficult sections are yet to be, then difficult decisions are made. We arrive in a situation where some route sections are electrified but some are not. So we buy hybrid trains which use the overhead electric wires where they exist, but diesel energy where they do not. A practical solution to a difficult issue perhaps. But although many of the environmental benefits are retained, the trains are still hauling around a diesel engine or two, even when on electric power, which dulls the power to weight ratio advantage. Likewise the diesel engines still need maintenance. What has been gained though, is to have laid much of the groundwork for completing the original project at a later date, so that the entire route can be electrified. Valuable lessons will have been learnt and much of the work is already done. 

For more on project sponsorship and project business cases, read my book.


Tidal Power & Smart Consumption

This week’s New Civil Engineer magazine once again contains some great stories.

Firstly there is news of the world’s largest tidal stream array, which is about to be expanded. Firstly we must distinguish between tidal stream energy and tidal range barriers. The latter capture  energy from the relatively slow rise and fall of the tide, whereas the former captures energy from the flow of water going past a turbine or similar device.

Tides are very predictable, whereas wind is not. For every 2MW of installed wind turbine infrastructure, the average output is 250kW, or 12.5%. For every 2MW of tidal stream installed infrastructure the output is 1.8MW guaranteed, or 90%.

Of course the tidal turbines have to be very robust, and are a lot more difficult to install than wind turbines. Nevertheless costs will come down as more are installed. So it’s disappointing to read that the UK government pulled the plug on all tidal power development in 2016. It’s heartening that Atlantis (the developer) are going ahead with the next phase, having secured funding from the Scottish government and Europe. You can read more here.


In previous blogs, I’ve talked about the need for energy storage because when people want to use the most energy, (like when everybody puts the kettle on at half time in the world cup final) rarely coincides with when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

However, the internet of things now means that your house (if fitted with all the smart devices) can do things like pause the fridge freezer, dishwasher and washing machine, while you have the kettle on, thereby evening out your consumption.

Even better than that, on sunny days or when there is a lot of wind, there can be surplus electricity on the Grid, when prices go negative. National Grid have produced a tool that predicts when is the best time to turn on the washing machine, dishwasher and charge the car, thereby using energy at its greenest AND cheapest.


Project Management, Project Sponsorship & BREXIT

I’m wondering if there are lessons that can be learnt by the project community from BREXIT. I’m assuming BREXIT is a project. It certainly had a start, some think it will have an end, and I hope it isn’t business as usual. Yes, let’s assume it is a project.
I have met very few people who think BREXIT is going well. Many, perhaps most, if recent polls are to be believed, hope it will just be abandoned. Those who do want it to be delivered are split over what they want it to look like, but all want it delivered yesterday. Some think Mrs May (shall we call her the Project Director?) is doing a terrific job in an almost impossible situation. You certainly have to admire her resilience. One of my favourite project management books is by Kerzner. There is a great section on project proverbs, and the one that seems most relevant is ‘The more desperate the situation, the more optimistic the ‘situatee’.

It seems to me though, that the biggest problems with BREXIT stem from the project definition phase. When your stakeholders want to know what the project is, “BREXIT means BREXIT” isn’t totally satisfactory.
Most projects have a business case, owned by the Project Sponsor, which tests whether the project will deliver a better outcome than the ‘do nothing’ scenario. Unfortunately the business case was poorly presented to the most important stakeholder, the voting public, and the only thing many remembered was a big red bus carrying a promise of £350 million a week more for the NHS.
We were told, back at the project definition stage, that we would get a fabulous “cake and eat it” deal because the UK held all the cards. Now it seems that there’s a soft BREXIT deal (that it looks like another important stakeholder, parliament doesn’t like) or a hard BREXIT. It really would seem like a good idea to revisit the referendum and try to give the voting public a better idea of what they’re actually voting for.
Can I commend my book on project sponsorship if anybody wants to know how to get a project off the ground.

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