We’ve had Latham, we’ve had Egan and now we have Wolstenholme. But the most intriguing part of this latest report is what a set of young professionals have to say
The latest state of the industry report on construction has been launched by Constructing Excellence under the title Never Waste a Good Crisis. It analyses 10 years’ work since the Egan Report and asks the industry to look honestly at what has slowed or prevented reforms that, to many of us, seem to be common sense. But does it also give us clear direction going forward? And will it make a difference to what we do next?
Sir Michael Latham’s 1994 report argued for teambuilding techniques that would ward off the claims-based culture that prevailed in the last recession. Sir John Egan, four years after Latham, gave clear pointers to greater integration and efficiency at a time when everyone was in the mood to give them a try.
So what about this latest report, produced by a team chaired by Andrew Wolstenholme, the former BAA capital projects director who is now managing the takeover of Parsons Brinckerhoff by Balfour Beatty? Will it catch the industry’s attention? Commentators have noted its demand that contractors must take the lead to “adopt new business models that promote change”. Others have homed in on its concerns that partnering and best practice have frequently been blocked by rigid PFI business models, limited capability and lack of integrated asset management. However, for me, the strongest messages of the report are the last four items on the last page: the recommendations from a workshop of young construction industry thinkers known as G4C.
First, the group demands “professionals with a strategic understanding” and says “current professional institutions are too removed from each other”. After nearly 30 years in the industry, I believe this tribal approach among professions is a deep-rooted problem. Architects talk to architects, engineers to engineers, QSs to QSs and contractors to contractors. Bridges between them, such as the Construction Industry Council (CIC), are often seen as remote. Even when the CIC produces tools to connect the professions through its integrated suite of consultants’ appointments, we prefer to focus instead on arguments between the RIBA and Association of Consultant Architects, regarding their “architects only” forms.
Next, G4C recommends “one point of contact” in place of all the consultants and contractors on a project. This could be a client’s dream, but although bridging the gaps between the professions and industry bodies is necessary and achievable, uniting them in a single solution invites the opposite result to the one G4C intends. It could be taken as promoting the design-and-build version of a one-stop shop that causes consultants to fear exclusion from their own designs, contractors to fear risk dumping and clients to fear the cost of the smallest change.
Yet greater integration is a worthy cause and from the client’s point of view a single project demands a single team. The promotion of such a team can be achieved through integrated contracts and integrated programming to identify shared objectives. But the creation of consultant/contractor single entities may push us unintentionally in a different direction.
The third G4C vision is early contractor involvement, not only for main contractors, but also specialists and suppliers. This is key to achieving buildable design, properly tested costs and thoroughly exploring the potential for innovation, sustainability, training and employment. Without the contractor on board and without access to its specialists and suppliers, none of these things can be addressed during the preconstruction phase, except as a set of assumptions in the minds of the client and its consultants. Suffice it to say, early contractor involvement demands a procurement model and contracts that ensure it works systematically.
The fourth recommendation is a fully developed set of key performance indicators (KPI) recognised across the industry, that prove what works and what does not. One of the major disappointments from the efforts of the past 10 years has been the scattered nature of empirical data, even in the hands of Constructing Excellence itself, and the complexity of the KPIs that have sprung up. G4C says that we should measure the success of projects and should use consistent measures to do so, and it is misguided to assume that bespoke projects demand bespoke KPIs.
So, at the very end of Never Waste a Good Crisis come some pithy recommendations. They are described as “ideas for radical change”, yet all they demand is a straightforward, common sense approach to best practice – and amid a recession, that is exactly what we need.
David Mosey is head of the projects and construction group at Trowers & Hamlins