My curiosity was therefore aroused when I embarked on more than a little light reading over the weekend as I reviewed Roles in Construction projects: Analysis & Terminology published by Construction Industry Publications on behalf of the JCT Ltd.
It is a work written by Will Hughes and John Murdoch of Reading University, and a fine piece of original research it is.
It follows on the back of a project that sought to explain and bring clarity to the problem of defining roles in construction projects. In doing so it has borrowed techniques such as process mapping from organisational analysis to "deconstruct" the management tasks involved with procurement models.
It has then put these under the microscope to open up the construction project processes such as those described in the RIBA Plan of Work or similar documents.
Not an easy task given that of the nine models examined (JCT, BPF, BS7000, RIBA 1964/2000, CIC, CIB and PACE), the information was to be gleaned in part from tabular form and in other cases from textural descriptions.
The study analyses the organisational structures, and addresses the paradigm advanced in the Latham report – that design and construction processes should be explicit and transparent to the industry and its clients.
Latham recognised that the creation of consultants' agreements that fit into a clear articulation of the construction process is an important part of clarifying the design and construction system.
It also goes some way to responding to Egan's call for improved management skills at all levels because this study carried out a detailed analysis of consultants' roles with reference to how they are managed and how they manage the process.
For those interested in management, the outcome is fascinating. It goes some way to explaining why the success of a good project is so often down to the people and not the reams of paper generated by the lawyers and traditional focus groups of the industry, which have generated a plethora of "standard forms" (some rather more standard than others).
I was also captivated to learn from the research that members of construction project teams are sometimes prevented from finding their preferred roles because of the preconceptions about them held by particular organisations. They found that they were often stifled. This is hardly surprising given there is no consistency in the terminology under which the various participants are commonly appointed.
One of the overall conclusions, which some will flinch at, is that it shows that no published plan of work offers definitive guidance on best practice or on who does what, and why.
If we knew the answer, it might do one or two folk out of a job!
There is an extremely useful catalogue of concepts and terms, compiled and indexed to enable those who draft contracts to choose the most appropriate titles for project participants. This is invaluable to all those who are involved in the drafting and amending of construction contracts and anyone seeking to assemble a team and specify roles for project participants.
I recommend the book to lawyers, quantity surveyors, architects, engineers, project managers and cost consultants – those who regularly involve themselves in procuring the built environment and assembling teams to do so.
The focus group discussions described in the research were carried out with experienced practitioners from diverse fields in the industry and provide a valuable insight into some of the misconceptions and prejudices.
At £80, this is good value, and should be compulsory reading for all those who are involved in the procurement and management of buildings and think they knew it all.
Simon Tolson is a partner in solicitor Fenwick Elliott.