First person If we can get the construction team to work together rather than watching their own backs, we could be on to a winner.
Egan is a client-driven initiative to improve the delivery of projects by the construction industry. Primarily about process, it analyses projects in terms of their practical elements: partnering, benchmarking, supply-chain management, product development and component production.

It ties in with the steps set out three years ago in the Construction Industry Board’s code of practice for clients, Constructing Success, which plots the construction project “map” as: getting started, defining the project, assembling the team, designing and constructing, and completion and evaluation. Note that assembling the team – and that means the whole team, including specialist contractor designers – comes before designing and constructing, to allow for efficient buildability and “value management”.

Sir John Egan’s approach has been criticised by some distinguished designers, who see it as putting too much emphasis on process. Those who advance this criticism, which is to be respected and seriously considered, believe that the emphasis should always be on the project’s objective, not its process. They argue that the project is defined by its design, which should be creative and free-spirited.

If the skill of the designer, whether architect or engineer, is allowed to blossom, and the designer can test out ideas with the client through an iterative process of briefing, the overall scheme will come to good fruition. Too much emphasis on the process of team assembly and performance will, it is argued, marginalise design and stifle innovation.

I cannot accept this argument, while in no way minimising the importance of good design.

A project succeeds through an efficient process. No matter how brilliant the creativity of the designer, if the project is not well managed, the client suffers. So do individual sectors of the supply chain, which will respond to poor planning by underperforming, overcharging or both.

Would we pick a Premier League football team the way we pick a building project team?

Great constructions can overcome poor process. Only historians now remember the appalling relations between Sir Charles Barry and Victorian MPs when he was creating the new Palace of Westminster in the 1840s. Likewise, the Jubilee Line Extension will be used by millions of people long after everyone has forgotten its unhappy construction. But it should have been possible to achieve these great projects by means of an efficient process.

We can ask ourselves one question. Would we pick a Premier League football team the way we pick a building project team? Would we choose our midfield players because they were the cheapest, having been picked in a competitive tender contest against each other? Would we see the job of our strikers as getting in the way of our own midfielders, with man-marking of team-mates throughout the supply side? A team picked in that way starts with a serious disadvantage on the pitch: the players waste time and effort watching their own backs and trying to stand out as individuals, rather than concentrating on scoring goals as a team. Of course, if all the other teams in the league have been picked by managers using the same system, no one may notice or regard it as odd.

Then, suddenly, a new manager for construction comes along and says: “Hey, we don’t need to pick our team to mark each other. Suppose we pick them to work together, without barriers or hierarchies, and get them together at the earliest stage so that they can all make an input to the design and cost-building process, on an open-book basis, with effective management of the supply chain? Why don’t we call it partnering? It might even work better than the old system.” That manager’s name is Egan.

Every week, Building shows how progressive clients are working with the whole of the supply side to drive through cultural change and achieve major process improvement, but without in any way marginalising design or creativity.