The book's message was that the rate of change was going to accelerate. It said we would have to work hard to keep up.
Change is certainly happening in construction. First came Sir Michael Latham with his message of team building, then Sir John Egan with his mantras – lean construction and continuous improvement. The industry's response has varied, but even the believers have found that maintaining the pace of change can get a bit wearing.
Here's an example. How would you like to do away with warranties? Wouldn't that be a good thing? I can't think of anything better. After all, what a pain it all is. Although everyone accepts the need to provide the damn things, we are left with the hard slog of negotiating the terms and, worse still, actually getting everyone to provide them.
On a fairly straightforward management contract, apart from consultant warranties to funder, purchaser, freeholder and a number of tenants, the team typically needs to extract warranties from the main contractor and up to 50 trade contractors. This means we can be faced with upwards of 100 warranties to collect before a spade is stuck in the ground. Of all the hidden, non-productive costs in construction, warranties have to be the worst.
So, what a relief it is that the government is going to do something about it. The catchily named Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Bill is currently going through the House of Lords. What this will do at a stroke is allow warranties to be eliminated. It will permit the construction contract to state that the contractor is responsible to a tenant and to say exactly what he is responsible for.
In the event of a breach by the contractor, the tenant can take action under the contract. It achieves the same as the warranty, but without the Everest of paper.
So, having fought for years over warranties, presumably everyone is welcoming this streamlining with open arms? Well, not exactly. The Construction Industry Council, which represents consultants, has said that it is backing the continuation of warranties because they make responsibilities clearer.
On a management contract, we can be faced with upwards of 100 warranties to collect before a spade is stuck in the ground
Perhaps the CIC should ask the industry what it wants, because it is not warranties. Client don't want them either, nor do funders or tenants. What everyone wants is defined contractual responsibility and a simple way of stating it. And the quicker we can usher in the new bill and make it work, the better.
The point is this: with the rate of change increasing, we need to question whether what we are doing is right and whether we need to refine our practices to keep up.
The CIC is not the only group that needs to ask questions. For instance, how do consultants know that what they are providing is what the client wants? Consultants are only here to provide a service and they can go about it in one of two ways. The first is to offer an unchanging service, with the view that, if clients don't like it, they will say so. The second is to ask the client what it wants and tailor the service to its requirements.
I suspect the latter is more likely to lead to satisfied clients.
So, when was the last time you asked your clients about the quality of your service? I bet you never have. But in a shameless plug for Cyril Sweett, I can tell you that it has set up a programme to do just that.
You might think this is a dangerous thing to do; after all, who knows what the clients will say? But that is the point. Unless we ask them, they may not tell us what they think. And, instead of complaining, what will they do? I'd guess they would go to another consultant. I would rather ask the questions, make changes and have a satisfied client.
Andrew Hemsley is a director of quantity Surveying with Cyril Sweett.