At last we have a government adviser calling for integration to save costs. For it to work, we need unadulterated integration of the whole design and construction team
Full marks to chief construction adviser Paul Morrell for challenging the construction industry to transform itself through integration and so cut costs by 10-30%. Morrell’s ex-colleagues in virtual construction aren’t easily going to give up the adversarial circus that has nurtured their expansion and profitability over the past decade or two. He will need the support
of all in real construction who wish to work in or with a leaner, far more efficient and equitable process.
A couple of months ago (29 October), I wrote about how the fragmentation driven by virtual construction’s designers and supervisors has created a grossly over-supervised, overmanned and underperforming management structure and that total integration of design and construction is the way to correct it.
Paul Morrell mustn’t be fobbed off with any more compromise solutions. The future has to be unadulterated integration, rather than fragmented partnering
I believe it is only integrated design that can achieve long-term savings to exceed the 10-30% target, nearer to the 50% predicted by Sir John Egan in 1997. But integrating the management structure won’t be enough on its own - we need to make major changes to the process itself and the way we approach our particular tasks.
The underlying cause of the industry’s many problems is that traditional construction must be the only industry where the lead organisation that contracts with the client has no authority over the design, specification or value of its own product, yet is delegated total responsibility for that same product’s quality and performance. Even by today’s deteriorating business standards, that is the management equation from hell and it must be replaced; replaced by a single legal entity that integrates authority and responsibility for the entire project.
Designers have to come to terms with the fact that they must become an integral part of that whole process from start to finish. That means becoming directly responsible to the lead integrated design constructor (joining the many talented professional designers already doing this), willingly collaborating with the constructors, specialists and subcontractors of the integrated design and construction team and, of course, the client.
With such teams in place we can achieve the goal that has eluded us for so long: the key to successful construction projects is having fully completed designs before the price has been agreed and work starts on site. That basic truism was drummed into me at college, yet the industry has consistently failed to apply it for 50 years.
The Information Required Schedule (IRS) is still the first and standard item on most contract pre-start meeting agendas. The IRS lists all the areas where the design and/or specification is incomplete or non-existent and remains an essential document to protect the contractor from claims of causing the consequent delays and disruption.
Adversarialism is built into the process before it even starts. I remember introducing IRSs to my companies in the early seventies, and in this 21st century age of electronic communication and data transfer, it is a scandal that insufficient or inaccurate information is still a normal and (even worse) accepted feature of the modern industry.
Such poor information management explains why the industry is still plagued with variations and specification changes right through the course of the contract. It also explains why construction suffers from so many disputes, so much litigation and recrimination, which puts up the cost, ruins our reputation and unnecessarily feeds the voracious adversarial circus.
Morrell’s ex-colleagues in virtual construction aren’t easily going to give up the adversarial circus that has nurtured their expansion and profitability over the past decade or two
Integrated design and construction forces clients and constructors to agree the fixed price for the contract only when the complete design and specification has been signed off. The constructors can then complete the project, as originally estimated and planned, without interference, disruption or dispute, with the most economic, practical and appropriate design.
That’s why Paul Morrell mustn’t be fobbed off with any more compromise solutions. The future has to be unadulterated integration, rather than fragmented partnering or supervised collaboration. He must insist on integrated design and construction procurement direct to the client without anyone extracting a fee in the middle. That at least could provide a bit of optimism for 2011.
Colin Harding is a past president of the CIOB and a non-executive director of several construction-related companies