Construction could take a few notes from the motor industry on process improvement
In construction, large projects costing tens of millions of pounds commence regularly. Each takes years to complete and employs hundreds of people, absorbing a wide range of skills. They command more resources than most companies in the UK, yet still the need to work with defined, proven and repeatable processes and systems does not seem to be taken seriously.

Planning, skills integration and project control need to be elevated to a new level of quality if the Egan savings are to be achieved.

In the automobile industry, the process has taken care of itself. In the last 50 years, process quality has constantly improved and will continue to do so, because the industry has taken the necessary steps to ensure this. Car companies' boards of directors plan their resources in such a way that every time a new model or a new plant is commissioned, the gains in process quality from previous manufacturing become the platform from which new and improved methods grow.

In construction, almost every job is a new start – for each project, new teams are formed that comprise new colleagues. However, this lack of continuity does not seem to have generated any standard processes to be constantly implemented and carried forward. Unless a higher concept of best practice evolves and is developed continuously, the potential for efficiency improvements will not be realised.

One of the foremost considerations is the need to establish a standard approach with suppliers – in this instance, primarily trade contractors.

Every vehicle assembler lays down their own methods and standards; being chosen as a supplier means complying with these

In the motor industry, processes have been transformed by changes in supplier relationships. Every vehicle assembler has laid down best-practice methods and standards according to their own needs. Being chosen as a supplier means complying with those standards. Without exaggerating, the old adversarial, litigious contractual relationships have been replaced by a high level of integration in which preferred suppliers share in the destiny of the assemblers.

How can such a change be achieved in the construction industry? The large contracting companies are the equivalent of the vehicle assemblers, while the major developers and investors are also interested parties in the process. It is in the interests of the main contractors to establish best practice, which can then become their preferred process on all jobs.

The following changes might be considered:

  • The project should be the focus of all the selected contractors. The project management should reflect the needs of the project and everything else should be subordinate.
  • The entire team should share a planning method, allowing everyone time to review build duration, sequencing, infrastructure and methods. Meeting minimum standards should be a prerequisite.
  • Everyone should be open about the financial implications of the job and address the build issues in a way that truly delivers the best results.
  • All players should provide skilled resources to deliver the best result. The contracting management should provide leadership to ensure on-site teams understand how they have to work to deliver agreed results.
  • Continuous improvement should be the norm.
  • Consultants are part of the team and their critical path role should be understood and addressed in a way that does not squeeze the contracting trades.

Most important, however, is the need not only to build best practice into the first development, but to carry it forward to the next. The initiative should include the following:

  • A project manager who knows the best process and who is either the authoritative planner or has a strong planning focus.
  • A system that controls all the planning and delivery issues in an open way that recognises that any project brings together a diverse group of companies.
  • Measurements that ensure productivity objectives are planned into the project.
  • An open forum to discuss key issues. Progress against the plan should be visible.