The simple aim of persuading every member of a project team to use the same format for documents can have a huge effect on time and morale.
“The right information at the right time is nine-tenths of any battle.” So said the Corsican general who was to become the emperor of France five years later. Napoleon Bonaparte’s motto could have been adopted by the team behind the Avanti initiative. Their project management approach, while less cutthroat than the military network of spies established by Bonaparte, has produced a victory on the financial battlefield.
The purpose of the Avanti initiative is to eradicate mismatches in the information shared between the team members. If errors are avoided at an early stage, it can only improve the rest of the project. To that end, the idea is that the project team agrees on an approval protocol whereby all the information is issued in a consistent format – that is, with the same orientation, the same scale, the same file naming. This means that the engineer can easily work on the architect’s drawings because all the information is reusable and has been checked for compliance before being issued.
One testimony to the success of this approach is an impressive saving on Costain’s £30m PalaceXchange mixed-used development in Enfield, north London. Research has shown that for an investment of a few thousands pounds, spent mainly on consultants and the training of subcontractors, and the equivalent of 24 man-weeks adapting the existing CAD files to the Avanti protocol, the project team has saved about £500,000.
For Richard McWilliams, senior consultant at Capita Symonds and the man responsible for studying the savings brought by Avanti on more than 30 projects, the approach is a “low-key housekeeping thing. It is not doing things much differently than before, but in a common way”, he says. The role model of Avanti is BAA’s work at Heathrow Terminal 5 where a similar protocol system was set up.
What makes Avanti such an attractive option for the construction industry is that any project can benefit from its approach, whatever its size or stage of development. However Paul Waskett, a former Avanti project manager and now a director at Adept Management, warns that the benefits of adopting Avanti diminish as the project advances, as more and more investment will be required to redevelop the existing information. He says: “What the industry should realise is that the cost to change something that’s going wrong increases.”
As well as avoiding overspend, the Avanti philosophy complements that of project extranets by improving the means of communication within the team. Capita Symonds’ McWilliams says that it has been estimated that teams can save more than half of the time and effort customarily required to generate information to co-ordinate the design. The project team at the £375m St Helen’s and Knowsley PFI hospital project, which is led by Taylor Woodrow and includes such companies as Arup, NG Bailey and RW Gregory, has been using Avanti. It has saved an estimated 85% on the time taken to issue and receive information, and three to four man-months in the co-ordination of builder’s work. Capita Symonds also estimates that the design management team’s productivity increased 50%.
It has been recorded that Avanti also brings stress relief to its users. McWilliams says that saving time has a positive impact on the team’s morale. He says, “There are clear psychological benefits to knowing that the job is done better. In a well co-ordinated approach there isn’t any request for information, no tension between the design team and the supply chain because they all know that the information is co-ordinated.”
But then, it’s up to the project team to willingly play by the rules as Avanti does not set any contractual obligation to do so. McWilliams admits that there is still some convincing to be done “to overcome the psychological barrier” of moving away from traditional methods. But large clients’ enthusiasm for the initiative is a strong selling point. Developer Slough Estates has already made it known that it would rather chose teams that have implemented the Avanti approach because it is becoming an established means of delivering projects on time and budget.
Waskett says: “Once the new procedures are in place, we need people in the team to be committed to working with the new set of procedures.” Neil Sterling, project architect at Reid Architecture, the practice responsible for the design of PalaceXchange, agrees. He says: “The only way we could achieve the massive savings we have was by committing 100% to the use of model files.”
And if the foregoing has not convinced you of the importance of efficient collaboration, consider these words of a certain French emperor: “Strategy is the art of making use of time and space. I am less concerned about the latter than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never.”
PalaceXchange: Investment and return
- 24 man-weeks to make CAD compliant with Avanti protocol
- £10,000 on consultant, paid for by Avanti
- £6000 on the education and training of subcontractors
- £500,000 (which is a conservative estimate) as a result of not having to do remedial works required by 2D and 3D spatial co-ordination checks
- 20 man-weeks saved in preparing information for issue
- 50% saving in the effort required to issue and receive information
- Three to four man-months less time spent on wasteful processes
- 50% quicker turnaround of subcontract design package
Information provided by Capita Symonds
The history of Avanti
Three-and-a-half years ago, the DTI launched a research project to improve working collaboration in the construction industry. A consortium led by Constructing Excellence in the Built Environment managed to secure a funding of £750,000 to this end.
The developers, architects and consultants that have taken part in the project include Taylor Woodrow, Costain, Laing O’Rourke, Reid Architecture and Davis Langdon. The budget was used to hire consultants from the Network for Construction Collaboration Technology Providers to provide guidance to each project team on how to improve the exchange of information.
The funding has now come to an end and the project has been handed over to Constructing Excellence’s consultancy branch, the Collaborative Working Centre. Project manager Paul Waskett is optimistic about the future of Avanti. He says: “Momentum is being built. There is a belief spreading out in the industry that it is the right way to go.”