Steve Elliott - Overbury's Perfect Delivery initiative promises no snagging and no defects. Here's how it works
Would you buy a computer without a manual telling you how to operate it? Or a car from a manufacturer that could only promise one car in five free of faults? Yet the construction industry asks its clients to accept this level of service.

We have to resolve these basic issues if we want to improve our business performance and build better relationships with our clients and suppliers. For this reason, over the past two years we have been developing a continuous improvement programme for Overbury called Perfect Delivery.

It aims to help us improve our performance in the critical areas that determine the success of a project in the client's eyes. Perfect Delivery is a statement to our clients that:

  • Their project will be completed by the agreed date
  • The finish will be free of snags or defects
  • Operating and maintenance manuals will be available on the completion date
  • We will offer a product and service that the client will be delighted with.
Our Perfect Delivery manager develops the programme using monthly team meetings and discussions, quarterly newsletters and annual conferences.

Our directors meet monthly to discuss what we have learned from these initiatives and, as a result, dozens of practical ideas have been implemented. We conduct project risk assessments that can identify potential barriers to achieving perfect delivery, such as complicated handover procedures or inadequate time allowed for certain key stages – allowing us to address them at the outset. Mid-project customer satisfaction surveys have also helped to identify problems early.

For example, one survey identified that clients found voicemail highly annoying when trying to contact construction staff. Replacing voicemail with a human has helped relieve their frustration.

We have introduced monthly principles meetings, where the key players on the job take time out from the day-to-day pressure to review the project overall. This has helped the project team on numerous occasions, including one instance when the team was able to spot a problem with the windows, which allowed them to reduce a potential 10-week delay to four weeks.

Perfect Delivery rewards those who make an outstanding contribution. Over the past year, staff turnover has dropped by a third

We are also learning to compile more efficient repeat processes, and under Perfect Delivery we now use a new standard of benchmarking. For example, on a job that involves the installation of 50 fan-coil units in the ceiling, installing one to everyone's satisfaction and photographically documenting it sets the approved standard for all the other units.

We have also altered our project charters (agreed key objectives between the client, consultants and contractors) so that they incorporate the elements of Perfect Delivery. At the end of the project, sign-off sheets and checklists help to ensure that objectives have been met.

On top of this, we have introduced face-to-face interviews with our subcontractors to assess and review performance. This two-way exchange highlights areas of best practice that we can share and uncovers ongoing problems that we can fix – hence, our renewed focus on ensuring subcontractors are paid on time.

We've found that encouraging staff to share ideas and best practice in workshops and discussions has increased their input at all stages. Perfect Delivery has also allowed us to identify, and then reward, those who make an outstanding contribution. Over the past year, staff turnover has dropped by a third.

After two years, we are now seeing significant returns on our investment. For example, in one area of our business, we have maintained 100% repeat business over the past four months. Seventy-six per cent of our projects now finish at the agreed practical completion date; slippage costs incurred by both supplier and client have been dramatically cut. The number of snag-free jobs we're delivering has almost doubled in 12 months. Three-quarters of our clients receive their manuals without fault or omission on the agreed completion date, which means that delays in meeting legal requirements and preventing clients from letting buildings has been reduced.