I once heard DEGW's Frank Duffy take a darker view of the adage "God is in the detail". "The devil is in the detail" was how he expressed the frustration we all sometimes feel when we try to improve the construction process. Perhaps Frank has given us a caveat for project managers everywhere: the best laid plans … are often not good enough.
Activity Based Planning, with its detailed, task-by-task approach, offers something of a panacea, but at a price. The highly detailed nature of the system is one of the main reasons why it is not often used in the construction industry, although it is not a new concept.
Mace has been courageous to use it on this baggage reclaim project, and appears to have achieved cost savings and a reduction in defects at handover that are close to the Egan targets. A key benefit is the way in which detailed information supports good site communications and helps avoid disputes and claims.
The real challenge lies in improving communication between trades without the detailed, labour-intensive monitoring of tasks needed with this approach.
Martyn Jones is principal lecturer in construction management at the Faculty of the Built Environment at the University of the West of England.
Significant improvements in performance can be made by using this relatively simple and inexpensive tool to manage site-based activities and processes, and the work areas in which they take place.
Activity Based Planning has helped to make the relationship between the construction manager and the specialists more transparent. The requirements of the construction manager can be clearly defined, negotiated and agreed on.
It also encourages frequent and direct communication between the construction manager and the specialists – and among the specialists themselves. This provides a way of exchanging ideas, sharing learning and developing greater levels of trust – essential elements for the continuous improvement in the quality of service and product.
Darryl Sheath is a researcher at the University of Bath's Agile Construction Initiative This technique highlights the fact that the information needed to meet Egan targets is out there, but goes largely untapped. We estimate that 50% of a project's weekly costs can be saved by tackling the inefficiencies highlighted by a monitoring method such as Activity Based Planning.
Colin Gray is a researcher at the University of Reading's Department of Construction Management & Engineering On this project, Activity Based Planning has helped achieve close to Egan targets, particularly on defects and accidents. One key issue seems to be the early identification of problems at the interface between trades. Many have seen this as a weakness of construction management.
What’s the project?Construction manager Mace has completed a £3.8m baggage reclaim area at Heathrow’s Terminal 4 for BAA. Built to contain the terminal’s seventh baggage carousel, the 900 m2 extension also contains storage for retailers, a security post and accommodation for customs officers. The scheme was finished in December 1998. Project highlights Time savings The project was finished in 30 weeks – six weeks early – thanks to detailed monitoring and good communication. Cost savings The approved cost for the project was £4.055m. Mace completed it for £3.827m –a saving of 5.6%. This rises to 9.7% when agreed client variations are accounted for. Reduced defects Only 41 defects – as agreed by BAA – were evident at handover. This compares with 780 for a similar Mace project at Stansted Airport, where Activity Based Planning was not used. No accidents There were no reportable or three-day accidents. Reduced claims Weekly planning forms helped Mace head off claims.
Five key benefits of Activity Based Planning
- Activities are planned in greater detail. Forces trade contractor to think in detail about resources and timing of work
- Prerequisite activities are scheduled. Requires trade contractor to interact with one another to ensure preparatory work is completed
- Helps with co-ordination of materials deliveries and storage
- Contractor performance is analysed in greater detail. Helps identify areas where biggest improvements can be made and allows quick reaction to problems
- Detailed records are kept. Documents assist with quality assessment and with settling claims