Answer: it demonstrates that, using the much-maligned construction management method, you can deliver a large building early and within budget with minimum waste and safety risks – and have enough time and money left over to put up another one. We went to see this impossible truth for ourselves

Work continues on the generous covered entrance at Roche's new headquarters building in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire
Work continues on the generous covered entrance at Roche's new headquarters building in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire

The first thing that strikes you about this construction site is how unusually neat and orderly it is. It is rubbish free, with carefully fenced-off areas for each trade contractor so they can work uninterrupted. The roof could with its crisp paving and areas of round pebbles resembles a Japanese garden. Workers step carefully around this to fit pipes and beautifully finished aluminium grilles to the plant areas.

An entire philosophy is clearly at work behind this orderly scene. That philosophy is called construction management, and the site it has had such an influence on is the UK headquarters of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire.

The Scottish parliament ruined the reputation of construction management in many people’s eyes. The system, which does not purport to offer a guaranteed maximum price, was blamed when the parliament’s pricetag rose from a ludicrously unrealistic £40m to £431m. But for Roche, construction management has been a roaring success. It has worked so effectively that the company is getting an extra building on the site within the planned budget for the original building and it gets to move in to its UK headquarters two months earlier than planned.

Ray Haywood, project manager at construction management firm PCM, who presides over this ordered scene, believes he knows the key to such success. “A strong client project manager is essential for construction management to work,” he says. “The client can be divorced from it if it has a project manager who understands what construction management is all about. If the client understands all the processes needed, then you are in for a successful project.”

The Roche method

Roche says that Construction management has been so effective that it is getting an extra building within the planned budget

Unsurprisingly, Roche has its own project manager. He is called Tony Aikenhead and is responsible for delivering Roche’s building projects all over the world, although you may remember him in his previous guise as head of Laing Management. “Construction management is a typical Roche contracting strategy because of its speed from design to construction and the direct control that Roche retains – Roche’s main capital expenditure is in production plants,” he explains. “Roche also believes that it has the infrastructure and expertise to manage risk rather than hand that over to a general contractor”.

So how does Roche retain this level of control over its building projects? The first thing is to ensure it gets precisely what it needs to fit its business needs without wasting money. This might sound obvious but the Scottish parliament serves as an example of what happens when clients constantly change the brief. Roche avoids this by taking a very deliberate step-by-step approach. First, it draws up a business case for a proposed project and all the options available to meet the objectives of this idea.

This is reviewed at each stage. Once this is approved, further funds are allocated for concept design, this is approved again at each stage and funds are released for basic design. Finally, the detailed design is done and construction can start.

Implementing controls

Once the project gets going, Roche implements a suite of project management controls to ensure the project is successful (see below). “We implement fairly sophisticated project controls on all Roche projects,” says Aikenhead. He then dives into management speak, reeling off a list of controls, which include “two-week look-ahead scheduling … design and progress measurement on an earned-value basis … management of the procurement process of all consultants and contractors … and a continuous revisiting of the risk register”.

We are forecasting the building will be handed over two months early

Tony Aikenhead, project manager, Roche

“One reason why PCM won this project was because they wanted to be part of implementing these project controls,” explains Aikenhead. PCM’s Haywood backs this up: “This doesn’t cramp my style as Tony knows what I am like from past experience and we have very similar views.”

Ahead of schedule

Of course, there is a danger that all the client’s efforts are seen as control freakery by the rest of the project team. Aikenhead is at pains to explain that people’s commitment is vital in delivering a successful project. “It all goes back to the old-fashioned three Ps: process, product and people,” he says. “It’s about getting a group of like-minded people on a project, building an integrated team and ensuring success for everybody.” Aikenhead has achieved this by getting the whole project team, including multidisciplinary architect and engineer BDP, QS Clarus Consulting and PCM, to sit in the same open-plan office with him. Trade contractors have an office next door (see “The trade contractors”, opposite). Aikenhead spends 70% of his time in the office and talks of an open culture. “If there is a problem we try and get it as early as possible. We get everyone around the table and if someone has a solution it becomes their problem,” he says.

The approach has paid off for Aikenhead, who can now boast that he will deliver this 22,000 m2, low-energy building within the agreed budget and earlier than the envisaged completion date (see “An eco-friendly workplace”, page 72).

“This project will be delivered within the agreed budget and earlier than the envisaged completion date. In addition we have added another building to the project – a 24-bed pharmacology unit and central supplies office. We are forecasting the building will be handed over two months early despite adding four months to the basic design stage due to an extensive value engineering exercise,” says Aikenhead. Scottish parliamentarians, and politicians everywhere, take note.

An eco-friendly workplace

Roche’s UK headquarters will consolidate its operations by bringing all its employees together under one roof. There is 22,000 m2 of space for its 1200 employees who will enjoy a high-quality, low-energy building with a BREEAM “Excellent” rating when they move in July. There are three storeys of open-plan offices flanked by a central street, which is intended to promote staff interaction. Services and toilets are sandwiched between the offices and the central street.

The construction is straightforward with a concrete slab foundation and a steel frame. “We’ve kept the structure very simple so we could spend the money on the internal fit-out,” says Roche’s Aikenhead. The cladding minimises solar gain with brises-soleils on the critical, south-facing side and solid and glazed panels mixed randomly to improve U-values and add aesthetic interest to the facade.

Other features on the building that reduce its CO2 emissions include 150 m deep boreholes for cooling. Unusually the building also has ammonia chillers, which are expensive but are more efficient than conventional chillers. Aikenhead says these will save money over a 15-year period and cut down on CO2 emissions.

Electronic tonic: The health and safety system

PCM has used an electronic health and safety tool to make health and safety management easier and more effective at Roche. Called E-Safe, it monitors health and safety on site, contains health and safety information and manages the whole process. “It obviates the need for a little black notebook and the need to fax that information that has to be faxed again and again to reach all the right people,” says Christian Bucknall, the associate director at PCM responsible for health and safety management. “This is electronic and immediate and is a sensible way of getting things done.”

At the heart of the system are handheld computers. The company’s supervisors and trade contractors use the palmtops for three jobs. First, the palmtop contains GE700 construction site safety notes by CITB-ConstructionSkills, known as the Yellow book. This has best-practice information on how to erect a scaffold tower, for example. Second, the tool is used to carry out safety audits – users tick off a series of preset conditions. Finally, it can be used to alert people to a health and safety problem that needs fixing. For example, if a trade contractor has not conformed to health and safety rules the supervisor can send them a text message. The system also sends an email to PCM’s managers and the trade contractor’s boss so they are aware of the problem too. If it is not resolved and signed off within a predetermined period more text messages are sent to progressively senior management.

The palmtop communicates all the collected information to a web-based server. This is used to configure the system, send out alerts and spot trends across the organisation, such as which specialist contractors are performing particularly well.

So what does the man at the sharp end, project manager Ray Haywood, think of it? “It does help to get trade contractors to do things properly in a regimented way. It also gets them to think about how to work more safely,” he says. However, he thinks there is still room for improvement. “It’s excellent having a tool that has a memory that tells you how a scaffold tower should be built. It’s also excellent for monitoring regimented operations as you can check off the different conditions. But it does need to be developed for non-repetitive operations.”

Keeping a handle on it

Within the Roche armoury of project management controls is a tool called Earned Value Analysis. This tool helps the team continuously measure progress in any work carried out on the project, including design and the trade contractors’ element. “We have made sure it has been introduced and used by ourselves and the trade contractors,” says PCM’s Haywood.

“It’s a very good tool for measuring progress on the project.”

Each package is broken down into its constituent parts. The amount of parts is worked out and the time needed to install each. This helps trade contractors work out their programme as they can see how many man hours are needed to install each element. As the job progresses a weekly check is carried out. This shows how much progress has been made against the planned programme, and any underperformance can be addressed with corrective action. “It’s very open and transparent.

You get a very accurate view of the progress to date and what we need to do between now and completion in terms of productivity and resource,” says Aikenhead. “It’s a tool not only for us but our trade contractors to assess what they need to do.

It’s for everyone’s benefit.”

The trade contractors: Cladding

Roche has a philosophy of engaging specialist contractors early to help improve the building’s design and optimise the programme. This approach was vital when it came to the building’s unitised timber cladding system.

Timber systems are relatively common in Europe but this is the first time this has been used in the UK. Architect Mark Bax, an associate at architect BDP, was very keen to try out a unitised timber cladding system and suggested it to Roche. “You can prefabricate it so you get better quality and it’s much faster to install on site,” says Bax.

The challenge was to ensure the system would be suitable for the UK climate. Cladding consultant Kurt Phenniger, who did the cladding on the Swiss Re tower in London, was engaged to help. Bax also started talking to cladding specialist Schneider, which makes timber cladding systems. Bax had a contact there called Gerd Honiche. “I involved Gerd from the beginning of the project two years ago,” he says. “We worked closely together to get the width of the timber down from 100 mm to 70 mm for reduced visual impact. This was challenging for them and got them to identify with the job.”

Roche gets closely involved in the selection of trade contractors and stipulates each package must go out to tender to at least three different companies. In common with the rest of the project a detailed design was worked up before the cladding package went out to tender. In this case there were a total of 150 drawings that went out to five bidders. “One of the companies said it was one of the best tenders they ever had,” says Bax.

Every tender on the Roche building is analysed by two teams. These work independently of each other; one analyses the technical elements, the other looks at the financial side. Once the tender analysis is completed, the teams come together to compare the results. “We don’t necessarily go for the cheapest tender,” says Haywood. “If a company has an excellent technical proposal they are ranked as preferred bidder and the commercial bid is then taken into account.”

Schneider did win the cladding package and work pushed forward. “Once the tender was won, work could progress very quickly as there was no design development,” says Bax. However, he is emphatic that Schneider’s early involvement made no difference to whether it won the job. “Gerd Honiche was happy to help regardless of whether he won the job,” says Bax.

The unitised cladding panels are made from laminated oak blocks. Originally white pine was tried but Roche preferred oak because it looks better, is more durable and has a better fire rating. Indeed the timber cladding system has a fire rating of 49 minutes and also boasts a total U-value of 0.91 Wm2/K. According to Bax, timber is a better insulator than the aluminium commonly used for cladding systems. The oak is exposed inside and looks superb.