Will the #FarmerReview’s bitter pill be swallowed?

modernise-or-die

Mark Farmer has added another publication to the bookshelf of self-improvement guides for construction.  Modernise or Die is the headline grabbing title for the output commissioned by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) (who are they, I hear you cry!) at the request of Brandon Lewis and Nick Boles (the ministers for Housing & Planning & Skills respectively at that time) to undertake a review of the UK’s construction labour model.

I wholeheartedly agree with the assertion that a burning platform needs to be created to highlight the challenges the industry faces, not least the impending tsunami of the skill gap.  Farmer is right that this problem needs to be addressed and immediately.  Farmer adopts a medical process analogy to articulate the well-known symptoms and provides a candid diagnosis that leads to the prognosis “the industry must modernise or die”.  The question is whether the prescribed treatment plan will result in the transformational change called for and I, for one, agree is urgently needed.  The recommendations clearly identify what should happen, but to continue Farmer’s medical analogy, I fear the patient will not take any notice and the medicine will be left untouched along with a shelf full of other prescriptions.

The symptoms described are not new and not solely the preserve of the UK construction industry; these are global construction problems.  However, the UK has a significant skills challenge with a predicted “20-25% decline in the available labour force within a decade”.  This is a serious issue that does require a coordinated industry approach and state intervention.  Farmer’s ten recommendations articulate what he believes “should happen”, but this to me is where it just becomes another book on the shelf.  I cannot see any compelling evidence to suggest that these actions will be taken; I hope I’m wrong, but for me, it will continue to be business as usual.

I believe there is a lack of transparency over the institutionalised inefficiency that pervades the industry. Whilst most may recognise the symptoms, the systems we operate fail to provide a basis to improve.  Hence, we need to change the system and Farmer’s third recommendation rightly urges “the need to leverage the CLC’s business models to improve relationships and promote R&D”; (but we’ve heard this before many times).  What are these business models?  How do they align with the New Methods of Construction Procurement developed as a result of the Government Construction Strategies (Cabinet Office 2011 and Cabinet Office & IPA 2015)?  Evidence from the trial projects demonstrates what can happen and create some of the change called for here.

Researchers have questioned the effectiveness of this type of reform discourse, arguing that it is not enough just to understand the problem, “the socio-cultural structures and forces that influence behaviour and shape our views” need to be debated in order that we can “better engage with, and understand, the sources influencing the issue of policy formulation and diffusion” (Smiley, et al., 2014).  I’d suggest Supply Chain Analysis into the Construction Industry – A Report for the Construction Industrial Strategy provides a good starting point.  Whilst Farmer refers to Construction 2025 and the government’s “commitment to having a strong industrial strategy”, the point is we need to influence policy more effectively as an industry and for me, Farmer saying that government “should recognise the value of the construction sector” is akin to telling a smoker to stop smoking.  I question whether we as an industry understand how it should influence the ‘new’ industrial strategy. I’m waiting for the CLC to demonstrate the leadership the industry needs, but unfortunately, I cannot see our fragmented structure becoming a coherent voice anytime soon.  Chief Construction Adviser anyone?

Farmer suggests that “this is not just another ‘’must do better’ school report”, however, I reluctantly disagree; whilst the prognosis is clear, I fear the prescribed medicine is unlikely to be taken and the patient is unlikely to improve.

Government Construction Strategy 2016-20

GCS2011 v 2016

The Government Construction Strategy (GCS16-20) for the current parliament has been published and there is much to be pleased about.

Firstly, GCS16-20 builds on the work undertaken in the previous parliament and in so doing ensures there is continuity in the strategy.  The distinction with previous government reports is important; this is a strategic document setting out the Government’s aims as the largest client to the construction industry.  Moreover, it explicitly states that it will “build on the progress made under GCS2011-15 and Construction 2025.”

Secondly, the tone of strategy is pragmatic, recognising that this is work in progress and there is still much to be done.  The Government acknowledge that the principle aim is to “improve government’s capacity and capability as a client” and hence, the first of four strategic priorities is Client Capability.

Thirdly, there is an absence of headline-grabbing targets. No longer is there an arbitrary 20% cost reduction target, instead there is a specific figure to be achieved. The strategy states that, by implementing the action plan to achieve the strategic priorities, “increased productivity will facilitate forecast efficiency savings of £1.7 billion over the course of this Parliament”.  However, it does also state that these forecasts “cannot be achieved without a highly-skilled, high-performing industry”.

Whilst there has been some consternation about the loss of the Chief Construction Adviser (CCA) role, the strategy does state how this strategy will be coordinated.   Firstly, there is the GCB, the Government Construction Board which will oversee the implementation of the GCS16-20 alongside the Infrastructure Projects Authority (IPA). “A newly established Strategic Delivery Group (SDG) will coordinate the activity of the Working Groups, and report progress to the GCB.”  And then the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) will also provide coordinated leadership to government.  So we have the GCB, IPA, SDG and the CLC … I couldn’t possibly comment on whether I’m pleased about this and whether we need a CCA! 

Finally, this strategy is more concise and focused than the previous one.  As alluded to, there are just four strategic priorities:

  1. Client Capability
  2. Digital and Data Capability
  3. Skills and the Supply Chain
  4. Whole-Life Approaches

Under these headings, working groups will continue their work on areas such as:

  • Integrating the principles of Soft Landings
  • New Models of Construction Procurement
  • Realise the full benefits of BIM Level 2 and the move towards Level 3
    [Note the funding of £15 million announced in the Budget (See Benedict Wallbank’s post)]
  • Continued publication of the Government Construction Pipeline biannually
  • A focus on Industry Skills
  • Meeting sustainability objectives
  • And finally, but most importantly, recognition for the Government to lead by example in fair payment practices

Whereas the first Government Construction Strategy was published in times of austerity, as reflected by the front cover design, it could be assumed that, given the colourful cover of this latest strategy, the outlook for construction and its relationship with government looks much brighter.

Construction Matters …

… does it?

After recent speculation, it was officially announced that the position of Chief Construction Adviser would expire in November. Peter Hansford officially steps down on 30th November and there will be no replacement; but does this matter?

Without being privy to discussions that came to this conclusion, I can only speculate as to the reasons why the government believe this is the right thing to do.  However, we can look at the rationale behind the decision to create the position in the first place.  And when we do, the question is …what has changed?  Moreover, it is evident from the Government’s own press release, there is confusion over what has happened in the past.

The need for a Chief Construction Adviser

It was seven years ago when Construction Matters was published by a cross-party committee, (chaired by Conservative MP Peter Luff), and recommendeConstruction Mattersd the position of Chief Construction Officer.  Paul Morrell was subsequently appointed in November 2009 as Chief Construction Adviser, initially on a two-year term.  The principal reason for the role was stated “To overcome the problem of the fragmentation of construction policy and procurement across government” and the position would have “operational involvement in policy and regulatory matters across departments.”  I would concur with Graham Watts’ assessment in the CIC press release where he indicates that he doesn’t see “any circumstances that have changed to negate the need for the role”.

Confused? Government Construction Strategy & Construction 2025

In the announcement about the new Construction Leadership Council, note 4 incorrectly states that the “Government Construction Strategy was developed with the launch of the Construction 2025 strategy”.  The Government Construction Strategy and Construction 2025 are two separate documents.  One focused on government, the other a vision for the wider construction industry.  The announcement may be right that some duplication may have resulted, but this is more likely to be due to the creation of the Leadership Council and having a different focus than the one originally set for the adviser.  The Government Construction Strategy provided a clear direction that I have argued has delivered what the Government required.

What next?

I would argue that the Government needs a Chief Construction Adviser with an updated Government Construction Strategy for the current parliament (the original strategy related to the last parliament).  As Government is collectively the largest client to the construction industry, it is imperative that it shows appropriate client leadership and supports in the development of this important industry.  The Government has long recognised this and that change is needed in the industry, but change requires leadership and the Chief Construction Adviser was that leader.

Note: This post is a slightly amended version of the the one first published on my Linkedin Pulse

Changing Construction

Is construction changing?
Does it need to?
I’ve attended two events recently where the emphasis of the discussions moved on from the topic in question to these more debatable questions.  I’ll accept that both events were focused more on the future of construction, but what struck me was the growing consensus both of attendees that are adapting and those urging for quicker and faster change.
The first event focused on Big Data and the opportunities for construction. The key conclusion for me was that opportunity does exist, but we need to focus on just getting the basic data right first as well.  The most striking presentation was provided by Gideon Farrell who, as a recent graduate with no pre-conceived views, is using technology to advance construction.  He is not focused on changing construction per se, but he sees the business opportunity to use technology which will in turn change construction.
The second event was CIRIA’s Future of Construction event.  I was struck by the positive overtone from the majority of speakers demonstrating how they are driving change within their own organisations and in turn changing construction.  Briefly:
  • Alan Clucas explained how Laing O’Rourke have put DfMA at the core of their strategy going forward;
  • Graeme Shaw passionately inspired others with his talk about how TfL are embracing lean and process improvement
  • The vision for Britain is digital as outlined by the BIM Task Group
  • John Boultwood talked procurement and highlighted that The IUK have produced excellent guidance in Project Initiation Routemap
The one salutatory warning was raised by Tim Chapman who eloquently raised concerns about the need to reduce carbon and how little we are actually doing about it; yet the built environment can and does have a significant influence over all aspects of carbon reduction.  I’d encourage you to review Highways England Carbon Routemap and the infographic (available at the bottom of the page).
Does construction need to change?  As one speaker said, if we don’t someone else will come in and take over.
Is Construction Changing?  It’s evident that there is much positive progress being made and I am personally optimistic that we are on the dawn of new era for construction, particularly:
  • if we realise the importance of Tim’s message that we must reduce carbon and realise the opportunity for the built environment in influencing this change
  • if we can get more Gideons involved; the younger generations need to be engaged in taking the industry forward
  • if more clients embrace Graeme’s passion for taking a common sense approach to improvement
  • if the supply chain adopt a similar value-added philosophy espoused by Alan based on DfMA and digital engineering
  • if we follow the guidance of the IUK routemap
Do you share my optimism? Add your comments below
Click here for click to the Storify of my tweets of CIRIA Future of Construction

Collaborate not clobberate …

Clobberation … what’s this then?

I thought I was being clever by making up the word clobberation to mean opposite to collaboration; but apparently not … just google it!  It’s been in my head for some time that, whilst the emphasis in construction is to promote collaborative working arrangements, in reality the majority of work is carried out in the traditional transactional way … where it’s more clobberation rather than collaboration!Collaboration

At a recent BECi* event Tim Fitch emphasised the benefits of collaboration in his talk on the “Adventures of Collaboration from Sub-Contracting to Mega Projects“.  Tim’s key point is that collaboration is a better way of managing risk and creating value in order to deliver outcomes to the satisfaction of clients.

Why doesn’t everyone do it then?

Tim’s view is that collaboration can be for everyone and every size of project, but it requires leadership, firstly on the client side and then on supply side.  In other words, for collaboration to work effectively, it must be an integral behaviour of those in charge.  Moreover, trust needs to be built on both sides and this is often demonstrated by parties giving something up, normally some aspect of control.  Collaboration is not an easy option, but the rewards are available in better client satisfaction, profits and repeat work for starters.

Tim gave illustrations of how collaboration has and has not worked. In all cases, it is important to establish collaboration as a core part of procurement and ensure the right behaviours are incorporated into the project from the outset; in other words avoid establishing a transactional approach that inhibits effective collaboration. The British Standard, BS11000, provides a framework for establishing Collaborative Business Relationships – for more information, visit Tim’s website or visit the Linkedin Group.

Tim concluded with a view on the future for collaboration in construction, citing the biggest barrier to wider adoption as the cyclical nature of construction demand.  However, Tim was confident that with the right leadership and by developing the right relationships, collaboration, not clobberation, is the way to achieve successful outcomes.

Click here for the event Storify.

*BECi (Built Environment Collaboration and Integration) is the part of the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment at the University of Westminster.  If you are interested in talking as part of the next series of BECi talks, please leave a comment below.

We don’t need BIM, do we?

IMAG0360 (1)We need BIM (Building Information Modelling/Management), don’t we?

Certainly from the attendance at the annual RICS BIM Conference, held on 12th February 2015, you would appreciate the significance of BIM and so be left in little doubt that we do indeed need BIM. This was the fourth RICS BIM conference and having participated in the previous events, it is evident the BIM journey has well and truly begun for many people in the industry. This term “BIM Journey” was used constantly throughout the day and it’s one I want to focus on in this post.

Where have we come from on this journey? Where is it going? And what if you’re not on board; do you even need to be?

1502_Stocks_Mind the gapWhere have we come from? At the first conference, there was a lot of enthusiasm and interest into what BIM is all about; but as the keynote speaker indicated to me, it’s not until people start complaining about BIM that he would know people are starting to get the message about the challenges involved. David Philp advocated everyone should get on board the BIM Train before it left the station, the message being start now or you’ll get left behind! In 2013 and 2014 it was more of the same; lots of enthusiasm mixed with presentations from those that were gaining experience of BIM.

For me in 2015, it was the excellent live demonstrations from Trevor Woods and Cathy Molloy that not only highlighted the practical challenges of using BIM, but also how far some people have progressed on their BIM journey.

So where is this BIM Journey going?

I was drafting this post whilst commuting into London and it made realise that the analogy of journey is really important. Would I prefer not to commute, to take this train journey? Probably, but it’s a necessary journey that I have to make as I’m required to be in the University to teach my students. In other words, it’s a journey that helps me fulfil my aims, which are my contractual obligations to my employer and, ultimately, to get paid! I do have other journey options, but the train is the most efficient option at the current time and will be until Scotty becomes a reality (one for you trekkies out there!) Moreover, I can use the commuting time to do other activities such as blog writing on my tablet.

So like my commute, BIM would appear to be a necessary journey; in which case you should ask yourself: where are you heading? How are you maximising the benefits of the journey?

To answer my first question, do we need BIM, you need to ask yourself what you are trying to achieve; what are your outcomes?

I would suggest that, if it isn’t already, BIM will 1502_Stocks_Big_picturebecome an integral component of the project life cycle. As Terry Stocks described in his keynote, BIM is an important part in the bigger picture alongside improving client capability, developing collaborative procurement practices, getting early contractor engagement, soft landings, benchmarking etc.All of which contribute to delivering better outcomes for clients and the supply chain. Is this where you are heading?

Whilst David Philp urged us to get on board the BIM train, I would also suggest that there is more than one train and it’s certainly not too late. But start your journey by being clear of your outcomes, and then look to get onboard your BIM journey as soon as possible.

Slides used with permission of Terry Stocks from his Keynote talk at 2015 RICS BIM Conference

Government Construction Strategy

What’s happened to the Government Construction Strategy?060111_1314_GovernmentC1.png

Firstly, I have to say I like the Government Construction Strategy (The Strategy). It was concise in articulating

  • the need for change,
  • proposing what needs to be done and
  • formulating an implementation plan.

In doing so, The Strategy was practicing what it preached by demonstrating clear leadership, one of its important tenets. Separate task groups implemented the plan and after 12 months, there was an update report. At the same time, Building held the first of what has become an annual Construction Summit, with the principal aim of coordinating the key messages and progress of the Strategy.

As I’ve blogged on the Strategy (previous posts link) and I wanted to review progress; not least because as we enter 2015, I was reminded that the principal objective of The Strategy was to reduce costs by up to 20% by the end of this Parliament (i.e. May 2015).

So what’s happened with the implementation of the Strategy?

In short, a lot has happened. Each task group has delivered outputs, with reports available on the Government website. The BIM Task Group has been the most visible with their own micro-site and twitter feed and has been instrumental in setting standards and coordinating the development of industry capability. Progress with procurement has seen the production of guidance on new procurement models and numerous trial projects take place. Moreover, work of the procurement task group has merged with Infrastructure UK who have *quietly* produced some outstanding documents on improving delivery in relation to the Project Initiation Routemap. And there is plenty more positive progress on, amongst other things, soft landings, developing client capability.

However, it’s unclear to me how the Government has done in relation to its original target for cost (and carbon) reduction. The 12 month update indicates savings, but there is, to my knowledge, no subsequent publication that clearly articulates progress. Don’t we need to understand how the Government has actually performed against the key objectives?

I have previously challenged whether The Strategy would result in any lasting change? On this note, in the interview with Stef Stefanou (£ Building) he lamented that despite being an industrial reformer, he no longer believes the industry will ever change. It’s my concern, that whilst there are persuasive arguments for change, we are a long way from reaching the tipping point of a more productive way of delivery.

The Strategy is a good document, a lot of good work that has taken place, however the question has be “how much influence has it really had?”

Messi Construction

messi

Lionel Messi is now the leading goalscorer in La Liga, having surpassed a record that has stood since 1955.  Messi is an outstanding talent, however he is the first to acknowledge that his achievements could not be gained on his own; he is part of a team.  With the 2014 CIOB conference focusing on “Inspiring The Future of Construction“, there are many aspects of Messi’s career that the UK construction industry could learn from.

Messi’s achievements are certainly worthy of reporting, however is his success just down to his prodigious talent, being part of a great team or both? Whilst this can be debated, what can’t is that … success rarely happens overnight.

Success generally occurs because there has been a clear vision for the future supported by a plan that has been implemented.   In the case of Messi, his success can be traced back to when his talent was recognised and developed by Barcelona, the club he has played for since the age of 11.

Barcelona has enjoyed several sustained periods of success, the first in the early 1990’s under the leadership of Johan Cruyff.  Cruyff, a legend in his own right, had a vision and plan routed in developing young talent and creating a style of play very different from other teams. The approach was successful and was replicated again in the Messi era.  The nucleus of the team Messi has played in included many who have come through the Barcelona youth system; they understand each other and the style of play that is expected of them.  It is a style that others have now imitated and indeed improved.

But what does this have to with construction?

I would suggest that Barcelona has influenced world football, not the other way around.  Whilst it is laudable that the UK construction industry creates persuasive reports like Construction 2025, the real influencers of change are the leaders of the industry’s companies.  And I would ask these leaders:

  • What is your vision for the future?
  • Is your plan in place and being implemented?
  • How are you recognising the talent you need for the changing future?
  • How are you nurturing, developing and retaining this talent?
  • Do all your team know the way you will be operating in the future?

Success does not happen overnight, and whilst 2025 may seem like a long way off, it’s just ten short years away!  Just remember, it’s ten years since Messi made his debut.

WordPress Post

Ingredients for Success

Aside

I love my sport and I love seeing sports people achieve their best and see what it means to them. I can get quite patriotic and emotionally when winners win.

Seeing Lizzy Yarnold lead from start to finish in the Skeleton at #Sochi14 was one of those moments.

What struck me most was her humility about how her success was achieved. However, her success in view can be summed because:
1) she had a dream – from the age of 11, she wanted to win a gold medal
2) she has passion – it’s so obvious how much she loves skeleton and being a sportsperson
3) she worked hard – she followed Amy Williams’ approach and loves training and is prepared to continuously work at being the best she can
4) she has some awesome support – from all those around her, including Merv.

Whilst Lizzy achieved success on the ice, I’d suggest these are the ingredients for anyone to succeed in whatever field they choose to excel.

So what’s your dream?  What are you passion about? Are you prepared to work hard and have you got the right support mechanisms?

CIC Happold Medal Lecture 2013

CICRobin Nicholson became the ninth recipient of the CIC Happold Medal, awarded jointly by the Construction Industry Council and the Happold Trust after delivering the lecture entitled “Collective responsibility for a sustainable industry”. Tues 29th Oct’13 at the Institute of Civil Engineers.

I’ve created a storify of the event and tweets.

Robin, a past Chairman of the CIC, gave a potted history of the CIC on the start of its 25th Anniversary which has coincided with a significant amount of fervour about industry reform and continues today.  His conclusion on reform was essentially ‘we know what to do, let’s stop talking and start doing more’.  I couldn’t agree more having just read another (good) report on Supply Chain Analysis of Construction by BIS that isn’t really telling us anything we didn’t already know.

The main focus of the lecture was on sustainability and Robin provided a plethora of amazing stats to make the point we need to make better use of our resources; we can’t continue being so wasteful. And for the built environment this means rethinking about how we reuse our assets.

However whilst sustainability is an absolute imperative, the collective challenge for the supply side of the industry is address the root cause of the many issues highlight by Robin that prevent the progress of, amongst other things, sustainability.  Interestingly the dilemma of CIC is the recognition that professional institutions reinforce a fragmented process and a silo mentality; yet the obvious solution of combining institutions or creating a single one is in the too difficult pile.

Robin apologised for the depressing nature of his comments, he is an optmist by heart. I felt as if the subsequent panel debate focused too much on the negative and failed to emphasise the many good things that are taking place within the industry.  As an industry we do many amazing things and I strongly believe we will continue to evolve in a progressive and postive manner.  BIM is undoubtably providing the catalyst to rethink how we operate and move towards more collaborative and integrated practices.