Overturning the sector’s inherent resistance to change

by | Sep 9, 2016 | News

At the Highways UK event in November we will repeat, in more depth, research we carried out at last year’s event into the opinions of clients concerning their contractors and consultants, and vice versa.

For many clients in last year’s survey the worst things about their suppliers included that they are “stubborn, expensive, and (consultants) are always selling on to make more money”, while the suppliers retorted their clients were “dithering, delaying and mind changing with too much focus on transactional thinking (for which read low cost bidding).  

It seems by far the biggest issue in terms of increasing productivity in infrastructure and construction has been the inherent resistance to change. For all the productivity initiatives of the last 20 years or so – Sir Michael Latham’s Constructing the Team, Sir John Egan’s Rethinking Construction etc, and despite all of the ‘partnering’ advocacy and nice words about collaboration, it seems that clients and the supply chain are still in the same camps as ever and silo mentality is alive and well.   

There is some hope on the horizon however, and that hope lies with BIM. BIM brings a huge technical advance but its main impact will be behavioural, addressing the main problem areas in the industry.

The focus of BIM currently is on the technical aspects – the one true model producing correct information for constructors, the potential for long term asset management information and so on. Yet the most significant impact of BIM take-up will be to catalyse and reinforce collaborative behaviour, heralding significant benefits in the time and cost of design and construction, and it will happen much more quickly than people think.   

What’s been going wrong

In 2012 the Ministry of Justice attempted to identify where wastage occurs during construction. It found 30% of construction work on projects can be rework, up to 60% of labour effort can be wasted and 10% of loss is due to wasted material. Furthermore the Ministry identified that much construction information is inaccurate, incomplete, and ambiguous. Why the waste, why the poor information?

Many roles in our industry are standardised, and/or specific, and there is an overall poor understanding of processes and information flow outside of these roles, which results in projects being undertaken in a siloed, and therefore blinkered, way.  

When clients select services based on the lowest bid, consultants or contractors will identify the least amount of hours/effort to be input to a project. This means deploying the lowest cost, and usually ad hoc, team(s), who might be starting from a lower knowledge and experience base than others, (despite in many cases the ‘A’ team being named as available on the bid documents).

The price demands team members minimise their workload so that margin is maintained, whilst paradoxically making sure they maintain high utilisation. On many projects, team members become shared between projects, and are sometimes replaced by others who cost less once a certain milestone is passed. 

There has been a lack of systemic innovation in our industry, ie product and process improvements that require changes through the entire value chain, instead of parts of it. In a project based environment where there is a constant churn of resources, these chains are difficult to construct and maintain consistently. The contractual environment is key to changing this.

The five key drivers to change in the Egan report were: committed leadership, a focus on the customer, integrated processes and teams, a quality driven agenda and commitment to people. Interestingly, there was not a scintilla of technology mentioned in Egan, and that is the missing piece of the jigsaw.

What’s different about BIM?

Visual modelling DEMANDS a positive response from the audience, and therefore drives immediate positive collaboration in the team. The problem or solution is visually represented, and therefore made evident and unavoidable; information is shared quickly and consistently.  

This requirement to get involved at the earliest possible point in the project, at exactly the right time when determining specification, risk and estimates, is why this approach will change things more quickly than people realise.

BIM forces an understanding of transition points in the evolution of a project, and therefore is able to help better understand risk, and improve the information flow and processes especially at transition points.

So BIM forces collaboration, affecting the historically siloed approach to learning, teams and traditional management hierarchy – and ultimately it will lead to reduced prices.

Intimately related improvement initiatives such Asset Management or Lean, are not easy to monetise quickly, or are deemed too conceptual or specialist and so have been compartmentalised, because their ambitions and intentions are represented by words only. Koskela et al, for instance, in 2002 defined lean construction as a “way to design production systems to minimize waste of materials, time, and effort in order to generate the maximum possible amount of value.”

BIM however is able to fully complement the ambitions of AM and LEAN, and together they will become the holy trinity of future productivity improvement, with BIM catalysing the behavioural change.

Those with the best collaborative behaviours and agility to find solutions to problems will be winners in the industry as BIM comes of age; those for whom the money comes first will lose out.

I’m hoping to track a change in attitude at Highways UK to see if all parties start to appreciate the best of each other. Come along and give me your views.

Brian Fitzpatrick is founder and principal advisor for Fitzpatrick Advisory and their clients include Highways England and Transport for London. He will be speaking at Highways UK on ‘Looking beyond 2020’.




Brian Fitzpatrick

Brian Fitzpatrick – Founder, Fitzpatrick Advisory