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Is Constructing Excellence Still Relevant?

It’s that time of the year when we ask ourselves challenging questions about the past and what we aspire to do in the future. I was recently asked what initially appeared to be a tough question to answer. Is Constructing Excellence still relevant?  It has made me think and reflect on whether our job is indeed done. Have we completed the journey to `excellence’ as defined by the current techno-economic paradigm and as set out for construction in the report Rethinking Construction, produced by a Construction Task Force, led by Sir John Egan, back in 1998?

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Sir John’s report that did so much to raise our industry’s awareness of the challenges and opportunities posed by the emergence of the new paradigm and to shape the Constructing Excellence principles that have come to define construction’s improvement agenda over two decades.

Over the past 20 years the industry has grappled with coming to terms with the paradigm based on `chips’ (microelectronics) coupled with rapid developments in computers and telecommunications and other technical advances including optical fibres, flexible manufacturing systems and data banks. And not just technological challenges either.

In terms of the organisation of firms and forms of cooperation and competition, we have seen the emergence of networks of large and small firms increasingly digitally linked by computer networks and aligned commercial arrangements, with close cooperation in quality management, training, investment planning, production planning and the raising of capital through internal capital markets.

Taking on board the thinking in other sectors, particularly the automotive industry, Egan and his team of `re-thinkers’ identified five key drivers which formed the change agenda for the construction industry: committed leadership, a focus on the customer, integrated processes and teams, a quality driven agenda and commitment to people.

The team of `re-thinkers’ argued that the industry should create an integrated project process around the four key elements of product development, project implementation, partnering the supply chain and production of components. Sustained improvement should then be delivered using techniques for eliminating waste and increasing value for the customer.

The Construction Task Force also maintained that if the industry was to achieve its full potential and improve performance, substantial changes were needed in our culture and structure. We needed to provide decent and safe working conditions and improve management and supervisory skills at all levels. Our products should be designed for ease of construction making maximum use of standard components and processes. In relation to procurement, we should replace competitive tendering with long term relationships based on clear measurement of performance and sustained improvements in quality and efficiency.

Have we changed and fulfilled our full potential as set out by Egan and his team?  Has Constructing Excellence run its course and outlived its usefulness?  Clearly much has been achieved by the industry since 1998: Look at CESW’s award winners and case studies for evidence of considerable progress.

But much of what we do still falls short of the `excellence’ implicit in the dominant paradigm and envisaged by the Rethinking Construction team. In some areas our work falls very short indeed. Reminders that Constructing Excellence is very much work in progress were provided in 2017 by Mark Farmer, author of Modernise or Die, the independent Review of the UK Construction Labour Model and Dame Judith Hackitt’s interim report, Building a Safe Future: Independent review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. 

Whilst acknowledging what construction can do when we put our minds to it Dame Judith also points out that, “The mind-set of doing things as cheaply as possible and passing on responsibility for problems and shortcomings to others must stop. Everyone’s focus must be on doing the right things because it is their responsibility as part of a system which provides buildings that are safe and sustainable for those who will live in and use them for many decades.”

Through the active leadership of our Board and Leadership Council, the innovativeness of our Thought Leadership Forums and the reach of our Hubs and Clubs, we at Constructing Excellence South West are determined to demonstrate our relevance and passion by continuing to work for a better, safer built environment, a more effective and quality-driven industry that does the right thing whilst providing opportunities for all.