Modern Collaborative Working; The top 10 of what to do and how to do it. Number 6: Making a Difference

In November 1998 the Construction Task Force under the chairmanship of Sir John Egan published Rethinking Construction.  Like Latham’s Constructing the Team in 1994, this report was intended to achieve fundamental change in the UK construction industry.  It certainly played a part in the change programme in particular through introducing the concept of integration and by providing a framework for performance improvement for the next decade, and unfortunately it would appear, decades to come?

From this report and the subsequent Accelerating Change review of progress in 2002, key success factors emerged.  In part this was as a result of the creation of the Integration Toolkit which was launched by the Strategic Forum for Construction in 2003.  Many of those who had been instrumental in developing the toolkit were keen to stay involved to assist in ongoing improvement and uptake of the toolkit.  Under the same Chairmanship as for toolkit development, the Constructing Excellence Collaborative Working Champions were formed in 2003.

Whilst the CW Champions’ thinking has developed and indeed the integration toolkit has been refreshed (this time as part of the development of the new models of procurement in 2015 – see icwtoolkit.com) the same six critical factors remain essential to the success of Integrated Collaborative Working as it is coined in the refreshed toolkit and shown in the following and sixth slide in this series;

This slide includes a reference to Collaborative Working: The Principles, a CW Champions guide published in 2011 which brings the success factors with the change themes identified in Blog#5 into a single framework for change.  This guide is available on line here.

In this blog we will be looking at each of the critical success factors in detail.  Don’t feel you have to address everything, you will probably get better results from doing one or two thoroughly than partially attempting them all at the same time!

Early(ist) Involvement

Currently most construction is characterised by a sequential process which separates the design and delivery parts of the industry. Those who continue to support this model believe that design is the bastion of the consulting community and that delivery organisations should merely embellish the concepts that have been developed with the necessary detail to enable installation to take place. The RIBA stages presuppose this augmentation process and people talk about ‘fixity’ as if the more design is done the greater the certainty of outcome. But the devil is in the detail.  The experiences of those who are responsible for delivery leads them to believe that conceptual designers have very little understanding for what is actually buildable and coupled with the commercial imperatives believe many consultants (some might say most) have little or no understanding of what makes a solution, affordable, realistic and achievable.

The constant reiteration of design should make it obvious to both parties that there is something amiss here. And those who are embracing BIM as a true model for understanding the interaction and complexity of construction, or are becoming involved with MMC (Modern Methods of Construction) solutions which drive the dimensional necessities of the solution, are experiencing how the wrong choices at concept stage can render solutions, especially off-site solutions, unworkable before they have even been considered.

Truth is we need conceptual and implementational decision-making in parallel right from the beginning if we are to achieve a genuinely efficient and outcome-based industry.  Many people are aware of this and early contractor involvement has become an aspiration for many organisations.  However, to maximise the benefit of early involvement;

  • it needs to be at the earliest point at which it can be beneficial
  • it needs to be repeated throughout the supply chain and
  • it needs to come with a commitment – meaning appointment and payment – for that involvement (without abusing the ‘opportunity’ that presents in return).

Only then will the benefits of earliest involvement mean all parties own the solution and thus commit to resolution of any problems that arise in achieving it.

Selection by Value

Selection is (should be) all about appointing the best people for the available positions.  If you are appointing a new team member, having communicated the role outwards, you will collect the CVs together and do a screen to see who has the right mixture of skills, capabilities, experience and attitudes to fulfil your role.  Then you will interview the applicants and finally look to appoint the person who you believe is the best balance of abilities at a salary level that reflects both their and your aspirations; you will make a value decision.

You are extremely unlikely to assemble your preferred applicants and simply ask who will work for the lowest salary, yet it is precisely that kind of price-based decision-making that drives much of our selection processes.  We need to make sure that selection in the construction industry seek value and not price if we want genuine collaboration and superior performance (see blog#3 if you want a reminder of how to avoid falling into the wrong camp inadvertently).

Don’t forget the evidence shows there is a glorious contradiction in play; in that those who are seeking the cheapest price seldom if ever end up with the lowest outturn cost, whereas those who appoint on the basis of best value and who fully adopt collaborative principles are far more likely to witness design efficiencies and buildability savings leading to lowest cost being one of the better value outcomes achieved.

Common Process and Tools

How can you genuinely work together if you all have different processes, procedures and apply different tools that provide different information in different formats? Confusion, misunderstanding and inefficiency are going to rule.  Anyone who has tried to work in a BIM environment knows that you have to have data drops which mean the same thing to everyone, both in level and type of information.  And this is no different for any other type of information exchange; for example how can you really manage a budget or schedule effectively if you don’t have an open book environment?

Doing as much as possible within the existing contractual and insurance frameworks is a must and yet how hard is it to get people to freely exchange information despite all the protocols and debate?  Whilst replacing these current arrangements with alliancing and integrated insurances will enable a step change in understanding and performance, there is still the challenge that individual partners will have their own tools which are understandably applied throughout their own organisations.  However, experience on fully collaborative projects shows that once people understand the benefits and are willing to share their arrangements, it is relatively straightforward to adopt processes that enable common data to be drawn from a range of different tools.

Measurement of Performance

If you don’t have a measure of what is good then how do you know if you are performing well or badly? If you don’t know your personal and organisational performance norms, how will you decide which areas to improve?  If you don’t know how you compare to others, how will you know how far you need improve to catch up or maintain your lead?

Clearly it is important to measure but also it is imperative to make sure you use measures that will give you the best information.  Generally it makes most sense to use measures that others also use to provide the most useful information; if you sprint you could measure how loud the crowd shouts when you cross the line, but most sprinters find their time is a far better measure of performance!

Make sure you have a baseline you can refer back to, and regularly benchmark internally and externally to check how your performance is changing.

Long-Term Relationships

If you work with the same people regularly your relationships will improve and you will understand where you are stronger together and where you are weaker.  This enables you to improve individually and collectively.  If your attitude when experiencing problems is to never work together again you will simply waste the improvement opportunity.  If you look at top sports teams you will find that those who have learned from their failings are the ones that succeed the most. These teams develop trust and understanding through ongoing interaction and collaboration based on open disclosure, discussion and shared problem solving.

Unfortunately though, it isn’t as simple as just keeping a team together. We also need to recognise that organisations change and people grow, develop and move on, so whilst a core of individuals may be a realistic aspiration there will always be the need to keep learning and sharing experiences with new people to maintain improvement. In keeping with high performing sports teams it is better to have a regular pool to draw from (a squad system) which recognises that long term relationships do not mean the same team performs every time or, in our case, on every project.

However, every relationship has a lifespan and some are longer than others, so remain alert to the indications that repeated misunderstandings and a failure to continuously improve could mean the current relationship has reached the end of its lifespan and the individuals or organisations need to be replaced in the best interest of both parties.  In addition, refreshing the team with some new participants who bring new ideas and different approaches, abilities or behaviours, can be a further boost to performance.

Aligned Commercial Arrangements

Having made a value decision in selecting project team members (see above), it is vital the team is motivated and rewarded for the value they collectively create. Teams in which members are remunerated and rewarded differently and for achieving different outcomes, are very unlikely to maintain focus on the same objectives. In a genuinely collaborative working environment, teams should be incentivised to deliver the same outcome that best meets the needs of their client – typically, a whole-life solution, not a solution which is cheap and simple to deliver but expensive and difficult to operate, maintain and use.  That is why in recent years government reports have focussed on the need to adopt new models of procurement predicated on the delivery of customers’ needs on a lifecycle basis.

Understanding the impact that individual contracts and insurances have on the behaviours of team members and their suppliers helps in aligning interests, but utilising new model collaborative alliance style contracts and team insurances which enable behavioural change at source, is far more beneficial.   Whatever the contractual framework, expectations should be set – ideally using an industry benchmark, about what the client is aiming to achieve and the project team should be rewarded according to how well they deliver against that benchmark. Pain and gain-sharing arrangements where teams know their reward will be collectively geared to delivery of a superior solution are desirable.

Open-book accounting helps everyone see how their project costs, overheads and target profit margins are considered alongside those of their fellow collaborators. Cost savings and value enhancements delivered through collaboration thus become an opportunity for clients to share equitably with their project team when achieving the best project outcomes.

Behavioural Changes to Adopt

The need for behavioural change is identified in the model in Blog#5, so it is interesting that this wasn’t explicitly reflected in the six critical success factors.  It is of course vital to consider whether the people working in a team have the right attitudes and can and will display the right behaviours.

In each of the blogs in this series and to retrospectively recognise its importance, we have added a section at the end to summarise the behavioural changes identified in the blog content. Some of these are aimed at one or more team partners and some are aimed at the whole team collectively.  Behavioural changes identified in this blog are:

  • Seek to improve performance under one or more success criteria really well rather than partially addressing all six
  • Develop an improvement plan and action it
  • Recognise that earliest involvement also means earliest appointment and payment
  • Explore how design concepts limit delivery options with the delivery partners involved
  • Select on the basis of skills and capabilities and the value a partner will bring, not price
  • Review partners’ processes and tools and select those that will add most value
  • Collect common information; “one version of the truth” enables the right decision to be taken by the right people at the right time
  • Seek to use the same tools where possible, but recognise that sometimes drawing from different tools and collating the information is the most efficient process
  • Establish baseline measures of performance, regularly measure against them and compare with what others achieve
  • Use measures which are widely recognised and easy to compare
  • Use a relationship problem as a springboard for improvement on both sides
  • Try to work repeatedly with the same organisations/individuals
  • Long term isn’t the same as every opportunity
  • Be on the lookout for signs of complacency and stagnation that may indicate it is time to refresh some of the team membership
  • You can’t fix what you don’t know about, so seek open book relationships based on collaborative/alliancing arrangements
  • Don’t expect people with different contractual and insurance obligations to be willing and able to focus on the same objectives
  • Don’t expect the right attitudes from your partners if you don’t exhibit them yourselves
  • Share risk and reward collectively and equitably

With thanks to fellow Champions Paul Wilkinson (PW.com.uk ltd – a freelance consultant specialising in technological support for collaborative working and a consultant at Constructive Collaboration) and Ron Edmondson (Waterloo) for their input and improvements.

Kevin Thomas

Chair and Coach of the Collaborative Working Campions of Construction Excellence and Founding Director of Integrated Project Initiatives Ltd, the creators and delivery organisation for the Integrated Project Insurance (IPI) Delivery Model.

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