Modern Collaborative Working; The top 10 of what to do and how to do it. Number 10: Where to Start?

Constructing Excellence

This blog is part of the Collaborative Working Champions series of ten blogs on Modern Collaborative Working

We have repeatedly asserted during this series that holistic disruptive change is necessary to achieve superior value outcomes.  Intuitively this feels right, but is there any evidence to support this?  That’s a question we asked ourselves when we were developing a business case for collaborative working on behalf of the Strategic Forum for Construction’s Integration Task Force.  We set ourselves some stringent criteria in looking for projects that had applied a minimum of 10 consistent KPI’s throughout, had measured (warts and all) both the maturity of the arrangements and the outcomes, and had exposed their case studies to validation by a peer group that included a constructing excellence auditor.   In the end we obtained 16 fully documented case studies, including 2 where the outcomes had been unfavourable.  We then plotted the measures of success against the maturity of the collaborative relationships and the following emerged;

Constructing Excellence

Actually, what emerged was a very clear ‘S’ Curve, but the two poorly performing studies (less than 30% successful) declined to allow their projects to be mentioned, understandable from one perspective, but disappointing from another.

Messages from the Case Studies

So now we have the graph, what does it tell us about where to start? Firstly, it is clear that the more mature your collaboration, the more success you will achieve (we used 10 success measures; 6 industry standard KPI’s and 4 user defined outcomes).  Maturity here meaning how well the 6 critical success factors we spoke about in blog#2, were embraced; namely

  • Early Involvement
  • Selection by Value
  • Common processes and Tools
  • Continuous Measurement of Performance
  • Long-term Relationships
  • Aligned Commercial Arrangements

Next, a couple of things you would only spot if you know the case studies.  Firstly, 2 of the top performing projects are from just before and after the turn of the century (FUSION and Andover North) showing that we have struggled to reach that level of integration again since the downturn and recession which followed the start of this new millennium, indeed we are only just beginning to hear new examples that rival these more that 15 years on; I’m thinking of Project 13 and our own IPI Advance II project.  The other message being the significant difference in the performance of 2 projects that were delivered by Stepnell.

To his enormous credit, Mark Wakeford Stepnell’s MD put these projects forward in the full knowledge that they had achieved very different outcomes.   Whitecross High School sits in the group of good performers, whereas the Malmesbury Care Home is the lowest performing case study on the graph.  It’s a good job that Mark did not take the same view as other poorer performers and insist they were not included. Instead Stepnell were able to ascertain that the major difference between the 2 projects was in the attitude towards the supply chain, something Stepnell were able to address going forward and which is why they are so well respected in collaborative circles.

Any Collaboration is Better Than None

Indeed, it is the Stepnell response that provides a hint as to how to use this graph to best effect.  In the centre section in which Mark’s 2 projects sit a 16% improvement in Maturity returns an impressive 37% improvement in success (I have the numbers). This shows that whilst holistic change will most definitely deliver superior value, any improvement in the maturity of your collaborations will deliver some increased value, albeit perhaps more slowly. To reiterate a message we have delivered before, you don’t have to do everything at once, pick one or two themes to do really well and you will still reap the benefits.

Of course a lot depends on what you are trying to achieve, for many some improvement is enough, but there are those who consider enough is mediocre and mediocre is never enough.  And it’s a good job they do too.  Without these people the 4 minute mile would never have been broken, let alone the 2 hour marathon that was achieved by Kipchoge this year.  So what can we learn from them?  A few things I think;

  • They are aware of history but not put off by it.
  • They consider failure a learning experience; as Einstein said “I haven’t failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work”.
  • They think big and aim high.
  • They don’t expect to achieve on their own.

In my view it is the last point that is most important to this question of where to start and indeed to the messages from the whole of this series.   In the ancient world it was entirely possible to be a genuine expert in all the aspects of a building.  The number of building materials was relatively limited, the limited number of assembly techniques tried and tested, with very little in the way of M&E services to worry about.  In this modern world the pace of change is so rapid it is almost impossible to keep up to date.  No one person and increasingly no one organisation is able to manage the complexity on their own.  It is only through establishing teams in which ideas can flow freely and those who know the best about their particular subject are included irrespective of where they sit in the supply chain, that superior outcomes can be provided.

The Collaborative Working Champions are very clear on this; start with people, enable them and impower them to collaborate freely, incentivise them and reward them collectively and you will achieve outcomes that will both surprise and delight you.

We offer just one behavioural change to adopt

  • Whatever you do, do it more collaboratively in future!

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.

With thanks to all those who contributed to the series, namely;

Ron Edmondson (Waterloo)

Paul Wilkinson (

Mike Reader (Mace)

Odilon Serrano (Mott McDonald)

Keith Hayes (Graham)

Emer Murnaghan (Graham)

Henry Loo (Roehampton University)

This blog is part of the Collaborative Working Champions series of ten blogs on Modern Collaborative Working