Unlocking Productivity – “It’s still all about collaboration!”

The UK government is focused on economic growth through productivity. But the productivity puzzle in our sector, as set out by Brian Green in the CIOB’s excellent new report Productivity in Construction continues to confound us. Are we really unproductive, compared with other industries or with international standards? Our accident rate is 70% lower than a decade or so ago, our buildings are more complex and high-tech, and as we move to greater us of BIM and offsite prefabrication, it hardly seems feasible that we can be getting worse.

As Brian suggests, perhaps part of the problem is that it’s a statistical perversion? As we move more work to manufacturing, professional services and IT, and do less newbuild and more repair and maintenance, what’s left to be defined as traditional ‘construction’ is the more labour intensive stuff. The CIOB report sums this up nicely: “Paradoxically, you could be building more productively to a higher quality, with innovation in design, product manufacture and construction management, while the statistics suggests the industry is becoming less productive.”

That said, few would argue that there is plenty of scope to improve our productivity. Based on a survey of industry views last year, Constructing Excellence published our own analysis of the barriers to innovation and productivity, entitled Unlocking Productivity. The top four barriers to performance were identified as:

  • Culture and behaviours 49%
  • Procurement practices 42%
  • Availability of skilled workforce 30%
  • Role of the client 26%.

Supply chain engagement (21%) and poor information management (19%) came next.

Those considered as the least important barriers, all rated by less than 10%, were Technology, Government policy, Economy, and Legislation. The position of technology in this second list is a surprise, digital must surely have a major role to play. Nevertheless our report concludes that the answer to improvement, measured this time through the lens of productivity, is still great collaboration and integration of the process. Plus ça change

And then there is the subject of value. My own contribution to the CIOB report mentioned above was on the this subject – or the effect our industry’s outputs have on the productivity of the rest of the economy:

“Construction should first and foremost be measured by the outcomes it generates for the wider economy and quality of life. It is a means to an end.

The cost of construction – and maintenance – of a facility, whether a building or a piece of transport or energy infrastructure, is dwarfed by the effect that well designed, well built and well maintained facilities have on the productivity of the rest of the economy. Good school buildings enable good education, good hospitals enable good healthcare, good offices or factories and transport enable productive businesses, and good housing, energy and transport greatly enhance quality of life or ‘wellbeing’.

Put the other way, bad buildings or roads seriously damage productivity in the rest of the economy.

Once we are clear about how an investment in construction delivers this value, we can focus on what most people would probably think of as ‘productivity’ – delivering as efficiently as possible, lower £/m2 through ‘right-first-time’ lean techniques, no accidents or defects, less waste and environmental impact, more local jobs and increased social value. Compared with
today’s average, this probably means more resource deployed in up-front planning and design and more offsite manufacturing, and consequently less resource for on-site installation.”

The value of outcomes always dwarves the cost of design, manufacturing and construction – time to move the conversation with clients to the big circles that matter!

Delivering this value through collaboration and integration is the vision of what Constructing Excellence is all about.

This article is based on Don Ward’s presentation at the CIOB’s annual conference on 14 July in Hong Kong and was originally written for their website.