• Grant

Building Change from Below

You know, people think that change normally comes from above, and to be honest it does in most cases, but what can you do if the people above don't really want to change?


You may know by now, that most of the work I do is with construction companies, many of whom fall into the SME/Micro business category. I was fortunate to be able to attend the UK National Construction Week event, a couple of weeks ago at the NEC in Birmingham. One of the speakers at that event was Mark Farmer who was the author of the UK Construction Model Review. Mark made some excellent points about the changes needed to develop the construction sector but admitted that change needed some serious support from the Government as well as the sector itself.


This got me thinking about the clients I work with and some of the changes we are trying to make to better organise them to provide an improved service to their contractors. However, this can be a bit like "pushing an elephant up the hill" as REM sang because in reality many contractors take advantage of the disorganisation of smaller businesses as a method of keeping control and also managing project costs. So, what would happen if smaller contractors were better able to:

  • Develop better on site processes to manage their part of the project

  • Prove audit trails for extras and variations to make it more difficult for main contractors to question or, hold back these payments

  • Provide full final accounts in better timescale

  • Address quality and snagging issues and get sign off before handing areas over to main contractors


What could or would main contractors do then? Many I speak to complain about their supply chain and performance, but would they be happy if this was addressed? I seriously question whether they would.


The reason for my assumption above is that, contractors, in reality don't want an organised supply chain as it would then open up the issues and challenges many of them have. These can currently, be blamed on the inabilities of the sub-contractors and therefore main contractors are able to hide many of the errors, assumptions and inconsistency of practice which dog them internally, increase project costs and reduce project efficiency. The lack of professionalism in the subcontractor base helps this as they are unable to evidence activities where work priorities have changed or additional tasks added to the job. This means that site staff are not clear on what they should be doing due to the word of mouth approach to issuing instructions, changing priorities and difficulty in planning due to the 11th hour nature of some contractors practice


One of the issues Mark Farmer raised, was the need for a more integrated delivery model. I believe this is key for the industry to enable a more effective project delivery model. However, this has its own challenges, in how projects are planned and delivered currently which sometimes can come down to the aforementioned 11th hour approach.


People speak at events about building an holistic planning model which would mean that everyone involved in the project would sit around the table and plan the project. This type of stakeholder planning approach would be useful, but would it be sustainable? It would meet Mark Farmer's call for an integrated delivery model, but it would mean more interaction between contractors, sub-contractors and suppliers in order to manage the project better.


However, the additional time that this would require is not always afforded by projects and so how easy would it be to adopt? The Japanese, when planning, take the time to involve stakeholders and there is an argument that they can bring projects to fruition around 30% faster than we can.


The change required to achieve this is monumental, but is it something we need to embrace to better deliver projects? But where will the change be driven from? I believe as I've written above that by organising the subcontractor base, to better perform and provide a professional service to contractors we can drive improvement into the sector from the bottom, but subcontractors have to believe that by changing their approach to how they manage their area of the project it will make a difference and main contractors have to embrace and support this.


So, come on you small contractors, take a deep breath, think about organising yourself and move into the brave new world! What will you lose, very little I suspect, but just imagine what you could gain?


If you'd like to learn more about better organisation and planning then you know where to find us...