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Construction in UK is one of the driving pillars in the domestic economy; the industry is excellent at its best. It has the capability to deliver the most difficult and innovative projects which matches any other construction industry in the world. The nature of projects are often seen as unpredictable in terms of cost, time and quality since investment is always expensive when compared to other goods and services and to other countries. A successful construction industry has a lot of benefits to us all ranging from quality constructed hospitals, housing, to transport infrastructures. Nonetheless, there is the issue of the performance of the industry as it is believed to be under-achieving. Under achievement is found as a growing dissatisfaction by both private and public clients. Clients will always want better value from their projects and also construction companies need a reasonable amount of profit for sustenance and assurance of their long term future. In other words, construction fails to meet the requirement of modern competitive international markets and hardly provides best values for its clients and taxpayers. However, there is no doubt that an improvement in the process, efficiency and quality of construction is not achievable. This paper is a summary of the report of the construction Task Force on the approach on how to achieve an improvement in the performance of the UK construction.
The Need to Improve
UK Deputy Prime Minister set up the construction task Force due to concern that the industry was under achieving both in terms of meeting its own needs and the needs of its clients. The members of the Task Force were selected based on their expertise as construction clients and their experience of other industries with improved performance. The construction Task Force objective is to ensure a substantial improvement of the performance of the UK construction industry. By focusing on customer needs, determination to challenge waste, poor quality experienced in the existing structures and working practices, the Task Force believes a continuous and sustained improvement in the UK construction sector is possible. Acknowledging the difficulties and challenges which will be encountered to achieve this improvement as construction is diverse, it is a necessary step in order to secure the future of the sector. It is therefore too important to be allowed to remained stand still without improvements. The industry understands the important for improvement and modification in order to address the various problems facing it, some of which are:
Crisis in training 2.) Low and unrealistic rate of profitability, and 3.) Discrimination by clients in selection of contractors on a basis of tender price.
The Task Force recognizes fragmentation of the UK construction industry as an obstacle to performance improvements. The consequence of fragmentation is the landmark for Sir Michael Lutham publication in 1994 which serves as the foundation the Task Force were built on. From the Task force view, there is plenty of scope to be improved to achieve the required performance improvements. To do this, it is necessary to draw all the promising development in construction together and give them direction which must come from the major clients. However, wide range of promising developments which has emerged from the industry, its client and its Government over the years are recognized as encouraging. These developments include:
Initiatives to improve performance (such as Construction Round Table's 'Agenda for Change", the Construction Client Forum "Forum's Pact with the Industry"), 2.) Tools to tackle fragmentation (such as partnering and framework agreements), 3.) Tools for improving efficiency and quality (such as benchmarking, value management, team working etc)
The Task Force Ambition for UK Construction
Manufacturing and Service industries has experienced increased efficiency and transformation of companies which nobody would have believed as attainable a decade or more ago. These successes can be attributed to a background of rising world class standards. Car manufacturing, steel making, Grocery retailing, and Offshore Engineering Industries are examples of industries enjoying efficient improvements in performance. Observations and studies carried out by the Task Force identified a series of fundamentals to the process as a driver to these changes experienced by these 2 sectors concluding that such approach is applicable to construction as to any other business concern. These include the following:
Committed Leadership, 2.) Focus on Consumer, 3.) A Quality-driven Agenda, 4.) Commitment to people, and 5.) Integrated Process and Team around the product.
The above fundamentals together provide the model that the UK construction must adopt to achieve improvement in performance. If construction is to enjoy the benefits of improved performance, the set objectives and targets must directly be related to client's perception of performance which should also include improving the quality and efficiency of construction process in terms of labour productivity and safety only then will it deliver it. A means of measuring progress in line with its objectives and targets must also be put in place. In addition, the Task force would like to see the construction sector produce its own structure of targets and objectives performance measurements agreed with clients, preparation of performance data and share it with clients and each other and lastly, an independent monitored scoreboard company system measuring progress rather than just benchmarking. A practical approach to achieve this is through the concept of "Integrated Project Process".
Improving the Project process
Using the Manufacturing and Service Industry as a benchmark, can construction learn from their success? The Task Force believes it can. One of the things construction has to learn to do differently is "Rethinking the Process" of project delivery with the aim of attaining continuous improvement in its performance and products. Looking at what leading clients and innovative constructors both in UK and the USA are doing in rethinking construction process, there are a number of pointers indicating the same direction all suggesting that there are significance inefficiencies in the construction process. Also, there is potential for organized and integrated process in which wastage can be reduced while improving quality and efficiency. This key in with the study that manufacturing has achieved performance improvement by integrating the process and team involved in the product.
An integrated process utilizes the entire construction team combining the skills of all the participants to bear on delivery value to the client. Hence, it is an explicit and transparent process therefore easy for both clients and participants to understand. The underlying principle behind the development of this process is that the efficiency of project delivery is inhibited by the largely separated process through which construction is planned, design and executed. Generally, the conventional process presumes that clients profit from selecting a new team of designers, constructors and suppliers competitively for every project they do. However, repeated selection of new teams hinder learning, innovation and the development of skilled & experienced team. This has prevented the industry from developing an identity, products, brand that can be easily understood by its clients. By focusing on construction process of delivering the needs of the consumers through the product as adopted in other sectors of the economy, construction can learn to improve its performance. Concentrating on these needs leads to a view of construction as a much integrated process. The overall process can be subdivided into 4 complementary and interlocked elements which are:
) Product Development, 2.) Project Implementation, 3.) Partnering the Supply Chain, and 4.) Production of Components.
Improvement in the construction industry depends on considerable changes in its culture and structure. The Industry must provide reasonable and good conditions on-site and improve worker skills at all levels. Also, construction industry must use professional manager for supervisory on the site. In order to achieve its targets, changes must occur in the following sections of construction:
Working conditions, 2.) Better Skills and Training, 3.) Approaches adopted in Design, 4.) Technology as a tool, 5.) Long Term Relationships, 6.) Reduced Reliance on Tendering, and 7.) Better regulations.
Improving House Building
The Task Force also looked at improving the efficiency and quality of housing construction since scope for improving performance is also as great in housing development as in other forms of construction. Therefore, there is necessity for specific initiatives to encourage advances in this sector. However, there are promising developments in both the private and public housing sector in the UK such as the increasing investigation of innovative approaches to house building in the social housing sector by the main corporate clients. Seminars were organized by the housing corporation with some major housing associations and housing construction companies invited to assess potential radical for change. They concluded that major housing and construction firms could act as the catalyst for change. Moreover, pro-active support and encouragement from Government will also be vital in the forms of pump priming contributions to support a secretariat for forums, capital funding for demonstration projects, and prioritizing investment projects offering enhanced value for money. However, the key to attaining successful noteworthy improvements in the quality and efficiency of house building is the full commitment of the people involved.
UK construction is seen as excellent at its best matching other construction in the world but there are concerns about its underachieving nature. However, adopting various models of performance such as the concept of integrated project process, philosophy of lean thinking, encouragement of long term business relationships over competitive tendering which has been followed by other industries to attain success will help deliver the challenging targets for increased efficiency and quality in construction. In order to achieve this, it is most important that the major clients of the construction industry are committed to play the leadership role by implementing projects which will demonstrate these models. Public sector also has a role to play in leading development of a more sophisticated and demanding customer base for construction. Finally, the Task Force is not asking the UK construction to review what it is already doing by doing it better but rather they demand the industry and Government to collaborate with major clients and do things entirely differently. In other words, a change of style, culture and process is the best way to achieve successful improvements in performance and deliver its products to its customers/users in the same way as the best consumer leading manufacturing and service industries. Therefore, the need to improve this sector is clear and in order to achieve this we must "Rethink Construction".