Is the construction industry now meeting the demands of industry better? Adrian Blumenthal reports The construction industry has, for years, been getting a bad rap with stories of delays, shoddy work and spiralling costs grabbing the headlines. There is, however, a new climate of change emerging with a renewed focus on the client, better working practices and better value for money. For supermarkets that can only be good news. In October 1997, the deputy prime minister commissioned a Construction Task Force chaired by Sir John Egan, to shed light on the efficiency of the UK construction industry. Its findings, published the following year, echoed what most already suspected: while parts of the industry were world class, overall, the industry was failing to deliver in terms of cost, time and quality. Those footing the bill were paying far too much for construction due to duplication, poor communication, imprecise specification of the client's requirements, failure to involve subcontractors and suppliers early enough in the process, and lack of cohesion and teamwork between participants. The task force made a number of key recommendations to reverse the trend, including the creation of "a movement for change ­ a dynamic, inspirational, non-institutionalised body of people" seconded from the industry. The Movement for Innovation (M4I) was launched in November 1998 as an industry-led organisation committed to identifying and encouraging innovation across the construction industry. Part of its mandate is to identify projects seeking to innovate or employ best practice in working relationships, construction processes or development of components. These demonstration projects highlight the benefits of getting involved to all parts of the industry, from the client to the component manufacturer. The demonstration projects are required to benchmark performance using pan-industry performance indicators; set high safety standards; and share both successes and failures with other projects. One such demonstration project is the Asda Robroyston store built on a site north-east of Glasgow. The project was the third in a series of superstores where Asda, together with partner project managers MPM Capita, used a single team of project managers, subcontractors and designers. Starting with Asda Toryglen near Glasgow, the team moved seamlessly across the three projects as part of a store expansion and renewal programme in the North of England and Scotland with the aim of achieving the construction of better quality buildings, faster. Key to the success of the project was a policy of partnering the supply chain ­ the repeat use of key project team members, both companies and individuals, for design, management and construction. Instead of starting over on each project, participants were able to continuously refine and improve design and construction processes and consolidate working relationships. Technical director at MPM Capita, Bob Gairns, says: "We see this partnering arrangement as a means of adding value to the client's business. It helps us understand the client's business objectives and needs and speeds up the process. Retailers and property developers are assured that people who did a first class job the first time around will be involved next time. It's important that the value in the process is not lost. The result is better value and quality and significant cost reduction for the client." Construction started on the 50,000 sq ft concept superstore in November 1998 and was completed 24 weeks later ­ a 31% programme improvement on an identical footprint superstore completed by the same project team in October 1997. Thanks to a comprehensive pre-construction and dedicated team working to a right first time philosophy, there was no remedial work to be done at the handover of the store to Asda, a rare occurrence for large scale construction projects and a first for a new Asda store. All participants in the projects, including Asda and its project management, facilities management and operations teams as well as the design team and contractor, formally verified that the project was completed with zero defects. Bob Simpson, head of development at Asda, says the Robroyston project is "an excellent example of partnering in practice". "At Asda we are continually striving to improve all aspects of our business, and in the construction arena this requires us to build each new store more quickly, to greater value and with improved quality than ever before. Our experience is that construction and consultant/supplier partnering, with clearly defined objectives and key performance indicators, plays a vital role in enabling us to deliver this." MPM Capita attributes this high standard to the commitment of the team: "We had been striving to deliver jobs faster and better for some time," says Gairns. "Other projects had come close but Asda Robroyston was the first of its type to be delivered defects free." He adds that the early involvement of the operation and facilities team was also a major factor. Since the Robroyston store, Asda has continued to evolve and refine its procurement process. Innovations in value engineering also contributed to the success of the project. Slicker pre-construction planning led to significant improvements in the planning and implementation of the mechanical and electrical elements of the project ­ typically problem areas on large scale projects. This was just one example of the implementation of selected value engineered solutions from a shopping basket' of innovations developed in partnership with Asda. Informal benchmarking was introduced to measure continuous improvement in cost and quality over the three Asda projects completed between October 1997 and May 1999. The cost saving was benchmarked against a cost model via implementation of selected value engineered design solutions. The result was that significant cost savings were achieved when compared against the cost of a similar project completed in October 1997. Senior project manager at MPM Capita, Douglas Cameron, says benchmarking is a vital tool in providing feedback both to the client and to the team. "Benchmarking individual and team performance provides a means of delivering a focused peer review process throughout the life of the project. It also provides a key driver for continuous improvement once the project is completed," he says. "We aim to consolidate this information together with a summary of captured learning' within our formal post-completion report to the client." To date, MPM Capita, Asda's partner project manager since 1996, has worked on 10 new Asda stores with a combined value of £250m. Bovis Lend Lease, a leading construction firm, has also been involved in a number of M4I demonstration projects with its client Safeway. Although construction time of new stores has been slashed from an average of 38 weeks to 26 weeks in the last eight years, the firm is still looking at ways of further improving project delivery. Thanks to its association with M4I, the firm has developed a close working relationship with Marshalls one of the largest manufacturers of concrete products for the construction industry in the UK. Both parties felt that there was unnecessary waste in terms of both materials and management time. Marshalls is now involved earlier in projects to reduce costs by suggesting alternative materials to those originally specified. The relationship with Marshalls is currently in the process of being formalised across the whole of the Bovis Lend Lease operation in the UK, allowing more projects and clients, the opportunity to benefit from such innovations. "We have always worked on the basis of transferring good working practices from one project to another," says project manager, Andy Lee. "It is our view that the dissemination of lessons learnt from any of our projects is fundamental, not only from project to project, but across our company ­ regardless of project type, size or location. This has been achieved mainly by retaining a core team of individuals to ensure this continuity leads to the transfer of good working practices from project to project." Other innovations developed by Bovis Lend Lease on demonstration projects involving supermarket improved communications with store employees via message boards and forums between construction site management and store staff. The aim is to keep everyone informed of new developments and how work is progressing on site. Better communications encourage support for the project from store staff. And implementing a mutually beneficial waste management system ensures site waste is recycled through the client's existing recycling contract, resulting in reduced costs for the client. Supermarkets are set to be some of the biggest beneficiaries of Rethinking Construction as better, leaner working practices take hold across the construction industry. The real success of Rethinking Construction, however, is down to everyone involved. Clients that buy into more progressive working practices and encourage suppliers with incentives to embrace innovation will ultimately be rewarded with better quality products for less. - Adrian Blumenthal is an M41 team member. or more information on the M4I, e-mail:, web site: {{MANAGEMENT FEATURE }}