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There’s more than trees – there’s a wood!

Forests-007-300x180We are National Members of Constructing Excellence (CE) because we believe that, if we are going to succeed in our mission of “creating value through construction”, we must engage with people who are interested in pursuing better ways of doing business. I sit on CE’s board of management and steering group, as my involvement gives me the opportunity to share our ideas and to learn early, and first-hand, what other businesses are doing and thinking.

CE was, in its previous incarnations, Government-funded. Now it is funded entirely from its membership that spans the industry to include Clients, Academia, Suppliers and all tiers of Contractors (the CE in Wales still receives public funding As a consequence, CE must continually assess its relevance and how it supports the needs of its members. It does this with the aim of promoting collaboration in the pursuit of excellence.

CE has been actively involved in shaping The Construction Strategy  which was drawn up in consultation between Government and Industry. The strategy has set challenging targets for the public sector and these are already influencing thinking in the private sector.

This week we attended the CE Members’ Forum entitled “Value and outcome-based delivery”. At the forum there were presentations from CE on its redefined vision 2025, AECOM on “Output to Outcome – The Changing Face of Projects”, University of Reading on “Performance-based contracting in the construction sector” and a combined presentation by London Underground and Dragados on the procurement process of the recently awarded Bank Station Capacity Upgrade Project .

What was abundantly clear at the forum is that there is an emerging story in the UK Construction Sector that is incredibly positive and that demonstrates great potential for the future.  However, there is still a distinct lack of belief and commitment that this trajectory can be established and maintained.

As we conduct our business, we have amazing conversations with people at all levels of industry who are achieving great things. We then see the press and read that teachers are guiding their students away from the sector as it is perceived to be of lesser value than other sectors. The procurement of construction activities has become incredibly complex and a lot of this complexity brings no value whatsoever to those involved. There are numerous examples of adversarial behaviours in construction that may lead to short-term gain but long-term loss. There is a preponderance of very clever management systems that have been developed to manage schemes but the development of the people side of the industry has lagged behind.

There are therefore many reasons to share in the lack of belief and commitment mentioned earlier but I just wonder whether the real issue is the lack of co-ordinated leadership in the industry that is clear in vision and that recognises the relationship between contribution and reward.

There are enough pockets of excellence to show what can be done and how, so what are we in the industry waiting for?

The Bank Project is a great example of client leadership where LU understands and explains its own business drivers, which enabled the market to respond innovatively and collaboratively. It is also a great example of contractor leadership where Dragados was resolute in understanding and addressing the benefits needs, which were principally about the operational performance of the station (on the basis that the capability to address the technical needs had already been satisfied through the pre-qualification process).

Further, the contractor collaborated with designers and specialist contractors who won (or could have lost) by combining experience and expertise to address the needs of LU, in the knowledge that their ongoing involvement was secure. It is too early to herald the project, in total, a success but it is definitely not too early to applaud the initiative and response of those now involved. There are many examples of great things being done in construction but we do not always celebrate and promote these successes to others.

There is also a tendency to be critical and even cynical about some of the achievements, which stifle the enthusiasm of those who want to drive this great industry forward. So there is no doubt in my mind that we do have the people and we do have the leaders to achieve the vision of excellence, through the right level of engagement, but we do need more coordination of effort to ensure that those who have the desire for a better construction industry in the UK see that there is a wood there not just a load of trees.

We would love to hear from those who support this view, to discuss how we could collectively move forward. But equally, we would love to hear from those who have contrary views so that we can continually inform our thinking to address the issues raised. Please also consider joining Constructing Excellence to see how you can engage in the debate to develop yourself, your business and the construction sector.

Brendan Morahan

Brendan Morahan is an experienced construction project and business leader.

He has led teams delivering annual turnover of £400m, and led business growth during economic downturns.

As Executive Board Director at Taylor Woodrow Construction, Brendan led a focus on value as opposed to volume, helping the company win BAA’s 10-year £6.9bn capital framework, as well as managing the successful integration of acquisitions into the group.

An experienced and committed proponent of collaborative working and long-term commercial relationships, he knows what can make – or break – the fortunes of a successful business.

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