It’s 2023 and the challenges facing the construction industry remain the same – productivity, quality, and programme delivery, yet the main focus still remains on cost, now more than ever.

The Supply Chain Sustainability School (the School), a multi-award-winning initiative, partnered up with BBI Services, business improvement specialists, to present the ‘Delivering in Challenging Economic Times’ Business Byte, leading on from the Procuring in Challenging Economic Times’ Business Byte.

Hosted by Mark Worrall, CEO of BBI Services, the 2-hour discussion was broken down into 3 panels of industry experts, who helped highlight the scale of the current challenges facing the sector and how we can ‘make the boat go faster’. Mark mentioned how important it is to not get caught up in just ‘being busy’, but that we need to step back and review everything we are doing, spotlighting every opportunity to improve and ultimately whether we are adding value.

The first panel discussed Onsite delivery performance improvement, and Marc Roberts, COO of BBI Services, began by highlighting how “it’s all about the people”.

The teams on site are the ones that make it happen, and ultimately the engagement of these people is the key to success, communicating and collaborating with them to help define collective goals. This was further supported by the audience who engaged with a Menti Meter question, asking what is the first thing they would do to drive performance on-site? In the word cloud, it was clear that communication and collaboration were the most popular answers from the attendees, followed closely by recognition, engagement, and leadership.

Ger Fahey, Managing Director of Etex commented on the Menti results “trying to make it easier than it is right now is our challenge. It’s not about making it easy because sites can be challenging, just easier than right now.”

“For me, it’s about listening and actively engaging with the team and a thank you goes a long way” James Elford, Project Director at Laing O’Rourke added. James is currently working on a 14-acre site in London and highlighted how sometimes “it’s the simple and easy things, like how far away the changing rooms are, or where the team go to grab a drink that makes the team feel included which can help to drive high performance”.

Panel two went on to explore Offsite & Delivery Performance Improvement. Kimberley Coxon, Performance, and Improvement Manager at Octavius Infrastructure shared the benefits of offsite construction. For example, how it is helping to relieve the current labour shortages, as the process requires less labour onsite, further contributing towards cost saving and reducing health and safety risks. Offsite construction also provides a controlled environment, enabling organisations to enhance quality and reduce waste, but it is ultimately about selecting the best solution for each individual project.

Dale Sinclair, Director & Head of Digital Innovation, WSP, added, “to drive offsite construction we need to gain economies of scale. But we can only do this when we start to look beyond a single project or programme and only when we’ve got clients collaborating.”

Kimberley then went on to share some statistics from a study of site managers at Octavius Infrastructure. From a study on nine site managers over two weeks, only 53% of their overall time is spent completing site management activities. Linking back to what Mark Worrall mentioned at the beginning, this figure also highlighted that there needs to be a greater focus on value-adding activities, instead of just ‘being busy’.

Darren Wilson, NG Bailey, added “We want absolute collaboration, as that is where the true efficiencies evolve.”

So, to ensure teams adopt these different more collaborative and efficient ways of working, we need to challenge the current mindsets within construction to enable a more efficient and productive future.

Alasdair Reisner, CEO of CECA introduced panel 3 by sharing “As I’ve been sitting here watching the other presentations, I’ve had an email come in about a fairly substantial scheme, tens of millions of pounds that is not going ahead as it’s no longer affordable.” This highlighted the importance of the discussion by panel 3 – Preconstruction, Design and Setting Up for success.

Ed McCann, Senior Director at Expedition started the discussion by sharing some performance statistics of the industry, one being 10-25% of project costs arise from avoidable error (GIRI) accentuating the crucial need to ‘set up for success’ and improve the profitability of projects linking back to Alasdair’s opening point of projects not being ‘affordable’. Another statistic was that productivity/labour utilisation is in the range of 40-60% on average, further supporting Ed’s point that the opportunity to improve is huge “I believe efficiency improvements between 30-50% are perfectly achievable.”

Tony Turton, Ex Highways Delivery Director then went on to add “If we just looked at quality with the same focus that for many years, we’ve been looking at safety, I think we would start to change our views on what really drives cost.” A quality environment results in higher health and safety standards as well as reduced time and cost, so an emphasis on quality is a key component for setting up for success.”

Graham Edgell, Group Procurement Director at Morgan Sindall commented “We’re in a challenged margin environment in construction and we’re being charged an entry cost to make a decision rather than being judged on value.”

The discussions by the three panels highlighted the importance of change to deliver more efficiently and effectively at not only challenging times but any time. Ed McCann voiced, “we need to embrace the complexity and make strategic choices within that.” Mark Worrall added, “We need to improve performance and it’s within our grasp, so let’s get on with it!”

So, what next? The School offers various resources to continue your improvement journey and works closely in partnership with BBI Services.