Driving the change agenda in construction

Don Ward, Constructing Excellence

Don Ward, chief executive of Constructing Excellence discusses the challenge of continuous improvement in the industry. Interview by Antony Oliver.

Construction Excellence exists to “drive the change agenda in construction”. How does it do that?

By bringing together clients and all parts of the supply chain to

  • define excellence and exceptional performance and set the standard,
  • set the routemap for the industry
  • facilitate alliances and collaboration across the sector
  • measure performance and evidence the benefits
  • act as the focus and voice for the leading edge of the sector who want to drive change faster.

What are Construction Excellence’s primary goals for 2015?

Informed clients, engaging many more clients including those with smaller programmes at a regional level to share and learn from each other and to promote the value of collaborative working.

Improved profile and influence for the organisation and its vision including the change agenda, including overseas where we already have sister organisations in seven countries in Scandinavia, the Far East and Australasia, with the Gulf a particular priority.

Membership value and growth throughout the CE movement based on the excellence of delivery on the first two.

What areas does performance still need to improve?

This needs to be the era of value through lean delivery. Success will start from a focus on value for the end client and will be built on foundations of respect for people, collaborative working and BIM. Offsite solutions will feature to a much greater extent.

Are there any quick wins?

Many of the larger infrastructure clients have recognised that they cannot achieve their business goals through traditional ways and have adopted strategies of working collaboratively with their supply chains. CE is the natural home for those who want to pursue such strategies, whether on demand or supply side, and we need to reach out, embrace them and provide the platform for sharing and learning.

What has the construction industry learned about delivery in the 20 years since the Latham Review?

Collaborative working works. But sustainable change is difficult, collaborative working even more so, in a sector which is so vulnerable to downturns AND which too readily reverts to old behaviours.

Does the economic upturn make CE’s work easier or more difficult?

Easier in the sense of the ability of people to engage with us, both financially and in terms of time. It also results in a turn back towards collaboration strategies as suppliers find they hold more of the bargaining power throughout the supply chain.

But also more difficult, as it eases the pressure on firms to need to change, to need to collaborate better. That message is harder to communicate if everyone is making easy profits.

Is it time for another Latham Review to focus the industry?

No, we had one of those with the Construction 2025 strategy in 2013. We have put this at the centre of our own strategy, allied to a vision that leading edge players need to be able to achieve those standards sooner, say by 2020, to meet their own and clients’ business needs. The message remains that collaboration is fundamental to change – and a step change in delivery will be needed.

Is the industry still too focussed on short term delivery?

Yes, as are clients, but the industry needs to work harder to articulate the problems with this. We don’t have the business or procurement models which give enough of the supply chain skin in the game to be commercially aligned and incentivised to think and deliver value for the long-term.

CE’s new chairman is Murray Rowden of Turner and Townsend. How can major businesses like them influence the change?

They are major advisers to many of the top clients in the sector. Not only is their advice heeded by many such clients, they are in a great position to facilitate sharing of learning between such clients.  Murray has very interesting views on what constitutes competitive advantage for major businesses, and feels that rather than compete on collection of data or development of management tools, they should seek to pool more data and share tools, then compete on the clever deployment of such data and tools to add value for clients. Collaborate to compete, we call it.

How can the supply chain be more engaged with this change?

CE has a nationwide network of nine regional centres and over 35 local best practice clubs. These provide learning and networking events to cater for SMEs. At least every month, and often most weeks, there is a CE event near you to engage with, and all are open to anyone who wants to engage, no qualification required except a desire and willingness to embrace improvement.

Skills remain a major issue – do you see a solution?

Given time the solution will occur naturally as the next generation comes through into positions of authority. CE’s Generation for Change is a cross-sector cross-discipline network of early career people notable for their instinct to work collaboratively and for whom environment and technology are important drivers. It is also notable for its high representation of women. One of our tasks is to foster this cohort and speed up their development in terms of management and leadership responsibility, and then we can move out of the way.

Meanwhile more major clients and their supply chains should be collaborating to agree and promote their common values and ways of working. One mechanism is for major programmes to establish supply chain academies such as those by Crossrail or EDF for nuclear, to promote and embed collaborative working their way across the client organisation as well as the supply chain

What do you see as the most important outcome from your Murray’s time as chair of CE?

That CE is positioned and recognised as the natural home for those across the sector who wish to collaborate for the long-term for mutual sustainable success.

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