In 1962, President John F Kennedy visited NASA headquarters and introduced himself to a janitor with a broom by asking him “What are you doing?”, with the (now infamous) reply “I’m helping put a man on the moon”.
In the 60 years since the tale of the janitor, seminal reports from Latham to Farmer have challenged the construction industry to undertake bold reforms and transform a hugely underperforming sector.
The latest independent review Constructing the Gold Standard, authored by Professor David Mosey of Kings College London, builds on the Construction Playbook policies and offers clear recommendations for creating construction frameworks that will “break the cycle of lost learning and deliver faster, better, greener construction”.
My journey in the construction industry began at a time when the industry was trying to adopt the principles set out in the Lathan and Egan reports, but concepts such as ‘partnering’ and ‘collaboration’ were largely buzzwords with very little substance.
The notion of “win win” contracting generally meant that neither party was particularly unhappy once the final account was concluded, and the idea that a construction project could deliver more for a region or community than purely its product was confined to the ‘once in a generation’ mega projects like the London Olympics.
But developments in procurement strategy such as the Construction Playbook and the opportunities presented by the pandemic are why I’m optimistic that now is the time for the industry to truly reform and deliver the faster, better, greener and more socially conscious projects that it is capable of.
Whilst the janitor quote is great for tenuous links in thought leadership articles, I’d also like to re-share a story from the construction of the Nightingale Hospital in Manchester that is more powerful and relevant than the janitor quote (and not questionable as to the extent of its truth!).
I’ve had the privilege recently of creating supply chain frameworks that align to the Construction Playbook and Gold Standard recommendations and that will hopefully contribute to achieving both project delivery and socio-economic success.
As part of that process, a tenderer shared their experiences of delivering the Nightingale Hospital in Manchester. Every aspect of how the Nightingale Hospitals were delivered is hugely impressive, but there was a particular story that stuck with me.
After working a long shift on another project in the daytime, a team of electricians turned up at the G-MEX and were willing to then work through the night. Admirable in itself, but what’s striking is that they did so under the (wrong) impression that they would be doing so unpaid.
The industry showed with the Nightingale Hospitals (and progression of other critical infrastructure projects through the pandemic) the true power of purpose. Integrated teams working to common objectives, with clear purpose and without commercial drivers or fragmented contracting strategies impacting on performance.
Whether it’s a 20-year framework of infrastructure megaprojects – like Sellafield’s Programme and Project Partners – or a one off transactional contract for a private client, applying the principles of the Construction Playbook and putting purpose at the heart of a project will go a long way to helping achieve the results that the industry has shown it is capable of.
This approach must absolutely not be confined to either the public sector, to frameworks, or crucially, to client organisations. Real success requires total alignment of contracting strategies and incentives throughout the entire supply chain.
For a janitor, see SME subcontractor. Every player in the supply chain must be driven to deliver the project or framework’s outcomes and successes, which is often not the case when parties adopt the "risk transfer" mentality of construction and the sense of purpose is lost.
There are very few organisations or indeed individuals in the modern industry that don’t want to deliver faster, better, greener projects and that don’t see social value driven initiatives as overwhelmingly positive developments in the industry.
Couple that with construction output set to continue rising in 2022 and numerous infrastructure megaprojects accelerating in the next 2-3 years and there has never been a greater opportunity for construction to take its giant leap!
John Rossiter BSc(Hons), MRICS, MScConstLaw, MACostE is Executive Director - North West at Solomons Europe. Click here to learn more about John.
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