CIC Blog: collaboration
Built Environment Skills in Schools (BESS)
Construction is a robust sector, literally and metaphorically, and we have overcome many challenges before. I can only imagine that this is why we've never reached a pain threshold that compels us, as a united sector, to tackle the skills gap. I'm no economist, but rumours of a post-Brexit mini recession (source: Construction News, 27/7/2016) do suggest it is so important that we take responsibility for the skills gap - each and every one of us - right now.
Complaining about the skills shortage is easy (and a definitive sign that we still haven't yet reached an adequate pain point), and the barriers to action are real and significant – shortage of time, resources, staff turnover, and capacity to name a few. On the face of it, that doesn't even make it sound like a very appealing sector to join. In fact from 2013 to 2014, favourability of the industry fell for both parents and young people (source: CITB).
Nevertheless, results from CITB's review of the Young Apprentice Programme indicate that only 10% of construction employers had engaged with schools for career-related activities. 10%! No wonder children don't consider construction to be worth their time (34.6% in 2014, down from 38.2% in 2013).
75% of construction employers found young people lacked understanding of the construction sector, and 82% of teachers didn't feel that they had the appropriate knowledge to advise pupils on their careers (source: IFF 2015). I don't think it would be too much of a leap to suggest that those statistics are related. We are perpetuating the cycle of poor awareness and low desirability, and possibly even increasing the damage by presenting a disjointed, patchy, sporadic, siloed sector.
Could this all be because construction has traditionally been a male-dominated sector? We all know that male traits lean towards competition rather than collaboration. Yet collaboration is still the buzzword at every event, roundtable, networking breakfast and press briefing. Perhaps we're just making the concept of 'collaborating' really hard on ourselves. Or we're waiting for someone else to collaborate for us?
Naturally, all this is important as the skills gap has an impact on our existing requirement to build (particularly housing), but it also has a massive impact on each and every one of us as individuals - the homes we live in, the buildings we work in, the infrastructure we rely on – and at a socio-economic level, with the prevalence of anti-social behaviour, disconnected communities, and low-level mental health conditions.
So, I suggest we collaborate on finding ways to collaborate.
Think about the resources and skills you have in your own organisation. It could be a good-sized meeting room. Or PPE in lots of different sizes. Or transport, or access to site equipment, or software licenses, or demonstration facilities, or strong social media channels, or enthused staff. Or something completely different.
Now pick up the phone or draft an email to someone else in your supply chain and ask them what kind of problems they face in trying to engage with education. Then talk to people involved in addressing the skills gap alongside education, as they'll be able to help you navigate around those problems. (It’s what we do, and we're a great source of advice!) And together you can come up with powerful ways to support each other, create more consistent engagement, and fill some of those outreach gaps.
Once you're taking collaborative action, you might want to introduce some metrics to measure the effectiveness of your efforts. It could even be that someone else in your supply chain is a wizard with metrics – what a great way to get them involved and increase the collaboration!
If you're not involved in addressing the skills gap as an individual, I urge you to take action. Talk to your colleagues, discuss ways forward and be part of the solution. If its something your company already does, that's great too, but what are you doing personally? At the risk of sounding like a cliché, if you're not part of the solution you are part of the problem. Nobody is going to do this for us and now more than ever the impact of the skills gap will be felt across construction.
And when you arrive at the Grange St Paul's Hotel for the Construction Industry Summit in September, and you're ready to work the room, perhaps consider using this practical collaboration approach as an ice-breaker.
Contributor: Kathryn Lennon Johnson is a behavioural change specialist and founder of 'Built Environment Skills in Schools', a nationwide platform established to connect all the dots of skills and careers engagement in construction using experiential tools like gamification, simulations, virtual and augmented reality, apps and social media.
Kathryn will be speaking at the Construction Industry Summit as part of the Delivering the Future’ Session.
Speaker, contract strategist, lawyer
500 Words Ltd
Ever since corporations decided to reduce the costs of procuring construction projects, there has been a trend towards standardisation of processes, contracts, laws and regulations. The first industry standard form (heads of conditions for a builder’s contract) appeared in 1870 and the first engineering contract (the model form for electrical works) followed in 1903.
Fast forward nearly 150 years and the construction industry is unrecognisable from its 19th century predecessor. We are ‘blessed’ with a cornucopia brimming with standard form contracts, designed (allegedly) to meet the needs of the UK construction industry.
But do the cross-industry boards, drafting committees of professional bodies, or sponsoring law firms publish contracts that actually meet the needs of 21st century businesses? Do we have contracts that are fit for today’s purposes? Do they reflect human-to-human selling, fast global procurement methods, electronic information sharing and storage, and collaborative project strategies based on trust? Or are we just stuck in the dark ages?
Familiarity Breeds Laziness
Although our standard forms are regularly updated, and new forms heralded with fanfares (before struggling to gain market share), we rarely see fundamental shifts in drafting philosophy, style and tone of voice, or usability. The only thing we can be sure of is that each new edition will be longer than the last!
With over 140 standard forms of construction contract, the market is dominated by contracts of staggering complexity, sprinkled with legal phrases and jargon, and a veritable plethora of options, annexes and supplementary sections. Together these create an almost impenetrable barrier to new users. Many organisations stick with their favourite contract - lazily clinging to the familiar, rather than adopting a coherent contract strategy that meets their business’ needs and values.
Contracts or Trust?
Refusing to budge from the contract with which you are most familiar is not the same as actively choosing a contract based on trust. Users tend to justify this ‘strategy’ by saying “well, the contract hasn’t gone wrong so far”, which is hardly a ringing endorsement. One reason for avoiding change is mistrust of other standard forms. If you’ve never used a contract, then with up to 100 pages and 50,000 words, the learning curve for knowing how to use it properly is too steep. Frankly, unless it’s a deal-breaker, why would you even contemplate it when the other contract provides no guarantees of being more effective?
20 years ago, a whopping 58% of the construction industry said standard forms encouraged conflict and 38% said they created mistrust (Latham Report 1995). My 2015 Survey showed that a pitiful 14% of contract users said current UK standard form contracts create trust.
This does not bode well for the Government’s Construction Strategy 2025 with its aim of a strong, integrated supply chain thriving on productive long-term relationships while simultaneously lacking trust in each other!
It is self-evident that you should not enter into a contract with a company you don’t trust. So should you demonstrate your trust in your project team through adopting complex or simplified contracts?
There are essentially two opposing approaches to how to create contracts: one is characterised by low trust where the contract acts as a safety-net. This sort of relationship requires the standard form to comprehensively cover every possible angle, tie up every loophole and create a knot of clauses to ‘save the parties’ in the event of a dispute. The project team trusts the contracts to provide the answer.
The other approach is characterised by high trust where there is a simplified framework of terms, on which the parties hang project specifics
2. The contract does not have all the answers, enabling and encouraging the project team to trust each other and to solve issues which arise, within a clear framework.
Supporting Long-Term Relationships
The best ways to create long-term relationships is to adopt a collaborative ethos (reflected in processes and contracts) and to avoid disputes which damage those relationships.
Despite years of toying with terms to refine and improve them, each Annual ARCADIS Global Disputes Survey demonstrates that the most common cause of construction disputes is a failure to administer the contract. The other causes listed – incomplete contract, failure to operate specific procedures, incomplete claims – also arise from the users being unable to use the contract effectively.
To use a contract (and its procedures) accurately and effectively, it is critical that you can read and understand the standard form. However, our current standard forms positively discourage you from reading them, dissuade you from understanding them, and make it impractical (if not impossible) to use them.
Surely developing processes and contracts that help avoid disputes should be on everyone’s urgent and important to-do list?
Perhaps the solution is to tear up the rule books and the lengthy standard form contracts, and start with a large dose of trust. We can then decide the strategies, processes and contracts we need for a 21st century industry.
Constributor: Sarah is a professional speaker, trainer and contract strategist. She helps construction professionals to write simpler contracts, so they can build trusting relationships and avoid disputes. www.500Words.co.uk
Sarah will also be speaking at the Construction Industry Summit as part of the 'Working with the Enemy – Sharing, Collaboration & Trust' Session.
1 - 10% of respondents said the same contracts create mistrust!
2 - This is how the engineering model forms in engineering were intended to be used as the publishers recognised the huge array of project differentiators could not be accommodated in one standard contract.
Founder of SpecifiedBy
The construction industry is hardly renowned for its openness or sharing culture, but it is precisely those two ingredients that have the power to transform the industry for the better.
With BIM enforcement just around the corner, we are all well aware of a need to improve collaboration and the exchange and transfer of data and information. But these are fundamentally processes. Processes can be learnt, and taught, and optimised.
Collaboration between various teams isn’t difficult to set in motion because everyone can see it as a way forward and it has a strong element of compliance. It may not always be easy or straightforward to execute, but there really is no question of getting there, it’s just a matter of time.
Openly sharing knowledge and expertise is not the same as collaborating or transferring information. This requires much more than process. It requires a shift in mentality and culture.
Culture defines how we work, what is accepted as good practice and how we are perceived by others.
And it is a more transparent culture of openly sharing knowledge and expertise that we should be aiming for.
Taking the time to write about how you overcame a particularly challenging problem in your last project, or sharing data that you have worked really hard to obtain, for anyone in the industry to benefit from, takes a lot more than compliance or process.
This takes people or organisations to consciously put the good of the industry, or wider society, ahead of their own short-term goals. It requires a mind-set of, ‘How can we help the industry to progress?’
We would do well to look at the ‘open source' approach within the web development community that means an answer to even the most complicated of problems is usually no more than a Google search away. They ask each other for help and for answers. And they usually get them.
Often, someone else has already had the same, or a very similar problem, and have documented it and shared it online.
To build a similar culture of sharing, learning and improving within construction, I believe we need two key components to come together:
A shift in culture and attitude can only happen if there are people who are willing to take the lead to share a vision and a roadmap that will inspire others to follow along the way.
And by leaders, I don’t mean heads of organisations, working groups, large companies or other “powerful” people. Being in a position of authority where people have to do as you tell them does not make you a leader. That makes you a manager. People follow real leaders because they want to, because they believe in the vision, in this case, a better industry.
The construction industry needs people who will question current processes, suggest new, better ways of working and challenge the authorities that benefit from the status quo.
As an industry, we need to be better at providing people with the tools to share their expertise and learn from each other. There are a few beginning to appear, all of which need to be strongly supported by industry. The better these early innovators do, the more new ideas will be encouraged to follow suit.
Some platforms leading the way include:
CarbonBuzz is an online platform that aims to centralise the sharing of real-life energy consumption data from building projects in order to establish benchmarks and identify gaps in performance.
Users can upload anonymous project data which is used to create a real picture of energy consumption within the industry or just use the existing data to compare against their own projects.
“CarbonBuzz is an RIBA CIBSE platform for benchmarking and tracking energy use in projects from design to operation. It is intended to encourage users to go beyond compliance of mandatory Building Regulations calculations and refine estimates to account for additional energy loads in-use. The platform allows users to compare design energy use with actual energy use side by side to help users close the design and operational energy performance gap in buildings.”
The CarbonBuzz platform is potentially a great tool to improve transparency of energy consumption data, by comparing real-life performance against designed performance.
Designing Buildings Wiki
The Designing Building Wiki aims to “put all construction industry knowledge in one place and make it available to everyone for free.”
Anyone can contribute an article on a particular topic and make it available to everyone within the industry. They say…
“Construction in the UK employs 3 million people in 280,000 organisations, each holding a vast amount of expert knowledge. Everything from how to create a brief for a new project, right through to getting tax breaks for water efficient taps. But much of that knowledge is inaccessible, fragmented and dispersed. If we put it all in one place, where everyone can find it, Construction UK will be more efficient, more collaborative, more innovative and better able to compete in the global market place.”
This is a great example of sharing knowledge and expertise, and provides a great resource for getting answers to tough questions, or at the very least, identifying a good person to speak to about it.
At SpecifiedBy, we are trying to do our small bit as well, with better access to technical information and by encouraging specifiers share their knowledge and expertise of working with particular building products and materials on specific projects, so those looking for similar solutions can more informed decisions.
This will also bring an element of transparency to the performance of building products and the companies responsible for them.
Providing these platforms through which leaders can establish a voice and build a following will be key to introducing a shift in culture.
“No one knows everything. But together, we know a whole lot.”
Collaboration and the exchange of information are necessary and positive for the industry, but to make a real change, we need to accept the much more challenging prospect of changing mind-sets and culture.
Some have already started, and I believe we are on our way to a more open and transparent culture where we share knowledge and expertise for the good of the industry.
Contributor: Darren Lester has a background in Architectural Technology and is the founder of SpecifiedBy, a platform that aims to empower building projects with better information.
Information Modelling & Management Capability Programme (IMMCP) Delivery Team
Transport for London
Prior to the introduction of the personal computer, documentation (including drawings) within the construction industry were mainly paper based, these were managed manually and archived in a warehouse. As computers and technology became part of everyday life and the launch of the World Wide Web, the industry moved to electronic documents and drawings as well as electronic means of managing them; traditional methods were replaced by Computer Aided Design (CAD).
However, CAD had issues too; CAD was supposed to be a computer design tool to be utilised by engineers and promised to increase the quality of design and improve the management and communications through better documentation. Instead, CAD was utilised as an electronic drawing board, which meant technologists where needed to produce drawings, unfortunately most had limited knowledge of the engineering behind it.
As construction is very much project-based and since projects are highly reliant upon updated information; exchange of information, which I believe is the least mature form of communication, is regarded central to the industry. Therefore, the concept of a centralised repository for sharing and managing project’s electronic documentation so called, Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS) or Extranets became popular. But after a while EDMS were integrated with e-mail to automate workflows and notify project participants of tasks and activities which resulted in vast amount of e-mails (some unimportant and unnecessary) being sent around.
Now with the emerging use of Building Information Modelling (BIM), the industry is moving towards a centralised repository with object based models. The intelligence of models and centralisation way of managing these models will alter the existing communication mechanisms and will enhance the ways in which project participants are currently working as a team. But is BIM, as a technology and as a process, an enabler for collaboration?
Since the 90’s there has been many efforts (i.e. governmental reports published by Sir Latham and Sir Egan) to drive efficiency improvements in the industry. One of these improvements is in the area of collaboration. I’ve observed that collaboration, in some cases even coordination and cooperation, are often used to describe team work. If you ask anyone in the industry what collaboration is, I’m certain you’ll get similar answers. But if you ask them ‘how’ they collaborate, they will more than likely say “we share information”! But does sharing information alone mean project teams are collaborating? Or are they just making project team members aware of their activities? You’re probably asking yourself, “what is the difference, after all collaboration, coordination and cooperation all mean the same thing, don’t they”?
The answer is: No they don’t!
In Computer Sciences, Collaboration requires:
• Strategic planning – clearly defining who/when/where/what and how
• Culture - where everyone is happy to share information, there is more engagement, knowledge sharing and innovative thinking
• Trust – foundation of collaboration and collaborative working
• Tools (information systems/technology) – to enable information flow and collaborative working
All the above pillars influence and support each other to make up a collaborative environment and none of them can exist in isolation.
As I mentioned, most projects are only sharing information; they correspond to one another in an unmanaged and unstructured (so called ad-hoc) way, mainly by e-mail. The ease use of e-mail has allowed it to become the main communication channel. Project members are overloaded with huge number of emails per day, each demanding some input which needs time to consider.
Just because project members are working together to get the project completed on time doesn’t make them collaborators. They may well be coordinating through managed and structured sharing of documents via transmittals, aligning activities and schedules as well as managing dependencies using extranets with assigned roles and responsibilities and agreed workflows and data structures, or in some cases cooperating at a higher level than just a project, which requires interaction and commitment between organisations with more structured information.
I would argue in a project environment where participants are geographically dispersed, collaboration is not essential, unless all the organisations involved in the project are interdependent (mutually dependent), which means they have predefined goals with full workflow integration (Integrated Project Delivery methods for instance), shared resources, risk and liability, high level of communication and trust and real-time pipeline (to interact with a virtual environment).
If we take the same meaning of collaboration in Computer Sciences, we can answer the question, “Is BIM an enabler for Collaboration”?
Yes – because BIM (at its lowest level of maturity) requires a Standard Method and Procedure (SMP), which recognises the importance of information and defines the roles of information management. The SMP also strategically defines a Common Data Environment (CDE) process which enables better information management which results in more confidence and trust in the information available. BIM at its highest level of maturity provides international standards and advanced technological solutions that would be an enabler to collaborative working.
No – because BIM can’t build trust between different organisations, neither can it change the existing culture of file-based information sharing within the industry. Culture is something that needs to be changed by leadership and project participants believing in the change. The right culture will result in the right attitudes towards trust.
So in my view BIM has the potential to be a key driver for collaborative working. The industry however needs to take a step back and take a broader approach to collaboration, by that I mean rather than focusing on projects, the aim should be imbedding BIM organisational-wide. It’s key to remember that BIM is only an enabler for collaborative working; the pillars of collaboration must exist within an organisation, with or without BIM.
* any opinions expressed in this blog are purely my own and relate to my PhD work.
Contributor: Sonia's background is in Computer Sciences and Information Systems Management. Sonia entered the world of Construction when she started her PhD at the University of Northumbria looking at impacts of BIM on Communication patterns of Construction projects. Sonia is an Incorporate member of the CIOB (ICIOB) and is currently working as a BIM consultant.