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Schumann ConsultChange in the Construction Industry - Schumann Consult

Change in the Construction Industry

After four years living and working in the Middle East it has been interesting to see what has changed in the UK construction industry during that time. Recession is a catalyst for change that can remove waste, challenge existing relationships, test behaviours, changes working practices and stimulates new business strategies. So the question is what change is underway and will it improve the way we work in the years to come?

The construction industry is very diverse in terms of scale and complexity so there can never be a single process or methodology that works for every project however, all projects require:

  • A need for a project
  • A client with the means to procure the project
  • A design solution for the project
  • A number of product manufacturers to supply the project
  • A contractor to assemble the project
  • A maintenance team to keep the project in use

Or to put it more simply

  • Want it
  • Design it
  • Make it
  • Build it
  • Maintain it

The delivery of any construction project involves a complex mix of legal, commercial, technical and practical tasks all of which involve a diverse mix of skills and businesses working together to provide a solution that meets the clients need within pre set constraints. Risk is a key factor for every business involved in the process and it would therefore seem logical that change should focus on reducing risk while improving quality and certainty.

However after 40 years working in the construction industry (the first 14 years as a contractor followed by 26 as part of design teams), I still find myself having exactly the same debates and arguments in 2013 that I did in the 1970’s despite the tremendous advances in communications, training, material technology, legal precedent, and brain power. So I ask myself will this ever change and if so how?

What we do is not easy but I can clearly remember the words of Lord Taylor when I was a trainee QS at his firm Taylor Woodrow in the mid seventies emphasising so eloquently the necessity of working as a team. I have heard this message numerous times throughout my career but unfortunately little seems to change and a self protectionist, blame culture still prevails in many parts of our industry, which is so wasteful and negative.

In future blogs I hope to explore the issue of change in more detail and suggest specific improvements all built on the two fundamentals of teamwork – Trust and Confidence.

Nick Schumann

Nick Schumann

Founder and Director at Schumann Consult Ltd
Having built the world’s largest specification consultancy and developed innovative methods for the implementation of new design management techniques Nick is considered to be one of the world’s leading authorities in his field writing, lecturing and providing advice to many industry leaders.
Nick Schumann

Posted on February 13, 2013 in #justsaying

Responses (3)

  1. Su Butcher (@SuButcher)
    February 15, 2013 at 8:47 am · Reply

    Hi Nick,

    Looking forward to hearing your further thoughts on this subject.

    Having been trained in architecture but ended up working mostly in other parts of the industry, I can see that many of the adversarial parts of our culture come from how our careers begin, whom we learn from and what their attitudes were.

    Do you think early education has an important role to changing attitudes? I wonder whether there will ever be the political will to back such changes, and if not, how we might achieve it some other way.

  2. Nick Schumann
    February 17, 2013 at 10:07 am · Reply

    Hi Su

    The way architects are trained is a whole different challenge but I do think that the fact that architects training has been almost totally design focussed for so many years has not helped and has contributed to the rise in influence of the contractor.

    There is no doubt that architects are these days often perceived as front end designers who provide a certain amount of design information which is given to contractors as early as possible who then take responsibility to complete the detailing and deliver the building by an agreed date for a lump sum price. In other words they are prepared to take the risk whereas consultants generally are only prepared to provide advice. I can understand why clients are attracted to this approach and in turn I applaud contractors in being smart enough to see the opportunity and realising that they can manage the risk better when they have control of design as they do not have to rely on third parties for construction information.

    Architectural value is in the quality aspects of a project in terms of both form and function – not these days in the delivery of buildings.


  3. Rob Garvey
    February 18, 2013 at 9:31 am · Reply

    A very thought-provoking insight and I love your straightforward description of the process. And with regard to the issue of teamwork, I’m minded to reflect on how Taylor woodrow’s iconic logo is no longer 🙁

    I feel that your comments about early education are applicable not just to architects but all professions. As a relative new academic, I can see first hand that there are significant challenges ahead to tackle the education of built environment professions, but if the problem is not recognised it won’t be solved. The question is whether it is in the interest of those accrediting and running the courses to change.

    To comment on Su’s question about how we might achieve it some other way; there is noise and activity taking place. In part due to the catalyst that is BIM pushing an agenda for a more collaborative and integrated approach to project delivery. As a construction professional, I’m now engaging with more architects than ever on the discussion of integration and collaboration. #BIM4edu

    In my view the industry continues to adapt and change; the creation of organisations, such as Sunesis, demonstrates this with alternative delivery models that meet client demands. A key issue for me is being addressed by the Government Construction Strategy, namely the realisation that the public needs to be an intelligent client. I’d argue more for an informed client; but the point is that if the client keeps buying the conventional model, why expect different results. Similarly, if those advising clients take the preceived easy option of design and build, things won’t improve!

    However my view is that clients should focus on outcomes first not just form and function.

    That said, I agree your final comments about trust and confidence; these are essential for a collaborative working approach and look forward to reading your thoughts in future blogs.

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