Opinion

Turner & Townsend’s Gareth Poole: Past projects hold the key to future success

27 January 2020 | By Gareth Poole

Lessons can be learned across a project life cycle

The construction industry needs to learn from experience if it is to improve delivery, says Gareth Poole.

Gareth Poole

Learning from our mistakes is one of the earliest things we are taught – yet taking lessons in continuous improvement remains one of the biggest challenges for the construction sector.

Turner & Townsend’s recent survey into procurement approaches across the sector found that just under half of key client programmes across the industry do not consistently measure performance. Perhaps more striking, over half do not take action to review procurement processes to reflect lessons learned from past projects.

Why does this issue feel so difficult for construction? Undertaking programme reviews to understand the areas of success, and those for improvement, enhances performance and keeps a handle on costs. This brings clear benefits for the whole supply chain that aren’t being realised.

While the issue isn’t new, fresh solutions are being brought to the table.

Our survey was aligned with the key pillars of Project 13, an initiative from the Infrastructure Client Group, a collaboration between government and industry. The project is designed to help UK construction move from a transactional to an enterprise approach – and boost productivity. It focuses on capable owners, governance, organisation, integration and digital transformation.

“Incentivisation is critical to driving performance and innovation of suppliers, ensuring programme success and maximising cash flow to the benefit of all project partners.”

At the heart of Project 13 is a new approach to performance measurement whereby project teams embed a system to provide information that continuously measures ‘as delivered’ and ‘as operated’ performance against customer outcomes. Underpinning evaluation in this way provides a huge opportunity to improve productivity – monitoring lessons learned across a project life cycle, so that revised practices can be used in future procurements, especially those identified as high risk.

Central to this approach is the implementation of digital technologies, but much of the industry is failing to adopt new tools. Close to half of the clients we surveyed did not have an efficient data system in place. By contrast, risk management – one of the six commercial principles of Project 13 – appears better understood across the industry.

Risks the owner or investor are accountable for cannot simply be transferred to the supply chain, while all parties need to be incentivised to mitigate potential pitfalls. This will go some way to ensuring cost efficiencies and improving delivery.

It’s also encouraging to see a shift in attitudes towards cross-industry collaboration, building open and honest relationships within the supply chain. This needs to underpin all activity if we are to see advancements industry-wide.

Where we are seeing shortcomings, however, is in the failure of clients in the sector to operate commercial incentive models that increase supply chain efficiency. Such incentivisation is critical to driving performance and innovation of suppliers, ultimately ensuring programme success and maximising cash flow to the benefit of all project partners.

Successful procurement is rooted in consistent measures of performance, embracing and implementation of technologies, effective risk management and supply chain collaboration. Our industry is advancing in many areas, but if we are to boost performance there needs to be greater support and take-up of Project 13 procurement tools.

Gareth Poole is director of contract services at Turner & Townsend

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