Collaboration is not a dirty word | JCP News

The C word – how Collaboration could save the construction industry

With reports that failed construction giant Carillion had widespread cultural failings and an aversion to change, the industry is no longer able to stick its head in the sand and pretend that it doesn’t need to transform the way it operates.

Sadly, this is not a one-off in construction and, with businesses as big and as influential to major projects as Carillion failing almost without warning, it’s a solitary lesson to the rest of the industry.

Collaboration is not a dirty word

Rail and utility companies – particularly the water sector – have seen significant benefits from collaboration. Lower project costs, better timescales, increased value in relationships, and attitudes that can be carried forward to future projects all mean that collaborative working is now increasingly becoming not just the norm, but a requirement on large-scale projects.

Suppliers are only chosen if they can demonstrate and prove collaborative behaviour, and the so-called softer skills are seen as just as important as technical or practical ones. Where once ‘Collaboration’ was a ‘strategy’ - a word and a process that was heavily sniffed at - it is now becoming the only way to plan, execute and measure successful projects.

So why isn’t collaboration happening in the construction industry? A report by international law firm Pinsent Masons, Collaborative Construction 2: “Now or Never?” says:

“In many ways the Industry is its own worst enemy. On the one hand, it appears to be convinced of the need for change if it is to survive and prosper in the future. On the other hand, there is an inertia and deep-seated reluctance to change established methods of procurement, working practices and to embrace new technologies.”

What construction leaders need to do NOW

Make no mistake – this change must come from the top of the industry. It must be supported by government, by professional bodies, by education and training organisations, by professional advisers and by funding bodies. Failure to take collaboration seriously and to start building it into existing projects now and into future projects from the very beginning is likely to result in more expensive collapses like Carillion and further delays and expense to the major infrastructure projects that are vital for the UK economy to grow.

The Institute of Civil Engineers has developed Project 13 to begin to address some of these issues. Backed by some of industry’s largest companies, Project 13 aims to introduce a new, value-drive approach that improves current operating models, drives better productivity and lifts the UK’s reputation for managing and delivering large infrastructure and utility projects.

The primary role for industry leaders in all this is to create the conditions for long term success – the success of individuals, of teams, of projects, and of vital infrastructure improvements. Here are some key steps which should guide every leader:

  • Contract for success, not for failure – the construction industry’s go-to scenario is one of failure. Contracts are written that way, suppliers and partners are treated that way. Make a conscious decision to run a successful project, not to manage a failing one.
  • Stop the blame game – instead of having a list of companies who you can blame when things go wrong, write roles, responsibilities and collective agreements into your tenders, supply agreements and contracts. You need to lead a solution-based approach to problems, looking at the steps you need to take to resolve the difficulty, working as a team to get there. As far as you can, remove penalty clauses and punitive arrangements. Instead, lead by example, reward positive behaviours and address negative behaviours privately and with a clear plan on how to move forward. Be pro-active, not reactive and bring your suppliers fully on board for the long term.
  • Get your team right first time – before you even put your tender documentation together, think about the type of team you need to put together. Don’t just base your decisions on the lowest price – look for the best long-term value and the right attitudes to the project.
  • Stick to the plan – consistency of purpose is critical. Having aligned objectives and goals at the outset feels good but sticking to them when times get tough is the real difference between a team that is working collaboratively and one that is just talking about it. Real collaboration means going out of your comfort zone, asking hard questions and challenging partners to find the right solution – especially when times get tough.
  • Close the gap between procurement and supply – you’re all in this together. The construction industry suffers from huge disparities between the way procurement leaders view a project and the way supply partners actually work. It’s often the case that procurement teams source on price without tying down the important details of delivery – and that leaves the suppliers in the unenviable position of trying to deliver an unrealistic outcome to an unrealistic price and timeframe. Sort this out at the beginning of a project for a better outcome.
  • Ask for help – why not? There’s nothing wrong with using an expert to help you understand the value of collaboration and help you get things right. As understanding grows across the industry that things need to change, you want to be the company leading the new behaviour, not rejecting it. Get in now – make a change, make a difference. Before time runs out.

Increasingly many organisations are talking about collaboration and many are pointing to collaborative working as a way to meet objectives. This is to be welcomed but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Real collaboration isn’t achieved by saying we’ll work collaboratively or by listing some values. It takes hard work and constant nurturing, together with a shared sense of success, risk and reward and ultimately, a strong purpose to survive whatever is thrown at it. Situations like Carillion and the ripple effects remind us that the current way of doing things can’t go on. A different way has to be embraced before the next casualty impacts the industry again.

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Notes to Editor:

JCP Consultancy Ltd was born out of John Carlisle Partnerships in 2002 with original board members and shareholders being: David Curtis, David Maxwell, Diarmid de Burgh Milne, Malcolm Newman and Simon Vaughan. Over the coming years both David Curtis and Malcolm retired from the business and in 2014 Diarmid left JCP to pursue new opportunities. For more information on the JCP board members and the company associates, click here.

JCP specialises in helping major clients, contractors and their supply chains realise the benefits of reduced cost, speedier delivery, increased profit and improved relationships from working collaboratively with each other. They have a 91% success rate in helping clients win work. The company has worked with leading names including Network Rail, National Grid, Highways Agency, Welsh Water, London Underground and Thames Water and with Central Government including DfT, BIS, and HMT Infrastructure UK.

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Institute of Civil Engineers