This month in our 4 Questions interview, we spoke to Iain McIlwee, CEO of the Finishes and Interiors Sector (FIS). We discuss the new initiative Iain is spearheading which analyses construction processes and the improvements that can be made with modern methods of construction.
Alongside AMA Research and Reading University, Iain is seeking input from across the construction industry to support the research being carried out.
What do we mean by Modern Methods of Procurement?
Often we talk about Modern Methods of Construction which are seen as a palliative solution; everything’s going to be more efficient because of these methods. It’s also a slightly vague term that becomes codified around meaning everything’s going to happen offsite. If you think about the logic of that, definitely more will happen offsite, but the construction site itself is an efficient, space-saving way of doing construction. So the more we can do onsite, the better.
The conversation needs to be more around modernising methods of construction, which is in many cases about bringing a factory approach to the process. How do we do that? How do we evolve as a sector? Over time we’ve started doing cheaper and quicker, so we seem to be stuck in a spiral. The answer is potentially to look beyond the mechanisms of construction and look at what drives the methods.
What is preventing modernisation in construction and what can we do differently?
It is happening and there’s a huge amount of innovation that often get’s lost. The innovative approach becomes a workaround to a problem created at design stage. We design something we can’t build and as a consequence, we have to innovate to deliver the project.
The way project teams are assembled also becomes disposable. We commoditise the construction sector down to packages then we commoditise those packages. We become wasteful with materials, labour and relationships at times, so everything becomes transactional. If it goes wrong, we just sack the contractor and move on with another. We don’t spend enough time identifying what went wrong or how we could work more effectively. In that kind of culture and approach, we set ourselves up to repeat the same problem.
The procurement process has become fixated on commoditising and it’s forced the industry to compete primarily on cost and time. We try and do it quicker and meet timeframes, even if they become unreasonable.
Our concern is, we’ve got to a position now where the Construction Industry Council talks about ‘faster, greener, better’, and I’m not sure you can have all three at the same time. We’re going too fast at the moment to do greener and better. The quality isn’t where it needs to be because we’re working too fast. How do we innovate when we haven’t got time?
There are three risks within construction – design, price and time. We’ll apply all three to specialist subcontractors and pass the risk on in a way that’s often unmanageable. As a concequence, in a time of the most severe labour shortage we’ve faced and we now understand our green responsibilities, we’re wasting 17% of our material and 25% of our labour. What’s driving that is the procurement process.
The aim of our research is to analyse processes in a structured and data-led way to find how we can do it better. We’re looking for simple asks. For a contractor, give me three weeks instead of four, that’s 25% more time to do planning. With sustainability, often there’s a fit out that needs something taken out. If you give us a week, maybe we can have a look at what we can re-use and recycle.
What we’re looking for is how we can use time better; who we engage with at what point and what information they need to ensure we give them what they need. That’s something we’ve got a bit away from in recent years as we’ve become intent on faster and cheaper.
How can we interrogate what better procurement looks like?
The work we’re doing now with AMA Research and Reading University is to look at issues like timelines and processes that have become normal. There are things we should be doing, but we don’t always have a systemic and consistent way. As a consequence, we’re in such a rush to finish, we don’t always follow the steps. With our research we want to look at what’s become normal and what that’s starting to create.
Another point we want to look at in our research is we talk about construction as one homogenous thing, but processes are different in different parts of the industry. I think of the industry in four parts and at the FIS, we focus on commercial and house building sectors, which operate on a different dynamic to each other. You then have infrastructure and domestic. When you look at the processes in each, even though outputs are the same, we do things in different timeframes and different ways. There’s probably more we can do to look at how and why we do things, understand what lessons we can learn and how we can apply those more effectively across the board. The inconsistency is sometimes about ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’, and that’s never a good reason to do anything.
How can readers get involved in the initiative?
One thing that’s fascinating for me about working within FIS is we are a supply chain organisation with a focus on a change process called ‘I, We, Them’. Any change process starts with you doing something different, us finding a way we can collectively do something better or collectively benchmarking that work. Then if we need other people to do stuff, it’s about empathy-led change; understanding why they’re doing things the way they’re doing them and helping them to do them differently by giving them compelling reasons.
When we get together as an industry, we often sit around and blame everybody else. We’re intent on blaming other people. What we’re trying to do with this research is not to blame anybody, but to understand everybody. So what I ask of the readers is get involved and give us your information. Nobody’s looking to catch you out or use information for anything other than that collective wisdom which can help us all be better. The one ask I have is engage in it – give us your views and data to help us make the industry better.