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  • Jess and Katrina

The value of good ideas and collaboration in supply chain

This article was written for Planning, BIM and Construction Today and can be read here.

Innovation can have a powerful impact in any market sector and the search for new ideas and better ways of doing things helps future-proof companies large and small. It’s not just about rejecting received wisdoms and embracing digital transformation; innovation also tends to flow from collaborations that help see issues in the round.

That’s the belief of a partnership currently working to help unlock bright ideas and fresh approaches in the UK construction industry.

The Innovation Driven Procurement was developed by Morgan Sindall Construction and Nottingham Trent University, in partnership with the Construction Training and Industry Board (CITB). Their work is primarily aimed at SMEs and microbusinesses within the construction supply chain. The goal is smarter ways of doing any of the myriad of elements involved in a construction project. The benefit they seek is increased profits for the companies involved, improve relationships between the trades required to deliver projects, whilst also helping to address the skills gap the construction industry faces.

With a mix of online and offline learning, the 2022-2023 programme breaks down barriers to training for those on site who may lack computer access for courses or face time constraints.

When it comes to collaboration and design, the IDP identified there is an abundance of experience in the site level supply chain that can inform and improve the design process, but this is often lost due to the lack of opportunities for timely upward feedback and subsequently negatively impacts delivery.

During an IDP collaborative design workshop with a suspended ceiling contractor and mechanical and electrical contractor, site workers investigated design issues from their perspective on a current project.

After programme leaders introduced the concept of collaboration, participants shared their experiences on the distribution of design information. For some of the participants, key information was only received over the weekend prior to their work commencing on site, leaving them with little or no time to plan their work before arriving on site. They also expressed that this impacted on time spent with their families and others identified how constantly changing information and clashes led to sequencing problems.

Other feedback of common design issued experienced on site included:

“We don’t know if everyone is on the same drawing version”

“Design is not realistic, it can’t have been designed by electricians”

“Services are set out differently to the ceilings – there are too many intricate details that are not shown on plans”

“Wrong information is often given”

“Designers are not talking to the right people”

“I have forty years of experience, but people aren’t bothered”

After hearing this feedback, the workshop leaders encouraged those in attendance to take part in a series of collaborative exercises to raise awareness of the design process and the potential feedback loops at the site-level that are often lost. To illustrate the importance of understanding the design process and interpretation of the clients’ requirements, they engaged in an activity to design a tree swing for a hypothetical client. Each of the participants drew different designs of the swing which was later compared to what the client required. They were then provided with a 'tongue in cheek' designed tree swings from the perspective of each player of a project, such as the architect and site manager. This demonstrated the importance of communicating the clients’ requirements effectively across all involved in the project so that this can be built.

A second workshop activity involved teams constructing a Lego model of a car. The challenge was to complete the car within the given time with only one instruction book provided and each of the participants taking turns to describe and demonstrate the next instruction required for assembly to the rest of the group. At different points during the activity, the teams needed to catch up with each other so that communication of the instructions could continue. This activity was used to mirror the on-site criticality of design communication and emphasise the interdependency of all the participants that work together to achieve the project outcomes.

Some good practices were also shared by the team. These included receiving design details from a job circulated during working hours such as Wednesday/Thursday afternoon so that pre-planning can be done without interfering with family time during weekends and weekly meetings on site with the project manager available for comments and suggestions as well as an opportunity to post notes on identified issues with the option of an anonymous drop box.

The issues raised highlight the need to continuously challenge the belief amongst site workers that their experiences are not valued by those with immediate design responsibility. As the level of digital adoption and Building Information Modelling (BIM) increases, the burden of ensuring that assembly can take place stills falls on those carrying out the work on site. It is not only the existence of tools and software for enhancing design collaboration that matter, but the emphasis on the people and how they work together to feed into the process, especially site workers.

The activities evidence the significance of site workers design feedback despite their feeling that this is not often valued. Experience from site workers such as those shared during the workshop can be captured in a collaborative environment to inform decisions and enhance productivity on site, whilst allowing the supply chain to fulfil their full potential.

The IDP recently partnered with experienced construction coach, Maria Coulter, to develop a new community portal to provide free mentoring and support via Mighty Networks, a Facebook like channel for business owners to come together and share their problems to find solutions.

The Innovation Driven Procurement (IDP) Community, which is set to go live next month, will offer advice from industry experts and academics as well as courses and group discussions. To support this, the IDP released four online courses earlier this month that are now open to registration on the Supply Chain Sustainability School’s portal. Modules focus on collaborative behaviours and design, risk management and innovation and value.

Next month, the programme will also launch an app for site workers to access and develop their skills whilst 'on the go' with byte sized and gamified modules. It will be available to download on the Apple and Android store.

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