Adoption of the policies set out in The Construction Playbook will result in better, faster and greener project delivery. Client organisations should develop an implementation plan to accelerate their journey to full compliance. Taking an impartial look at strengths and shortcomings is the first step says Edd Burton, Head of Strategic Procurement at AECOM.
Launched in late 2020, The Construction Playbook has the potential to radically improve the performance of the UK construction sector. A collection of best practice from across the project lifecycle, the playbook is an excellent vehicle for securing better outcomes from projects, including value for money and delivery of ESG objectives. While the playbook clearly signposts the direction of travel, the journey to full compliance won’t be straightforward. Organisations will need a clear route map to follow.
A welcome step
The Construction Playbook is the latest in a long line of initiatives to improve the delivery of construction projects. It is a broad church containing 14 key policies, a range of other recommendations, all of which are underpinned by guidance notes and toolkits to support implementation. Although aimed at projects delivered by government departments, it is relevant for clients in all sectors.
This new guidance is desperately needed. Too many projects are being delivered late and/or over budget, and without delivering the outcomes initially anticipated by the client. Construction costs are increasing (the cost of infrastructure projects has doubled in the last 25 years) and the industry’s productivity has stagnated – levels have increased by just one per cent in the past 20 years.
The status quo isn’t working for the supply chain either. The current model is unsustainable for Tier 1 contractors, as evidenced by ever-reducing margins and, as an extreme example, the collapse of Carillion.
Other steps have been taken to try to address these issues, most notably Project 13 – a new business model based on an enterprise approach and not on transactional arrangements. Project 13 provides a brilliant strategy for improving the delivery of construction projects however uptake has been limited. In part, we believe this is because it introduces a new set of terminology which has not resonated with the market.
The Construction Playbook is different however, and we believe it will be embraced for these two primary reasons:
- The policies are easy to understand. The incremental gains secured from each policy will cumulatively deliver a step-change in the successful delivery of construction projects.
- There’s a focus on implementation. Each chapter sets out the policy and the rationale for its inclusion, followed by a ‘want to know more?’ section, containing links to detailed guidance around adoption.
Our maturity assessment tool supports clients to understand how they measure against the playbook’s key policies. The tool identifies areas of strength and weakness so that implementation strategies can be developed to accelerate policy adoption.
In this article we explore three key themes within the playbook: better procurement; deploying digital technology; and embracing modern methods of construction (MMC). We share best practice on measures that clients can take to strengthen areas of weaknesses and advance compliance, as part of a strategic implementation plan.
The playbook majors on procurement, including early engagement with the market, establishing long-term contracts to build strategic relationships with key suppliers, procuring based on value rather than price, and developing contracts with the optimum commercial model and risk allocation. Linked to procurement, there is also a focus on contract management and supplier relationship management – we believe significant value can be derived from eliminating a ‘let and forget’ culture and focusing instead on ensuring the value secured during the procurement process is actually delivered.
Procurement is a capability area where there is room for improvement across the industry, as evidenced by several recent high-profile projects where poor procurement has hamstrung efficient project delivery. A key take-away for clients from the playbook is the need to develop bespoke procurement strategies for every project, reflecting the differing contexts and desired outcomes. Although published five years ago by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, the Procurement Module within the Improving Major Project Delivery: The Project Initiation Routemap remains an excellent tool for developing project procurement strategies.
Finally, we are excited to be an early adopter of the Construction Innovation Hub’s Value Toolkit, a suite of tools to support value-based decision-making. We believe the toolkit will be a catalyst for the departure away from price-led procurement and will encourage a migration towards commercial models where clients pay for the delivery of outcomes.
Deploying digital technology
The playbook recommends full application of the UK BIM Framework to improve the consistency and quality of data. Adoption will provide the foundations for the Information Management Framework, launched by the Centre for Digital Built Britain in 2020 which will facilitate secure, resilient data-sharing across the built environment to enable the creation of digital twins. The full benefit of digital twins is yet to be understood by the industry (caused, in part, by the lack of integration between operations teams and those responsible for delivering capital projects). This gap must be bridged if full compliance with the playbook is to be achieved.
Benchmarking is another key policy within the playbook aimed at addressing the poor use of data which currently exists in the industry. By enhancing data quality through the adoption of the UK BIM Framework, clients will be better able to benchmark all aspects of a project having established a golden thread of information across an asset lifecycle. As the level of confidence in benchmarking data increases, clients will be better placed to justify key project decisions, which should lead to greater assurance that outcomes will be achieved. Furthermore, best practice will see clients using benchmarking data to set should-cost targets and setting limits on embodied and operational carbon. Clients can work towards net-zero carbon targets by contractually requiring the supply chain to outperform these limits.
While the industry clearly understands the benefits that embracing MMC can deliver, adoption remains patchy. We believe this is driven by a lack of understanding (MMC encompasses a wide range of solutions) together with a lack of maturity in the MMC supply chain. The journey towards compliance must begin somewhere however, and the starting point needs to be a strategy that sets out how to incorporate MMC into construction projects and programmes. We also believe that government investment in the MMC supply chain capacity and capability will help to accelerate the benefits in the future.
Platform design is the foundation of MMC adoption, and the playbook references the Construction Innovation Hub’s standard kit of parts for buildings up to four storeys. Another way of achieving platform design is for consultants to collaborate and agree standard floor heights, components and the use of design libraries, for example. This will drive consistency across projects which, in turn, will produce the volume required to justify investment in offsite solutions.
A collective effort
The Construction Playbook is an improvement tool that can be actively used to achieve better project outcomes. It is not a radical document; all the recommendations within it are logical, and that is where its strength lies. Levels of maturity against the 14 key policies will vary from organisation to organisation, and an understanding of shortcomings is the first step to addressing them. To ensure that weaknesses are not a barrier to policy adoption however, those organisations who are further advanced in certain policy areas must collaborate and share best practice to accelerate the collective journey.
About the authors
With thanks to AECOM Editors for allowing us to share and celebrate the articles & blogs from various leaders and employees