Tag Archives: Building Down Barriers

Construction efficiency – plus ca change?

In preparation for todays Lancashire Construction Best Practice event presentation on Building Down Barriers, I have been back tracking and hunting down material from the time of the projects. Back in the 90’s, presentations were on acetates on overhead projectors, the handouts raw photocopies of those acetates.

One of the slides in a presentation made to the Midlands Construction Quality Forum* by  (I think) Clive Cain in 1996 illustrates the state of the industry at that time:

Scanned Image 39

Nearly 2 decades later have we improved?

Since Building Down Barriers we have had many many strategies to improve efficiency,  a recent (2006) study of labour efficiency showed a similar 30% of non productivity:

project footprints

And today? How much of the total cost of a project is consumed by waste and inefficiency? Have we dropped below the anecdotal 40%?

Of course any inefficiency is un-sustainable from environmental, financial and social perspective. I am reminded of the Honda advert strap line that ‘everything we do goes into everything we do’. How much of what we do in construction goes into ‘making the building grow’

It is hoped that the Lancashire Construction Best Practice Club, in association with UCLAN will undertake facilitated research to address inefficiency  and provide supported solutions. A local, Lancashire Building Down barriers, working with complete supply chains applying all the good approaches we advocate. Approaches that could include BIM, lean , cluster supply chains, collaborative working, carbon management, facilitated continuous improvement and importantly circular economy thinking.

Watch this space!

* a 1990’s innovative community of practice, comprising quality managers from construction companies with a passion to share and learn across companies.

BIM: More than just an information model

Last month I was delighted to present and explore ‘BIM, Building Information Modelling’ with Yorkshire CIBSE members.

I wanted to reinforce a few BIM issues, in particular that

  • BIM is just not about buildings – but facilities
  • BIM is about collaborating and continues the collaborative working journey started way back in Building Down Barriers, Rethinking Construction and others since.
  • BIM needs people collaborating to be a success

and that BIM is more than just an information model.

Here is Simon Owens, (@CalibreSimon excellent commentary from the evening:

The evening started with an introduction from Jim Marner of the B&ES expressing the belief that there is something of a “genetic  flaw” that leads the industry to perpetuate problems, 80% of which he believes could be resolved at pre-contract stage and mainly relate to design and procurement. Jim went on to say that he sees BIM as being an opportunity to create a new model leading to more projects being completed with a greater level of success than previously.

Having laid the foundations for the discussion to follow Paul gave an overview and then went on to talk about the challenge of the 2016 BIM target and how SES had embraced it to prepare for that deadline and gain advantage. What they have found is that for advantage to be realised, general understanding of BIM, cost of implementation and construction industry methodology would need to be addressed.

Paul discussed how poor models would be of limited value and that issues regarding the transfer of data between Architects, Modellers and other disciplines can hinder the cornerstone of BIM; that of being able to use information more than once and smooth out procurement processes.

Lee then discussed the technology side of BIM within SES and how they use AutoCAD as a basic package with Revit for Stage E moving on to AutoDesk Fabrication (formerly FABMep+ and CADmep+ as separate packages, now merged), their own system to quantify costs before NavisWorks for 3D visualization, clash detection, coordination, presentations and bringing models in from other packages.

The idea is that core information comes in at one end and is progressed through the system until the final result is produced and he demonstrated the value of using information more than once by extracting design data for a module and importing it in to their cost system. He then showed how the system could provide a list of the constituent parts, costs and labour for that module. While very impressive, Lee was keen to point out that to reach the stage of being able to make it look that easy had taken several years and many hours of development.

Paul raised the following discussion points as part of his rounding off:
– The industry appears keen to embrace BIM and its expected benefits, but there are still factors holding it back such as knowledge and questions of achieving return on investment.
– Who are the BIM Heroes and where are they coming from?
– Whether the industry as a whole is ready for the necessary culture change as opposed to merely buying the appropriate packages/technology.
– There are still inefficiencies within project procurement which BIM may not be able to fully help address.

As a final statement he talked about the need to blur the boundaries between the various stages of building and the different parties involved to achieve the necessary degree of collaborative working needed for all to benefit.

This final statement led very nicely on to Martin’s presentation Copy of Martins presentation here where he started with a definition of BIM as follows:

“The total and virtual modelling of all aspects of a facility prior to construction, during construction and in use.”

Martin stressed the word facility as he believes that clients do not commission buildings, but places which have to fulfil a purpose. He then compared the 13 month build period of the Empire State Building at the rate of 1 story a day with a maximum of 3400 people on site and one contractor with Ropemaker Place which took 3 years, had a maximum of 500 people on site and 140 contractors. What happened to progression? Complexity of building, process and organisational complexity as well as inefficient production were given as reasons; things that Jim referred to at the start, that SES has been developing BIM to minimise and something which Martin believes can be avoided through collaboration.

The origins of BIM go further back than most people think with its roots being in “Building Down Barriers” (pre-dating Egan) and Richard Saxon’s “Be Valuable”, a book he recommends reading. Richard Saxon is now the UK Governments BIM Ambassador who has introduced regional people to promote BIM at a more local level.

Martin asked whether technology was ruling the roost, or enabling the process; the clear thing is, he stated, if BIM is to lead to a 20% cost reduction by 2016, but is costing the industry more now, it is going in the wrong direction and only has a short while to make up ground, a concern of Paul’s when there are just over 3 years to go.

Taking communication as the root issue of many problems Martin described how email was used as a “splatter gun” while an effective BIM process will see all information relating to a scheme in a central point, ordered and accessible to all involved.

This is indeed a step change for the industry and he feels that the education system is teaching students about the old way; failing to show their students about the culture that the industry is adopting for the future.

So how to move forward?
– Get all parties involved, especially the smaller players
– Be comfortable with paperless sharing
– Be comfortable using social media sharing and its place in BIM

To make the point Martin likened taking social media away from young people to telling the previous generation that they waste too much time talking on their mobile ‘phone.

As a partial answer to where are the BIM heroes, he suggested that they are the people who are using Minecraft, Second Life etc. to design virtual worlds could well be those people given suitable understanding of construction.

With his presentation drawing to a close Martin talked briefly about Honda how “everything they do, goes in to everything they do” and the development of their culture, mind set and working practices to eliminate waste.

As a final comment, Martin highlighted the thought that we’ve tried solving the problem with technology, found it didn’t work and needed to go back to collaboration and then design the technology to facilitate that.

For further thoughts there is a Tweetchat about BIM using #TBim as a hashtag on the 29th Nov at 8pm – for details about what one is click here

There is also the thinkBIM network which holds regular meetings and discussions around BIM and its development. For further information visit:


It is also worth looking out for BIM Storms click here for details

Please do get in touch by email, twitter (@fairsnape) or leave a comment below if you wish to discuss any of the BIM issues raised here.

Twitter Building Down Barriers

A few tweets caught my eye on Friday between two SELCA (SE Lancs Construction Association) members, nothing really remarkable in content, but what was interesting was the exchange was between  joinery and bricklaying contractors, @rlmbrickwork and @tmjcontractors. As was mentioned, such conversations just wouldn’t happen on site.

That got me thinking, I have long maintained that organisations cannot really collaborate (few are designed to collaborate), hence the need and importance of last planner approaches, but that its people across organisations that collaborate, and of course that social media can only foster and enable more person to person connectivity.

And real collaboration.

So thoughts mused on how twitter can be used to enhance the last planner approach, enabling real time sharing of progress and issues between subcontractors. eg

@joiner: will the 2nd floor be ready for us on Tues as planned?

@plumber: @joiner first fix complete on for you to start in tues morning. Spoke with @electrics who will be done too. Good to go 

 @joiner; great thanks, will have a couple of guys there

 @contractor: delivery of plasterboard expected for 10am, loading out to level 2 for you

 @joiner @contractor ok, we can help offload ?

Dreaming or Potential? I know many SME contractors who dismissed the idea of any weekly last planner type sessions with subcontractors a few years back, but now see them as essential to construction project management. Maybe in a few years twitter will be a key project tool …. ?  (After all if  social media can be used to organise flashmobs, even dare I say riots, then surely we can use it to coordinate construction projects?)

Last Planner: There are many definitions of Last Planner in the context of lean construction, but essentially its about collaborative working, planning, scheduling and progress reviews with trade supervisors – the last planners – to reduce costs and delays, waste in its widest sense and add value. Often run as a series of weekly or daily planning and progress sessions on site.

Twitter Building Down Barriers: By the way the title above is purposely taken fromBuilding Down Barriers, a 1997 (just pre Egan) action research initaive to remove barriers between construction players that has shaped much of todays Modern Methods of Construction Management thinking.

on learning from eco-challenges …

What can we learn from the fact that bidders are pulling out of the next carbon-challenge project at Peterborough? (Shortlisted bidders flee from EP flagship project)

Could it be English Partnerships are using a traditional, cost based procurement route? Even with PQQ and other ability or capability ‘gates’ selection may still be based on cost. This could lead to the all too familiar high price of low cost syndrome, but as long as cost remains the main selection paradigm we are not going to think differently about sustainability, carbon zero, social responsibility and all things green.

What an opportunity we are missing. Eco challenge projects must do the same for our industry as Building Down Barriers did for partnering, collaboration and supply chain management a decade or so ago.

Why cannot the builders, designers and others be selected on improvement criteria (- ability and solutions in reducing carbons to zero, in design and in the construction process) and of improvement in cost – yes reducing cost at the same time through waste and improvement initiatives.

The oft quoted 30% waste (time, materials, energy, value, effort) in construction could more than pay for carbon zero and sustainability improvements.

We have a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate and to learn that we can get close to zero carbon, level 6 and all that without adding costs to the overall project – if combined with basic and proven improvement approaches.

The alternative? continue with business as usual from a construction perspective, with the exception of integrating some natty designs and product solutions, and continue to moan about the costs …