Tag Archives: Value Engineering

Grenfell Tower and the precautionary principle.

Many have written, blogged and commented on the avoidable tragedy at Grenfell Tower. I have been in two minds whether to add my voice, but then as a colleague pointed out, I have been blogging on themes pertinent to the tragedy since 2007. Theses themes (on risk, collaborative working, health sustainability, standards, strategies,  and construction improvement) have featured in this and other blogs, in numerous articles across many journals and of course brought together within the recently published FutuREstorative.

No doubt, in boardrooms across the world of built environment organisations, questions are being asked: have we designed, specified or installed similar materials and systems in similar situations. Do we really know? Do we know the materials, chemicals and the impacts of insulation we have installed? Where are the inspection and audit results, where are the material test certificates and evidence of compliance with specifications.

We do not know the exact cause and failures at Grenfell, but what has become clear is that this a systematic failure, a cocktail of failures and certainly not just a single cause.


Back in my biz improvement / safety advisory role in the 90’s, we used the swiss cheese model for a systematic thinking approach to risk. In the swiss cheese model each slice of cheese is seen as a system activity or aspect layer, holes in individual layer may be problematic but other layers act as a defence to prevent more significant failure.

But when too many holes line up we see a catastrophic system collapse event.  As sadly we have seen at Grenfell Tower.


London fire: Screaming people trapped as blaze engulfs 27-storey Grenfell Tower in Notting Hill

Grenfell Tower will undoubtedly have a profound and highly significant impact on design, construction and building management worldwide, but we do not need to wait for an inquiry when we know the problems, the holes in the myriad of swiss cheese layers, and we know what needs to be fixed.


deregulation and desire to have a legislation bonfire
slow response by government to head lessons learnt
lobbyist pressure to affect change
a fashion for ignoring experts
partial privatisation of the building inspection regime
fragmented supply chain
inappropriate materials or systems
lack of system thinking
a lowest cost mentality that still persists
passive fire strategies
material testing in isolation, not as a system
lack of transparency and impact knowledge of materials we specific, approve, install
ignorance of precautionary principle thinking
lack of collaborative working
failure to question – the “we can only do what the client, architect, contractor specifies’ culture
lack of understanding of building technology (cf uncompleted fire stopping)
inspections (see the Edinburgh Schools Report)
and so many more …

Grenfell should be seen as a warning for the deregulation many would like to see following Brexit. The great repeal bill is set to repeal many of the health and environment EU regulations (those that that ‘hamper uk business’ but will prevent other Grenfells).

Amongst the many causes, it has been suggested the fire may well have started from a faulty appliance. How sadly ironic that it was the perceived EU over-regulations on safe & efficient kettles and vacuums that became a cause-celeb in last years Brexit referendum. (Who are the EU to tell us how safe our kettles and vacuum cleaners should be ….?) See George Monbiot Too often safety has been sacrificed to an agenda of deregulation backed by lobbyists 

6442Moving in from the green fringe of the built environment sector, we have robust standards emerging containing material schedules built on the precautionary principle. (Here we can list the Living Building Challenge, WELL standards along with the Red List, Pharos, Declare and other lists.) Organisations and clients have their own schedules, for example Google’s Portico, British Lands Material Schedule. If such standards and red lists were adopted by the public sector, embedded into building regulations, then the cladding insulation at Grenfell would in all probability not have been permitted.

‘The precautionary principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk’

The precautionary principle states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public, or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus (that the action or policy is not harmful), the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking that action. The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections can be relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result. (Wiki)

Lloyd Alter blogging in Treehugger illustrates the impact of the material used in Grenfell. What is sad is that this, to most, has come as a surprise.

What appears to have happened is that the Reynobond’s polyethylene core caught fire and the stack effect in the two-inch gap made it spread almost instantly. Apparently it got hot enough that the supposedly flame-retardant polyiso charred as well, putting out tons of smoke, possibly contributing cyanide and other toxic gases. The vinyl framed windows also melted, letting the toxic fumes into the suites very quickly.

As may be expected from media such as the Daily Mail, the green, carbon reduction, climate change agenda has emerged as a blame. Alice Bell writing in the Guardian(Don’t blame green targets for Grenfell) soundly kicks this into touch

But we do have a problem with many seeing building sustainability as simply being energy & thermal performance. The key message of FutuREstorative was to address the necessary shift in sustainability thinking, away from a blinkered focus on energy to one that embraces human and planetary health within a socially just and ecologically sound sustainability.  And … perhaps we should not use the word sustainability until we do.

Today, it is difficult to attend sustainability events where health and wellbeing is not a key theme and message, it is sad that this message is not percolating down through the long tail of construction where lowest cost is still prevalent. Lowest cost even at the high price of social and human life. (A mineral based insulation with a Fire Rating would have cost £2 m2 more than the polyurethane based, more flammable insulation used on Grenfell. It will be interesting to see any records of the value engineering exercise to arrive at this material choice, if indeed there was a recorded VE, and how the decision met the Social Value Act.

Update 30 June BBC Reporting evidence of VE (or cost engineering)


Time then for all in the built environment sector, the government, lobbyist, clients, designers, contractors and building operators to adopt precautionary principle thinking, particularly when human health hazards have been flagged by coroners reports, data, research and lessons learnt .

This can be voluntarily done now, today.  To wait years for outcomes from an inquiry and the regulation changes that will surely follow, changes that will tell us what we already know, is simply irresponsible.

Building Down Green Deal Barriers

Themes covered in the Cumbria Green Deal workshop yesterday, both within round table groups and in general discussions were strikingly familiar, being the age old improvement issues that the construction and built environment sector has been trying to address for the last few decades.

It is encouraging that Green Deal is raising these themes with a new audience, and reinforces the point that Green Deal is another important improvement step on route to construction excellence. However, it is also a reminder that Green Deal may be doomed to failure it its just another sticking plaster applied over our industry core problems

So, forgetting for a moment the mechanics of Green Deal, what are the underlying themes …

Collaborative Working – the need to work together, across supply chains and in consortia is emerging as a pre-requisite for Green Deal.  The six principles of Collaboartive Working, (Compete on Value, Relationships, Integrated Working, Collaborative Cost Management, Continuous Improvement and People Development), first developed under the Building Down Barriers are very appropriate to Green Deal today.

Added Value and Lean Construction – the need to reduce costs whilst improving value. The need to be lean across the Green Deal process. The first Lean Management principle of identifying and stripping waste out is key to effective Green Deal delivery

Open and Transparent Costing – essential to get back to real costs, adopting new and radical approaches to pricing and dealing with risks, and the need to eradicate competition by profit / lowest cost.

Communications – across Green Deal players, with customers and consumers to the way in which we market and promote ourselves.

With the main root of construction problems being related to communication issues, effective approaches to Green Deal communication is vital

Sustainability and CSR – from technical sustainability of how to improve performance of hard to treat properties, to green skill development, to procuring local and appropriate resourcing all get a good outing in Green Deal discussions

Value Management – the need to evaluate between differing Green Deal Plan options, products and quotes across a differing range of criteria (cost, life cycle, replacement, appearance, performance etc) will benefit from robust value management approaches.

Quality Management – our industry SME resistance to adopting processes and certification that applied correctly will improve quality and consistency, reduce errors, reworking and costs, but importantly offer confidence to clients now shifts from ISO 9001 to PAS 2030.

Automation – will automating processes without loosing face to face relationships usher in a world of iPads, social media and improved streamlining of routine / back of house processes?

What will Green Deal do for your organisation?


On this blog:  Where Greendeal will succeed …

See Su Butcher’s Just Practising blog and comments to What will the Green Deal do for us?

Building Down Barriers Supply Chain Handbook 

on integrated, clustered project management …

There have been a good number of conversations on twitter recently in discussing collaborative procurement and collaborative contract management. It is amazing that such a dialogue can take place in just 140 characters at a time, reinforcing the potential of twitter and why there should be more adoption within the built environment for knowledge and improvement share.

 Su Butcher over at Just Practicing blogged on the design and build conversation, and to pick up on that (and to complete a few promises for more information to those in the twitter conversations) here is my contribution, that links together D+B, PQQ,s Clustering and Integrated Project Management


opps v costs


Early engagement in a project is essential for all parties and stakeholders, to ensure best possible outcomes for meeting client / end users needs, value, quality, time, sustainability, and community impact.  The classic chart opposite that shows opportunities for change (read improvement, or adding value) mapped against cost of doing the same demonstrates the potential of early involvement.

Typically – (I would say historically but I know it is current, and even the term historically adds some kind of respectability to poor practice) the contracting team is not appointed until the brief and design are ready for build. Even worst the project build team is not assembled until after the main contractor and then progressively throughout the construction programme. 

Design Build moves the engagement of the project design and build main players to earlier in the process, often following brief or concept design. This is good yet still leaves these parties out of the brief and out of any value management exercise, where undoubtedly they can add real value. 

Bringing the project design and build teams in on day or week zero can be achieved through mature frameworks and or relationships, along with mature cost and contract arrangements. End users and FM should likewise be part of the early engagement, or ideally there first , engaging the others as the project process drivers.



This leads to an Integrated Project Team, which looks, feels and acts very differently from a traditional project organisational structure. Issues such as co location in one office, shared and seconded staff across the project all add to an effective delivery of value.  But as has been commented in the twitter conversations this approach is rarely practiced to its full potential, and arguably not since Building Down Barriers.

(But see the Highways Agency ECI, Early Contractor Involvement approach)

In addition, whilst the contractor may be engaged at an earlier stage, to add value they really need to engage with their supply chains, ideally adopting clusters around elements of construction. This allows specialist and build-ability knowledge into design, but necessitating. again mature, supplier relationships or ready-to-go (RTG) clusters.

Appointment of the players in this collaborative and integrated model requires careful selection, and arguably cost should not feature at all. Ideally trusted players from previous contracts, ie supply chains or clusters would be assembled, as happens elsewhere in other sectors.  

Such integrated approaches are essential in achieving improvement to predictability of time and cost, adding value and meeting the project objectives.

Pre-Qualification Questions, PQQ’s, interviews, visits, collaborative workshops etc as part of the selection should focus on procuring the designers, contracting,  facilities management teams etc based on such issues as proven approaches to achieving requirements and reducing budget costs through tackling waste in the process. There is estimated to be 30% waste of time, material, effort, documentation management  etc in the overall project process – and so really tackling this can produce far greater savings than through selection on price to get lowest or best value prices.  (But the thread of Higher Costs from Lower Prices is another blog subject!, as is the poorly understood difference between cost and price) 

I guess I should point out that a far amount of my support time to clients, contracts and contractors is spent on facilitating this type of integrated working, or some of the individual components thereof.  

And the interest in this approach?  Well that would appear to be on the increase (at least on paper unfortunately), as, in current economic circumstances, contractors seek approaches that would offer improved value and reduce costs for their clients in an attempt to differentiate them from competition and win work.  

The culture of mistrust and baggage of the industry though really prevents real progress. But, as we cannot fix the problems of today’s industry with the thinking that created the problems – new thinking is required, new thinking in terms of early engagement, integrated, clustered project management.


Twitter Conversationists in their own words (twitter profiles) included:

The_Architect : Manchester, UK. Chartered Architect, Music lover. Frank Lloyd Wright expert and a Romantic soul.

LizMale: Buckinghamshire. PR consultant specialising in UK construction and sustainability in the built environment

EEPaul: SE England, London SE3, Woking London-based blogger on IT, SaaS, construction, PR, marketing and Web 2.0 stuff (also a Crewe Alex FC fan, Wikipedian, cyclist)

Fairsnape: Forest of Bowland Lancs UK. Supporting, shaping and commenting on trends, web stuff, improvements and futures in the built environment

Melstarrs: London or Leeds, UK Green Building Design Engineer and Accreditation Professional (CIBSE, BREEAM & LEED)

ConstructingExc: London. Constructing Excellence is the single organisation charged with driving the change agenda in construction, housing and regeneration.

SuButcher: Essex, UK Practice Manager for No-nonsense Architects Barefoot & Gilles. Tweets on the UK Construction and Property Industry, blog at http://www.justpractising.com

Geoffwilkinson: UK Building Regulations Expert, Fire Engineer, Arsenal Fan, Partial to the odd Real Ale

PaulDohertyAIA: Shanghai. New York Architect, Living and Working in Shanghai, China

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