Construction quality could be catching up with other industries

This blog was written by Lynne Ceeney, Technical Director at BSRIA

If you order steak and chips at a restaurant, but the waiter delivers hake in strips, you would be rightly annoyed. Instinctively you blame the waiter, but it could have been a problem with the ordering software, a misreading in the kitchen or just the wrong dish being picked up.  Whatever, you would send it back – it is not what you ordered.   In new buildings, this happens all the time.  Poor communication during the briefing, design and construction process, and poor handover and operation leads to a building that doesn’t deliver the performance the client thought they had ordered in the first place.  Unlike a dinner, it’s not practical to send a building back and wait for the one you asked for to be delivered.  Instead extensive snagging lists, expensive defect resolution and defensive “best we can do” fixes by the facilities team are often used to try and get the building closer to its intended performance – and “closer” is usually the best that can be achieved. The owner and occupier end up with a disappointing building, and the designers and construction company are left with a disappointed client.  The blame chain spreads, and it’s hard to pin down the fault.

The impacts run way beyond disappointment.  Occupier discomfort impacts staff retention, and the increased societal focus on wellbeing indicates that employees will expect higher standards from their place of work.  Poor commissioning or confusing controls mean building systems that don’t work properly and need constant attention or premature replacement, as the uncomfortable working conditions impact on worker productivity.  Inefficient buildings use more energy requiring more cash and causing more carbon emissions.  In fact buildings contribute 37% of UK green house gas emissions from gas heating, and consume 67% of the electricity used in the country.  It’s no wonder that larger investors are taking much more of an interest in the sustainability and performance of buildings rather than just the upfront capital cost.  Good buildings are an asset, poor buildings become an expensive liability in terms of operating costs and void periods. Competitive property markets compound this situation.

With a typical building having a life expectancy of at least 60 years, we are building in problems for this generation and the next.  We’re not great at mass retrofitting, (and the high demand for additional building stock means a capital, skills and material shortage) so we need to get it right first time.  Effective management tools with this aim abound in other sectors, for example DRIFT, (Doing it Right First Time), Six Sigma, LEAN and Zero Defects.  We see the approach being used in food manufacture, car making, pilot training, and patient healthcare, to name but a few sectors.  So what about construction?

Soft Landings is the equivalent tool for the construction sector.  This tried and tested process was developed to help to produce better performing buildings – not necessarily exceptional in performance, but buildings that deliver in operation what they were designed to do in the first place.  Getting a building right requires a shared focus on operational performance of the building right from the start, and throughout the design, construction and commissioning process.  The use of Soft Landings delivers this shared focus, improving communication and collaboration between all parties in the building delivery chain.  It helps everyone to avoid the pitfalls that diminish operational building performance. It fits with RIBA stages, integrates into existing construction processes, and does not require a specific building procurement model.  You can download Soft Landings guidance from the BSRIA website .

However it is always helpful to find out about real world experiences, and to talk to others who are using Soft Landings to help them to produce better buildings.  With this in mind, BSRIA have organised the 2017 Soft Landings Conference (June 16th 2017 at RIBA, Portland Place, London W1B 1AD). You will hear from a range of speakers from different parts of the construction process – including clients – who will explain how they have used Soft Landings in their projects, and the value that it has delivered for their buildings.  You will also hear their hints and tips, and there will be plenty of time to ask questions and take part in discussion both in conference and over lunch.

It’s time for the construction industry to catch up with other industries in terms of quality, to produce buildings that perform as expected, through a delivery process that gets it right first time.  Soft Landings is a process that helps the delivery chain to do this.  For more information on the conference please contact our Events Manager, Tracey Tilbry.

 

Government Soft Landings

This is a blog by Peter Corbett, Principal Quality Inspector at Essex County Council

This is a blog by Peter Corbett, Principal Quality Inspector at Essex County Council

As a Local Authority employee I am well aware of the push for both savings and value for money, it is therefore reassuring to see the importance the Government is affording their version of ‘Soft Landings’.

The Cabinet Office sees soft landings as the ‘golden thread’ of BIM, rather than a delivery tool, and is looking for three key benefits from its implementation, those being; Improved Environmental Performance, Improved Financial Performance and Improved Functionality and Effectiveness.

The Government’s Soft Landings policy drawn up in September 2012 recognised that ‘The ongoing maintenance and operational cost of a building during its lifecycle far outweighs the original capital cost of construction, and GSL identifies the need for this to be recognised through early engagement in the design process.

To help the development of GSL a stewardship group was formed to which all government departments and agencies were invited. This group generally meets quarterly with around twenty department and agencies represented. It seeks to update the GSL implementation progress across departments, develop training ideas and determine ways of measuring the benefits that could be gained from the process.

GSL has been the archetypal snowball, steadily gathering pace as it moves toward 2016 when the Cabinet Office has asked for its adoption by all central government departments and agencies, and gradually increasing in size, as with each stewardship meeting more departments and agencies are in attendance.

I was fortunate enough to receive an invite to the last GSL stewardship meeting through my links with the BSRIA Soft Landings User Group and as a Local Authority representative, and was encouraged to see the enthusiastic approach to soft landings from some of the more engaged departments, they like ourselves see the advantages soft landings could offer (albeit from an FM focussed approach that more considers the ‘In Use’ benefits) and are eager for the evidence of this that case studies and their like could provide. Of course as with most matters concerning Central & indeed Local Government the journey is never straight-forward, and as could probably be expected the speed of soft landings adoption varies greatly both in levels of commitment and of development between each Government department and agency.

So what next for GSL? On Friday 7th November there was a GSL supply chain engagement day, to which all Government departments and agencies were invited and encouraged to extend invites to their design, construction and facilities management partners. Attendees were treated to seminars on what Government Soft Landings actually are, why they should be used and how they should be implemented, as well as what training and ongoing support could be provided.

Soft_Landings_logo-highIt was fairly evident from the nature of the questions from Government department representatives that there remains a lot of work to do to obtain both a participative and consistent approach across all departments, as well as the difficulty in impressing on the supply chain providers that success on a project is not merely about building to budget and programme. As pointed out by one contractors’ representative ‘We know of Soft Landings, but that’s where our knowledge ends’, a better description of what GSL actually is was requested with examples of what ‘success’ actually looks like, and also recognition that there is a clear shift from Capex to Opex in the governments construction expectations. All evidence that there is still much to do to achieve wider engagement in soft landings throughout the industry.

But there remains a high level of commitment to soft landings from the Government as evidenced by this event, and this is likely to soon have an impact on those of us in Local Government. In my own Authority we have been using the principles of soft landings in order to help improve the delivery of our projects in areas that have proved problematic; this has predominantly centred on the handover and defects resolution stages, and also end-user training on their new building. For us the ethos of soft landings has been extremely beneficial, but we have been fortunate enough to get the buy-in from our framework of contractors, again some contractors are more engaged with the practice than others, however with the Governments push for the use of soft landings it should encourage everyone’s participation in the process, and hopefully to the benefit of all involved; commissioner, client and contractor.

 

Blogger profile

My working career began early 1980’s in civil engineering, after taking various qualifications I moved into construction after an acquaintance encouraged me to become a clerk of works at the age of 21.  I joined Essex County Council initially as an assistant clerk of works and have remained with the authority for almost thirty years, latterly as the authorities Principal Quality Inspector. I have more recently acted as the construction performance manager on Essex County Council’s Contractors Framework, for which I am undertaking the role of Soft Landings champion. I am a Fellow of the Institute of Clerks of Works and the Construction Inspectorate having first joined the organisation in the 1990’s.

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