Procurement as an enabler of better outcomes

9 Oct 23

To get it right and deliver the outcomes the industry needs, it is important to make the right decisions from the start, said Alison Nicholl, head of Constructing Excellence. In her presentation to the GIRI members’ meeting, Alison focused on how to use procurement as a mechanism to incentivise the supply chain to deliver better quality.

Constructing Excellence is a platform to stimulate debate and drive change in the construction industry. “We operate at a regional and national level to enable and facilitate that change, which we believe will only be achieved by everyone coming together,” said Alison. “We all know that responsibility for delivering the outcomes we want doesn’t sit with one single party. It sits with everyone sharing that vision through innovation and collaboration.”

When it comes to procurement, this means making sure things don’t fall down at this stage, Alison explained. “The Constructing Excellence procurement group is looking at how to avoid the race to the bottom, and how we stop people gaming the system. And, particularly as we move into a difficult economic cycle, that we as an industry are not making decisions that store up problems for the future.”

Constructing Excellence is focusing on strategic procurement, looking at how to aggregate demand and provide the market suppliers with the information and certainty they need to invest in capacity and capability. “If we don’t support the market and the organisations within it to function properly, how can they invest in training and skills, in better ways of doing things, or better kit?”

The aim is to drive better outcomes. “Initiatives like the Value Toolkit and Project 13 demonstrate that decisions made early in a project have the biggest impact on outcomes – and that’s not just project outcomes and societal outcomes, but also how we actually deliver and how people are empowered to get it right.”

Alison argued that things like fair payment, unlocking innovation and delivering to time, cost and quality set the conditions for better relationships with project partners. “If you aren’t paying people, how can they deliver a good job or function properly as a business? We need to move away from poor practices such as this and reward companies that are doing the right thing.”

She pointed out that as an industry we know many of the causes of failure, just as we can identify many success factors, one of which is collaboration. The Constructing Excellence annual awards programme provides many examples of collaboration in action helping to deliver successful projects. Among the winners Alison highlighted was the Elephant Rock project in Hartlepool, which won the 2022 Value Award.

“This was a tiny project to deliver flood alleviation and create an outdoor space, and one of its successes was the way it brought community stakeholders together to help protect a much-loved area that was in danger of erosion from the sea. They did a lot of work involving local business and this was really valued by the community. It was a small project with a big impact and demonstrates that it’s not all about the big projects. Small projects can deliver really good outcomes if you set up the right conditions at the start.”

She added that the importance of collaboration goes beyond how we work within teams to how we work on projects and programmes as teams, and the mental health crisis in the industry stems in part from the structural obstacles to this way of working. “As individuals, we want to help and support each other, so why does the industry put contractual barriers in place to stop people doing the right thing? It’s much nicer to work in an environment where everyone is pulling in the same direction. You won’t get quality outcomes from people who are needlessly stressed because of how we set projects up.”

Now is the time to change, Alison concluded. “There are lots of initiatives driving in the same direction and focusing on delivering a better industry by fixing these issues at the outset. Now it’s about how we make this the norm rather than the exception. We shouldn’t have to celebrate projects just because they collaborated. Collaboration should be a given.”

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