Strategic Leadership Group - Ed McCann

29 Jul 21
Strategic Leadership Group - Ed McCann

What do you hope to achieve by being part of GIRI’s Strategic Leadership Group?

At its simplest, I hope I can make a contribution to improving productivity and outcomes in uk construction and infrastructure. Having shone a light on the very specific issue of waste associated with error in our sector – and having actually observed it in person – I feel an obligation to do something about it!

The way we develop designs today seems to be predicated on the expectation that the contractor will not follow process in quite fundamental ways – for example in the design of segmental tunnel linings we make assumptions that bolts will not align properly, that the contractor will damage them when they are installed, and hence that the bolts cannot be relied upon as part of the design. Rather than address the problem of non-compliance and error, we are building in levels of redundancy for things we should be able to control. 

To be over-designing just because we assume that things are going to be put together wrongly just seems to me to be completely unacceptable.

Having had that realisation, I want to push the industry forward to a place where we can be sure that everyone involved will do what they are meant to do.

How does your current role align with GIRI's objectives?

At the moment I spend most of my time working on innovation and productivity with major infrastructure clients; what GIRI is trying to do is absolutely central to that work.

A key part of improving productivity, reducing waste and reducing environmental harm is elimination of waste – and a big part of this is related to errors. 

Error nearly always results in a waste of something, whether that is time, money, materials and so on. Hence it’s intrinsic to the productivity and environmental challenges that we face, as an industry and a nation, to eliminate error.

My role on the Strategic Leadership Group also fits perfectly with the position I will have next year when I am president of the ICE.

What do you see as the top priority for the SLG?

I believe our key priority is to get visibility and buy-in from the senior infrastructure clients. So far GIRI has done a great job in highlighting the issue and identifying what the challenges are from the bottom up; we now need to embed and build capability around error reduction and put a focus on it from the client’s perspective. In the end, that is what is necessary to drive the change.

What do you see as the biggest barrier to reducing error on a meaningful scale in the construction industry?

We’ve grown very used to some quite ineffective behaviours; the way we work is almost so embedded that people just can’t imagine an alternative. The presumption that people won’t comply with process is one such example, and one that contributes to unacceptable levels of error.

It’s a challenge on the scale of the transformation that was necessary in relation to health and safety. Similarly, people believed the industry couldn’t change – that was just the way it was, it had always been like this, and always would be.

It took a long time to change but I think we are at that point now in relation to the error reduction message. If people at the top level of industry really thought about the consequences of error, most of them would agree that it’s just not acceptable. The key to that is getting visibility among the senior clients, who will then take the message to the supply chain.

How do you think the industry's priorities have changed in the last 12 months and what impact has this had on error reduction? 

There’s definitely a renewed focus on things like productivity and the need for change in construction – it’s a combination of the post-Brexit labour market; the likely government approach to rebuilding the economy by investing in infrastructure; the awareness we’ve got that we need to give better value for money and the fact that carbon has risen up the agenda significantly. There is a strong alignment between the waste elimination part of GIRI and the carbon reduction agenda – all of this tells me that GIRI is a story that has found its moment.   

What first step/easy win would you suggest to someone just starting on their journey towards zero error?

I would suggest that people really try to get a deep understanding of the root causes of error in construction and how they track back through the process to a failure to adequately plan.

Do your homework and get your head around what error means – and use that understanding to inform your next steps.


About Ed McCann

Ed is a civil engineer and graduate of Imperial College, London and has a masters degree in hydraulic engineering from the Universidad National Autonoma de Mexico.

He is senior vice president of the Institution of Civil Engineers and a senior director of Expedition Engineering. Ed was instrumental in growing Expedition from a ‘back-bedroom start-up’ to being awarded Engineering Consultant of the Year by Building magazine in 2011. He is known as an innovative designer specialising in complex multi-disciplinary and regeneration projects and was the director responsible for the London 2012 Velodrome and the Infinity Bridge in Stockton-on-Tees.

Ed is a Royal Academy visiting professor of innovation and a member of the UK’s i3P Strategic Leadership Group which focusses on innovating across the built environment. He has co-created cross-industry initiatives including the Constructionarium, the Get It Right Initiative and the Expedition Workshed.


Meet the other Strategic Leadership Group members

Paul Lowe, Partner, Kennedys

Dr Alistair Hitchcock, Head of Engineering, Phase Two, HS2

Mark Hansford, Director of Engineering Knowledge, Institution of Civil Engineers

Emer Murnaghan OBE, Innovation Director Civil Engineering, Graham


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