Why construction needs a Quality-driven culture

Why construction needs a quality-driven culture

Errors cost UK construction 21% of turnover, according to the Get It Right Initiative (GIRI). Improvement will require business leadership across the sector, says Tom Barton. 


The UK construction industry – like many others worldwide – has an unenviable reputation for delivering projects late and over budget. This has continued despite numerous initiatives to improve planning and procurement, promote collaboration, adopt new methods of design and construction, and eliminate waste.

“A significant proportion of additional costs are directly attributable to errors,” says Tom Barton, chief executive of the Get It Right Initiative (GIRI).

Quantifying the costs of errors

A civil engineer, Barton has 50 years construction experience, much of it spent with contractors Mowlem and Sir Robert McAlpine, and has witnessed the impacts of errors – time, cost, quality and human – numerous times. With fellow engineer Ed McCann of Expedition Engineering, Barton got industry backing for research to quantify the costs of errors and identify the most common root causes.

The project, combining a literature review and empirical research (jointly funded by the CITB and a group of contractors and clients), was completed in June 2015.

“Inevitably, there was some hesitation about sharing details of costly mistakes,” Barton says, “but we signed non-disclosure agreements ahead of the interviews and workshops, as everyone was keen to understand how errors arose. And having identified numerous common experiences, we could then recommend actions to help avoid errors.”

The GIRI report found that avoidable errors amounted to around 5% of project value (eclipsing average UK construction industry profit margins). Add in the indirect costs of errors, latent defects and unrecorded process waste, and the total impact averages 21% of project cost. With UK construction delivering around £110bn of new work per annum, this means errors have a significant economic impact, as well as reputational and other costs.

Addressing the insights

“Following publication of the initial research report, there was a clear appetite to try to improve the industry’s performance,” Barton says. Backers of the research along with new sponsors helped fund the January 2017 establishment of a not-for-profit company, Get It Right Initiative Ltd, which was officially launched at the Institution of Civil Engineers in June 2017.

GIRI aims to change attitudes across the sector so that everyone is committed to eliminating errors. Its ‘Strategy for Change’ involved awareness-raising, education and training, and development of guidance on improvement opportunities.

“The CITB allocated money for training to improve industry productivity (GIRI was part of its evidence base), and GIRI members formed consortia to successfully apply for grants. Across three strands – leadership (led by Kier), quality (led by Vinci), and interfaces in design management (led by Berkeley) - we are now developing course content.

“Meantime,” Barton continues, “we have produced industry guides to address particular opportunities. For example, we started to look at errors in design (a major contributor to wider errors), producing a design guide in November 2018. This makes 12 recommendations that can be applied to any project, particularly at its commencement and during early design. And we’ve published a report on how harnessing technology can help reduce errors.”

GIRI’s technology report is strongly aligned with other UK construction modernisation initiatives (many advocated in Mark Farmer’s October 2016 “Modernise or Die” report), looking at offsite manufacture, standardisation, improved construction processes (including building information modelling and use of mobile technologies), error-minimising components, and automation.

Instilling a quality culture

While Barton is enthusiastic about the technology opportunities, he says industry needs to collaborate and focus on value and quality in the same way it collaborates on health and safety.

“From senior levels of government, through the CEOs and main boards of construction businesses, down to individual teams working on sites, there is now a collective belief that health and safety is everybody’s responsibility. Everyone looks out for everyone else. Safety is not just an issue for the health and safety department, it’s a daily management issue.

“Currently getting it right is an issue for the quality department – it’s less important to business leaders and managers, and we need to change that attitude. In the health and safety world, we must declare incidents – could we do the same thing for errors or defects? Could we publish and be proud of our quality metrics? We are developing a GIRI Protocol about sharing data – one idea is a snags per £m rating which is reported to the board.”

GIRI has grown to 36 members and in Barton’s view is gathering momentum. “Training will remain a strong part of our work, but we need to broaden approaches to quality across supply chains. Often errors are simply accepted as an inevitable part of working in construction. A specialist roofing subcontractor told me late design changes from Tier One contractors were costing his business £5m a year on a turnover of £100m – a figure that was just added to his business overheads, embedding errors and rework in the system. This has to change.”

The Get It Right Initiative is therefore keen to expand its membership across supply chains, and to build alliances with other industry organisations. “Avoidable errors lead to budget and programme overruns, impacting individual businesses, the projects they work on, and ultimately our industry clients,” says Barton. “Embedding a collaborative approach to error reduction will reduce these impacts and make construction more efficient, profitable and sustainable.”


Written by Paul Wilkinson



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Why construction needs a Quality-driven culture