The entire supply chain agrees that the most important objective is to make the occupiers happy and meet their objectives. Yet the collective professions of design and construction appear to persist in making the process harder than it should be. So, can the fit-out sector make the process smoother more often – improving efficiency and effectiveness, making the experience better for everyone? SpecFinish brought two leading practitioners together to find out more.
Two industry experts, both with enormous experience in their respective professions, met to discuss the issues; Anthony Brown, sales and marketing director from workplace fit-out specialist BW, and Phil Hutchinson, the strategy director from BDG architecture + design. Their aim was to highlight and offer some resolution to the issues that create barriers to achieving the perfect project.
The difference between design and construction
From day one the drivers for the professions differ. The architectural and design team are creating a project that inspires the client, provides the solution that they need and that will strengthen their own portfolio and reputation. By contrast the main contractor wants to make this happen yet is beleaguered by cost, risk and managing a multi-skilled labour force.
From a very early stage in the build process the perspective of each team begins to split as the top-line strategy moves to an operational mode and then further to a tactical pace. Each skill now has its role to play with the challenge of keeping one eye firmly on the shared end goal, rather than just on the element they are involved in.
There is always respect, not always appreciation
Undoubtedly there is respect between the design and construction teams. However, it is unlikely that there is full appreciation of the detail – simply because there can’t be, due to time restraints and general logistics. The aim should be to provide common dialogue; to assist this, BW employs its own design managers to address this issue. And to keep the final completed scheme in mind, BDG adopts ideas such as contractor briefings and ensuring that visuals are on show on-site to keep the end result at the front of everyone’s minds. But there is still much more we can do to assist with levels of understanding.
People and relationships
The attitude and personality of individuals can make the most challenging project enjoyable to work on. As Phil points out, the best experiences are with the people who communicate. He explains: “When we come up against a challenge, the most refreshing approach from our perspective from a contractor is that they call us, explain the problem and then offer a number of solutions that we can work on and refine as a team. The worst scenario is walking onto a site and being handed a set of Requests for Information (RFIs) with an impossible deadline.” The team approach invariably contributes to offering the client and the project a better solution.
If we consider the overall team, Anthony highlights that an effective PM can greatly help certain situations by removing the artificial barrier between the architecture and design team, and the construction contingent, who find themselves having to go through an official process to solve an issue when a simple discussion will do.
Designing the perfect meeting
Anthony also highlights the “inherently dysfunctional” site meetings that are too common, whereby the main concern of the participants is to protect their position, rather than taking a holistic view of the issues. For this reason, wherever possible, BW advocates a ‘pre-meeting’ with the intention of shortening the duration of meetings and making them more efficient.
In an ideal situation this would of course be the project manager’s job. The best PMs realise that they don’t need to have input in everything but they do need to ensure that the right people are talking to each other to resolve issues. This may well vary from client to client, particularly between the public and private sectors where different governance applies.
Phil echoes this view in terms of identifying the key stakeholders at a very early stage of projects and then meetings being better designed. For instance – attendance only by true participants, no chairs, recorded conversations, resolving points before the meeting where possible and a very firm ‘no parking’ rule to ensure that the meetings are effective.
The winning formula
They say the road to recovery begins when the problem is realised. In this discussion at least, the broad agreement was that solutions lie in two key points:
(i) Greater shared vision – The architect knows what is important to a client, and the contractor arrives with a budget in mind. Helping all parties truly understand what the client wants could be achieved by appointing the main contractor
very early on in the process. An architect will have discussions about ‘vision’ with a client, but very often the first conversation the main contractor has is about cost and thereafter carries the risk for the schematic detail.
(ii) Trust in the supply chain – If the occupier’s needs and requirements are communicated across all parties then everyone can begin to understand each other’s risks and challenges.
Greater shared vision and trust in the supply chain are achieved by collaboration, which is what all successful projects are consequences of. This brings experts in their own field together, collaborating to extract the best knowledge and experience of each one of these experts.