How to increase productivity by being bold

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The construction industry continues to struggle with productivity. Bringing innovation and thinking out of the box might help overcoming the challenge, writes Andy Stamps.

We have recently been working on a tender and were asked to list our previous experience of similar projects. In the same week, I read an article in the press about how public service productivity decreased by 1.3% in the third quarter of 2022 compared with the previous quarter. And I thought of the Einstein quote: “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

We know that we face a national productivity and efficiency challenge, with UK productivity currently around 20% below that of the US and behind both Germany and France. Yet when it comes to tenders for essential public and private sector frameworks, we still seek replication of this inefficiency.

Of course, we need professionals with experience and expertise, but we also want clients who are bold and brave to think and commission things differently, ones that value an outcome-focused approach that the construction playbook mandates.

We need to break the cycle of formulaic procurement and delivering for the sake of delivering and start to think innovatively about how we can make our industry more productive and efficient.

‘Smarter, greener and better’

At RLB we have just launched a ‘smarter, greener and better’ campaign. More than just a soundbite, it sets out how we help clients solve the challenges they have to deal with on a regular basis by just thinking differently.

A recent example of this was RLB’s involvement with the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in two ‘sandpit’ projects as part of the construction innovation hub programme – one in healthcare and one in education.

As part of the deployment phase of the hub’s programme, the MTC commits to “provide a test bed facility… offering a safe space to test, learn and develop." This, in turn, may serve as the foundation to develop quality products that can go straight into the market and be used by industry and to advance learning.

How brilliant is that? A place where we can test things, where we can try things that are different and learn from others. So, we can build efficiencies into the development programme before committing to the build and longevity of a project.

More innovation needed

We need more sandpits. We need more innovation and to keep challenging the norm.

Coventry City Council seems to be doing just this with their recent selection questionnaire for research and development partners. It feels like they’re one of the first in the local authority arena to challenge the expected and push for change.

Our industry has a skills shortage and, as we digitalise, the gap between what we have and what we need will widen. To think differently, and to be bold, shouldn’t we look at our skill set and our resources to determine how we can maximise them?

For instance, at RLB, we are already equipping our quantity surveyors to not only cost manage a project, but also carbon manage it too. And how do we equip our commercial teams to do this? What additional training and support may they need? Yes, it will require investment in the short term but, in the long run, it will increase value for our talent pool, our clients and the industry.

While we still have a way to go on the infrastructure journey to working smarter, greener and better, we know that by being bolder, and by taking a risk, we will discover more efficient ways to work that will help us in the long term.

Andy Stamps is national head of infrastructure at RLB.

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