Updated: Jan 18
Considerations to increase business productivity in construction
If you haven’t heard about the wave of “product” and “platform” thinking in the construction industry, then you should read this article for a quick crib-sheet guide to what changes you need to be implementing in your business in preparation for a new wave of business productivity improvements in construction
Last year the Construction Innovation Hub’s (CIH) published several important pieces of work that will undoubtedly provoke the evolution. The “Product Platform Rulebook”, the “Construction Playbook” and the “Value Toolkit” are all bodies of work that finally give us all some clarity on how we should follow Mark Farmer’s advice to “modernise or die”.
The construction sector is shackled in the yoke of a “project” mentality. From the scramble to win new work, to the formation of a professional team. We start from scratch each time, form new relationships, create a design, figure out how to build it, check with regulators, employ contractors to build it and then, at the end, we look for who to blame for what went wrong and forget about what went right. Rinse and repeat!
Business productivity improvements in construction
The journey into productisation is perhaps one of evangelistic righteousness. It should feel to the core of your being that the way we currently run our construction projects is just downright bad for karma. I have personally been burnt, and my business has had to develop defence mechanisms to deal with the constant rinsing of risk down the supply chain plughole. It’s all negative energy – surely it can’t be healthy!
The rinse-and-repeat mentality keeps going and going. A vortex of energy and sinkhole for cash. To break the cycle, we need to look to other industries and take what is helpful across to our broken construction sector.
The great work done by CIH and other organisations, such as the Offsite Alliance to bring the industry together and promote change is fantastic, but in practical terms, for those of you who face the day-to-day reality of changing your business models, you’ll need to face up to the (not insignificant) challenges that lay ahead. As a sector, it might be like trying to steer the Titanic, thankfully, that is the job of the CIH and others. Still, as individual businesses, listening and reacting, there are important steps and systems you can start to think about implementing.
So what is productisation?
Productisation goes hand in hand with standardisation. Standardisation allows the tools of BIM and digitisation to be more predictable when integrated with the world of manufactured or industrialised construction.
With standardisation, we know we can reduce waste and improve business productivity, but counter to it, the demand profile of the construction sector is hugely diverse and most projects differ hugely from one to the next.
Just think about the different places your friends live, the schools our children go to and the shopping centres or gymnasiums we frequent. They aren’t all the same! Houses aren’t bought like other products. Our friends don’t live in a “house 12”, and you can’t brag about the new features of your “house 14”. Numerous external forces are at play such as planning, regulatory change and climatic changes, that set demands that the construction industry needs to respond to.
So, to move into a productised or platform approach within the construction sector, we need to standardise the inputs into our business processes so we can break free from the rinse-and-repeat the merry-go-round of construction-at-large! This means that senior management needs to buy in to that change.
Its cultural, operational and strategic change. That’s hard to do when you’re hacking your way through the clamour of the day job, trying to keep the gears of your business turning and the bills get paid. This is why I’ve decided to make note of a few key systems that you might want to start considering implementing in your business to ensure you’re in the “modernise” category rather than the other one!
7 considerations for your “productised” journey
Practically, to launch your productisation journey on the best foot, you need to think about some key strategic systems that your team will need. In brief, the headline things you’ll need to consider are:
Construction isn’t a “one size fits all” sort of market and to efficiently address the demands of the sector you’re going to have to offer configurable options with your product. Maybe this is different cladding, window sizes, roof types or M&E systems.
Whatever it is you’ll need to manage those configurations through design, procurement, manufacture and installation as well as be able to identify exactly where your products are being deployed. Think how difficult a product recall would be without knowing where those specific products are?
New Product Development (NPD)
NPD is a tried and tested process for most manufacturing industries. When you develop new products or change existing products you’ll need to work through a process to make sure that the costs don’t spiral and you’re meeting your target aims.
NPD sets a solid foundation for the product scope and then iterates through design and manufacturing stages, providing a feedback cycle within the process to make sure that progress is targeted and measured.
When you buy a Dell computer or a new car online you’re given the chance to customise it. This gives you, as the end consumer, the feeling of being able to get exactly what you want but in actual fact you’re picking from a list of pre-defined manufacturing options.
All of these decisions are offered to you as a menu, with all the background thought and design work already done. How much customisation is suitable for your product will depend upon your manufacturing approach and how well you know your target market.
Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)
The iPhone has been on a product development journey for years and we are now at Version 14. At least that the publicly released version, but what about all of the iPhones that never made it into mass production. The 12.1 or 12.111 versions?
Part of PLM is managing the process of gathering feedback from field testing, manufacturing, and marketing before feeding it all back into the design process and making changes. PLM manages product iterations using control of the “status” of particular design parts such as drawings and models.
Multiple approvals can be associated with moving from a “Work in Progress” status to a “Released for Production” status. Life cycles can be simple or complicated but need to be mapped and used in order to keep track of your product development journey.
Product Data Management (PDM)
These days we can “tag” lots and lots of meta data onto drawings, documents and 3D models. This wealth of data might include some of the information used with your PLM system but in essence you’re going to need a way to manage all of that data.
Once you’ve developed your product and your range of configurable options you’ll be able to use some very slick and intelligent tools to allow designs and manufacturing information to be generated withing a few clicks of a button.
Implementing automation in your design process will reduce your product lead time and force procurement decisions to be made early on in the process, rather than having a spanner thrown in the works later! Automating a design is one of the most powerful levers that a productised solution can pull on.
If you consider your online configurator or app your “front-end” interface, then the “back-end” of design and manufacturing information can be streamlined to work without any further human interaction. Orders could potentially go straight into manufacture. Super slick, super smart and an exciting place that a lot of clients are aiming for more and more.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
A huge, huge topic and one that’s way too big for a paragraph here but an ERP system links up all of your manufacturing activities such as planning, procurement, production feedback, the list goes on.
Your ERP system can be linked to your “front-end” configurator, enabling live cost data and real time production lead times to be fed back to the customer. That particular choice of window might be “out of stock” or that metal cladding option could be triple the price of the brick option. ERP linked to PLM and PDM with a slick front end product configurator – now you’re talking!
The systems you need to support your business productivity don’t have to be complicated or bespoke.
There are tons of solutions on the market from simple spreadsheets with automations through to sophisticated proprietary systems from organisations such as Microsoft, the trick is finding the right match for the size and scale of your operations and ensuring that you’re implementing something that’s going to grow as you grow.
For more information on Modularize’s Productisation Service and how you can build smarter please visit www.modularize.co.uk.