How can we reset productivity and reinvent solutions to the productivity challenge?

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  • How can we reset productivity and reinvent solutions to the productivity challenge?
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Ann Bentley


Ann Bentley


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“With productivity in the construction industry historically flatlining, surely the pandemic can help us reset and reinvent solutions to the productivity challenge?” was the recent question posed by RLB Partner, Paul Beeston, who is part of the CLC COVID-19 productivity taskforce. Here is an abridged version of an article Paul authored for Construction Manager magazine.

“Construction industry productivity had flatlined prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, with our sector showing less improvement than other sectors of the economy. It took a global pandemic for project teams to take an active and daily interest in site productivity as practical completion dates loomed and as yet un-contracted projects grappled with coronavirus costs and risks.

Extra costs

COVID-19 related productivity challenges have manifested themselves as costs and for many contractors that may be their own costs for live projects. For projects moving through procurement stages post March 2020, estimators up and down the supply chain will have been balancing inflationary productivity challenges and deflationary market conditions.

‘One size does not fit all’

Although productivity has flatlined, there is no shortage of strategies, plans and fixes parachuted into our industry. Construction is not a ‘one size fits all’ industry. Bold thinking and big ideas are useful in nudging the industry on, however, most projects are shaped by thousands of interactions between disciplines and conflicting demands. The opportunities for wholesale adoption of the latest industry panacea are few and far between. Does that make project teams luddites or pragmatists?

Reset and reinvent

So, what may work to reset productivity and reinvent solutions to the productivity challenge?

First, understand what impacts productivity. In July, the CLC published a toolkit to assess the cost of COVID-19 productivity. It included a series of metrics for measuring productivity, which can be used to forecast, benchmark between projects, examine what works.

Second, take time to consider how to build what is being designed – early and often. A focus on ‘how’ to build it may change the ‘what’ or the ‘why’.

Thirdly, embrace the creativity of construction. The construction stages of a project (or operational stages) should not be a brake on the quality of design. Construction is a creative process and that should be embraced in design stages.

A positive legacy?

The focus on productivity that has accompanied the global pandemic may be a positive legacy. As the industry navigates tough times a more productive industry may enable schemes to deliver more with less.

Finally, the drive for productivity should always be placed in the context of value. The legacy of our buildings and infrastructure (from carbon to community wellbeing) lasts for decades.