Private sector construction playbook – a common thread of intent and focus on collaboration

9 minute read
17 November 2022

On 10 November 2022, the Construction Productivity Taskforce published Trust and productivity: The private sector construction playbook (the private sector playbook). This is the private sector equivalent to the Government's Construction Playbook which - as reported in our earlier insight - was published in December 2020 and updated in September 2022.

The Construction Productivity Taskforce is a collaboration, established in 2020, between some of the UK's biggest developers, contractors, architects and engineers and which aims to undertake "practical interventions" in order to improve performance and productivity in the construction industry.

The private sector playbook identifies four "non-negotiable priorities" - health, safety and wellbeing, building safety, sustainability and value to society - and ten "drivers for success". These are broadly aligned with the principles set out in the Government's Construction Playbook, whilst recognising that there is more flexibility within the private sector as to how projects are procured.

The private sector playbook cannot mandate compliance in the same way as its public sector counterpart. However, its contributors have expressed "commitments" to embrace its principles, spread the word and promote use of the playbook, and to produce interim reports detailing progress and productivity benchmarking, as well as recommending changes/refinements to the playbook, by early 2023. Each chapter is illustrated by a case study showing how its contributors have applied the principles set out in the playbook in practice.

We consider below a few of the key recommendations set out in the private sector playbook in more detail.

Setting up the project and defining success

The private sector playbook describes itself as a "cradle to grave guide, from project concept to aftercare and all points in between". Its first chapter therefore focuses on setting up the project and sets out key steps (and their associated "drivers for success") that should be taken at an early stage to establish the basis for a project's success. These include:

  • Preparing a "pre-start" statement of objectives which may include a project vision defining success and outlining specific metrics, culture or environment, objectives, strategy and brief, existing relevant information regarding the site, known risks or constraints, etc.

    This should reflect two of the key "drivers for success": 'form effective partnerships' and 'adopt an outcome-based approach'. The playbook states that the vision for the project should define what success looks like and include specific metrics or goals like cost and quality in a hierarchical manner, as well as defining requirements in a series of key performance indicators (KPIs).

  • Establishing and defining clear roles and responsibilities, which requires early discussion of timeline and scope of engagements, performance targets such as the use of KPIs and benchmarking, and a consideration of how risk is mitigated and managed.

    One of the ten "drivers for success" – and which is the focus of chapter two of the playbook – is to allocate risk appropriately and fairly. This recognises, amongst other things, that contractual arrangements "should be flexible enough to transfer the risk at the right time where applicable" in order to "mitigate the financial stresses associated with onerous contracts and should also include appropriate recourse or review if risk transfer is not suitable or agreeable for all parties".

  • Clear governance and empowerment including continuous assessment of the team's performance, collaborative and open working with clear performance measurement and well-defined KPIs, and fair reward and contract mechanisms supposed by prompt payment (which reflects another of the key drivers, 'pay fairly').

  • Early supply chain engagement, which is vital to enable a better understanding of the project drivers (which should include cost, quality, programme, sustainability and carbon/waste reduction) from the outset and ensure that the procurement and contractual arrangements reflect those goals.

Like the Government's Construction Playbook before it, the private sector playbook highlights that early preparation and engagement will set the foundation for improved outcomes in the construction sector. In the current economic climate, there has been an increased focus on two-stage tendering and early contractor involvement, and this is complementary to this approach.

Understanding and apportioning risk

As mentioned above, the playbook places a key focus on forming effective partnerships, allocating risk fairly and appropriately, and fair payment. It advocates the agreement of risk management principles at an early stage in a project, with risk allocation taking place once the project's scope is sufficiently defined and the parties are in possession of information enabling the allocation to be fair and appropriate.

This suggests that tailored contractual arrangements will be required in order to allocate risk to a party with the technical and financial capability to own, manage and mitigate that risk on a case-by-case basis. Where this ideal can be achieved, we would expect the parties to benefit from a reduced scope for disputes during the project. However, all parties will need to be committed to the same aims in order for this approach to succeed. Parties that are able to invest in longer term and portfolio contracting (another of the 'drivers for success' within the playbook) are likely to see the greatest benefits through establishing trust and commonality of culture between parties.

Benefitting from modern methods of construction

The playbook points out that one of the key advantages of early supply chain engagement - and particularly where the input includes a design element - is that designs can incorporate "innovation and emerging technologies such as modern methods of construction (MMC), design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA), and in sourcing of materials that contribute towards positive carbon outcomes, all of which must start at the earliest possible stage."

Chapter three focusses in detail on MMC, and recommends greater use of offsite manufacturing as well as DfMA, an approach to design that allows for greater standardisation by concentrating design efforts on optimising components that will be used repeatedly.

The playbook recognises that increased use of MMC can help speed up construction times and thus increase productivity as well as delivering better quality, reducing safety risks and that it will also be critical to the delivery of sustainable net zero carbon construction - provided it is planned at the outset of a project.

Transition to handover and effective aftercare

The final chapter of the playbook emphasises the need for a robust handover, post-completion and aftercare strategy as well as sufficient training and simple-to-follow instructions for occupiers at handover.

It recognises that moving from construction to operation can be a challenging process but notes that success is ultimately defined by the way a building operates when its user takes possession. In light of this, it recommends, amongst other things, that a "clear aftercare strategy" for handover and beyond, as well as the data needed at handover and the use of an appropriate digital technology (in line with the UK BIM Framework) to support this, is agreed early on in a project. In particular, it observes that keeping records accurate and updated in the way outlined in detail in this chapter will "maintain the golden thread", required for 'higher risk buildings' under the Building Safety Act 2022.

Increased access to good-quality as-built information by users of a building as well as improved information management to ensure information is accurate, up-to-date and readily accessible by those who need it would certainly be a positive development for the industry, and particularly for owners and occupiers.

The recommendations of the private sector playbook are a much welcome contribution to the debate around improving productivity and outcomes in the construction sector. It is positive that the public and private sector are aligned in what needs to be done to enable the construction industry to thrive in the UK - a common thread of intent and focus on collaboration will surely mean a greater chance of success for the desired outcomes.

If you are interested in discussing the private sector playbook further and/or any questions it may have raised in relation to contracting in the private sector, please contact Philip Baker or Gemma Whittaker.

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