Is the Construction Playbook a game-changer for construction, and for Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) in particular? Jaimie Johnston, head of global systems at Bryden Wood and a contributor to the playbook, argues that it is – if we take the opportunity
The Construction Playbook was launched in December and, despite everything else that happened last year, should mean that 2020 will stand out as a defining moment for our industry – for positive reasons. Chief among them being the central role in the playbook for MMC.
The playbook lays out best practices and sector reforms that will create a more effective industry, and the impact this could have on the sector and beyond. All government departments are expected to follow its instructions, on a “comply or explain” basis. The playbook rests on three core priorities: build back better, greener and faster. Supporting those priorities are 14 key policies, ranging from publication of government pipeline information to resolution planning.
Maximising the use of MMC
The playbook recognises that MMC is a term that covers various techniques, including onsite and offsite activity. It emphasises that “offsite” is not an end in itself. It states that departments should set targets to maximise adoption of MMC and that contracting authorities must consider how MMC “can drive wider value”, including social value and the drive to net zero. These are very positive and welcome assertions that demonstrate a consistency of approach since the 2017 Autumn Statement.
Even more exciting, though, is the prominence the playbook gives to the Platform approach. This approach identifies standard products and components that can be used to deliver a wide range of built assets – think how the car industry creates a huge variety of vehicles using a core set of common components – with all the tried and tested advantages that brings in terms of efficiency, quality and scope for innovation.
The playbook emphasises the huge advantages the Platform approach will bring to construction, maximising the use of MMC by “harmonising, digitising and rationalising demand”. This is an important shift in thinking. Rather than considering individual projects, programmes or even sectors, this policy promotes the adoption of common approaches across the public sector pipeline.
Creating greater consistency in terms of requirements and standards would, on its own, be enormously beneficial to a supply chain seeking stability and predictability. But creating “standardised and interoperable components from a variety of suppliers to be used across a range of public works” is how we’ll create economies of scale that will allow construction to achieve the benefits the manufacturing sector has been enjoying for decades.
This is the key that unlocks the treasure chest. I’ve spoken and written extensively for the Construction Innovation Hub on how adopting the Platform approach at scale could transform the workings of the construction industry but also how it would benefit manufacturing, supply chains, sustainability, carbon reduction, digitisation, social mobility, competition, access to markets and more.
This is why the adoption of MMC and Platforms will underpin the success of every other aspect of the Construction Playbook. Or, to put it the other way around, without the successful adoption of MMC and Platforms, the Construction Playbook will not achieve its aims.
The Platform approach is rooted in the efficiency of designing and constructing a built asset. For example, we are currently on site with Landsec in London on a major commercial development that is delivering significant reductions in cost, labour, time and carbon.
But imagine if all buildings were constructed using a core set of standard products and construction techniques. That leads directly to an open market for the manufacture of those components and the supply of those construction services. Standard products make pricing easy to compare and plan for, and facilitates payment. Standard services make pricing easy to compare and plan for too, and make project planning more predictable and reliable. Digitisation becomes achievable, across the whole industry. Risk allocation is consistently applied. Contracts become transparent.
These are the policies that are core to the Construction Playbook.
Overall, the Platform approach provides a clear, consistent process for construction, from start to finish. Apply it, and the whole industry potentially shifts on its axis, suddenly looking very fit for the future; as one of our clients so beautifully said, this allows a shift from a high risk, low margin business to low risk, high margin.
‘Hardworking, forward-looking, big-picture planning’
The week after the publication of the Construction Playbook, the Construction Innovation Hub published the summary findings of Defining the Need, a report it will publish in January. This report looks into the combined five-year construction pipeline of several government departments: Education, Health & Social Care, Housing, Communities & Local Government, Justice and Defence. It is a first attempt to “harmonise, rationalise and digitise” demand and establish how much of that pipeline could be delivered using Platform construction systems.
The answer is: of a pipeline with a value of £50bn, Platforms could account for £35bn. One way to understand this is by realising how much a hospital has in common with, say, a school and an army barracks; spaces like corridors, kitchens, hallways, storage, bathrooms and toilets. The Hub’s analysis found that overall, more than 50% of all spaces across the pipeline are not department-specific. Basically, a toilet is a toilet and whether it’s for soldiers, nurses or teachers, you can design and build it the same way.
MMC and Platforms open up the industry to players of all sizes. Another aim of the Construction Playbook is to encourage engagement with small and medium-sized businesses. The scale of the industry is so vast that there is plenty of work to go round. And driving efficiency will help solve the industry’s chronic challenges around productivity and the need to dramatically improve sustainability. We all stand to benefit.
The Construction Playbook is part of a decade’s worth of consistent, hardworking, forward-looking, big-picture planning by government. That makes it something to be celebrated in itself. But it’s far from the end of the story. It’s a moment. A blueprint for the future of our industry. It’s now up to the industry to take that blueprint, embrace the opportunity, modernise and deliver.
Head of global systems
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LinkedIn: Bryden Wood Technology