Case study: Willmott Dixon site managers empowered to react faster

Site managers

Elecosoft’s Powerproject software, which aims to improve the efficiency of highly repetitive elements of housebuilding, has been put to use on Willmott Dixon’s multi-phase Aberfeldy Village regeneration project in east London

Planning excellence is very important to Willmott Dixon, which is driving a programme of culture change to connect every employee with planning and the effective use of time. Its residential teams work from local construction offices nationwide in a ‘one company’ approach. Its housing customers benefit from consistency and broad access to all the skills, expertise and know-how.

Changing pressures

Every construction project experiences pressure. Managing changing customer needs is fundamental to project and progress management.

In housebuilding, however, additional stakeholders come into play, as Paul Hoskins, National Planning Manager at Willmott Dixon, outlined: “What makes residential construction different is that there are numerous homeowners involved, as well as the development customer. This creates lots of competing influences, so commitments and demands can change very quickly.

“Project leaders will be asked to focus on one part of a development then a new need will arise from the developer’s assessment of the marketplace – perhaps being asked to accelerate completion of one part of the scheme over another or bring forward completion of a show home. Or, change can come from new homeowners themselves, who have requested something specific or a little different on a sale that has just been made.”

Site managers have been empowered to engage with planning so they can react faster.

Paul explained: “We ask our people on projects to be accountable and responsible for their time on their projects. A lot of them will do the planning, the thinking and the scheduling that goes with it. We have equipped them with Powerproject so they have the ability to do the things they need to do without waiting for a planner to come along and update the programme. We used to use MS Project before moving over a couple of years ago… it was a lot less accessible and it was more clunky – now it is much more intuitive.”

Fit for the job

Powerproject has features that are designed to support the high degree of repetition in housebuilding, including templates and the ability to view multiple builds on one screen. Paul said that “because of the repetitive work elements, what is particularly useful is the way you can put multiple tasks per line then repeat them in Powerproject. It makes it very simple for the team”.

After changing software, Willmott Dixon worked with its developer, Elecosoft, to tune it to their needs and create a custom template.

Paul said: “The time we spent on the consultancy element with Elecosoft to develop the template was worth it. It means they can just use the tool, instead of having to know everything that goes on behind the scenes.”

Although the software has a Line of Balance (LOB) feature that helps housebuilders to optimise the flow of resources, Willmott Dixon has also worked with Elecosoft to develop an interface that enables information to be extracted easily from Powerproject into its internal LOB tool.

Paul believes that it works well as a system: “It allows us to take repetitive works, where we might have hundreds of homes, and easily repeat the trades and optimise their resource efficiency. We do it natively in Powerproject first then take it into our tool to add different dimensions, then we can extract the information back into Powerproject where it joins up with the rest of the development.”

Grassroots acceptance

Providing a tool is only useful if the people who need to use it find it easy and helpful. On a house build, the only people who can react fast on the ground are the site managers, who can’t always wait for a planner to come along to update a programme.

The software has been in recent use by Aaron Pearson, Operations Manager at the Aberfeldy Village multiphase regeneration development at Tower Hamlets in east London. Aberfeldy Village will create more than 1,100 new homes, as well as shops, healthcare and community facilities over its 12-year development.

Aaron said: “The presentation of Powerproject is much better than our previous software. This really helped us when talking with our supply chain, customers and team. It feels like it has been built for the job in hand and worked with me, rather than me having to struggle to get what I wanted from the software.

“I found I could control the rescheduling more easily and it was great to be able to quickly filter the programme by a particular trade, or a specific home, instead of having to flip back and forth.

“The information I want is easy to get to and it’s simple to use. I could not only run ‘what if’ scenarios easily, but trust what it told me. I’ve now got all my site managers on board too and they are using it for the short-term programmes.”




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