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Introduction – growing awareness

When we are born we are totally dependent on others for our nourishment, protection and development. We are so unaware of the world that we do not even know we have feet, let alone toes. We have no sense of purpose, other than to survive, and little sense of self.

As we grow we become more aware. We discover our limbs and begin to make them work for us. We learn how to communicate to ask for what we want when we want it. We begin to establish goals and develop strategies for achieving them. We begin the process of becoming independent.

This struggle for independence is a long one, some never fully achieve it. But most of us reach a point at which we are able to exercise free will in all our actions. However, as our awareness grows we begin to realise that we cannot achieve many of the things we desire on our own. We find that co-operating with others is often more productive and we begin to build our credibility account, depositing assistance for others and withdrawing favours for ourselves.

Through social interaction, education, business and leisure, many of us build attachments with individuals and groups, which grow so close that we become fully interdependent on one another. We trust each other so implicitly that we do not even bother to develop all the skills and collect all the knowledge that we need, as it is available through our partnerships. We realise that this makes us stronger, wiser and able to achieve more, we also realise that it is the way others become successful.

Eventually, we begin to realise that all these interdependencies are interconnected. We share the same limited resources. We achieve most when we are all successful and we lose most when we all fail. Whatever you call this, perhaps the highest level of awareness, it is rarely attained by individuals and is sorely missing in the world at large.

This growth cycle is not just about individuals; it also applies to communities, businesses, industries and so on. The UK construction industry is no exception. It has woken up to the fact that self-centred independent behaviour is unsuccessful. It has struggled to achieve interdependent partnerships and is now striving to extend those fledgling interdependencies through collaborative working. This industry can be a hugely rewarding environment, offering the opportunity of success for all who come into contact with it, but it will require the sustained and committed effort of everyone involved over a significant period of time, if it is to reach this world-leading position.

So where is the industry now?

In response to the ever accelerating pace of change, society in general and the construction industry in particular have become fragmented and specialised. Modern life has become so complex that it is probably impossible for any individual or group to be able to see the whole picture. Indeed, change happens so fast that it is hard enough to keep track of the ‘component’ people they are associated with, let alone those that don’t immediately impact on them.

Awareness, however, is the starting point for resolution and the UK construction industry has in recent years become increasingly attuned to the issues that surround it. Partnerships and co-operatives are being formed and integration and collaboration are becoming generally accepted needs for individual, company and industry survival. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly in such a complex environment, integration is not an easy feat, but it can be broadly simplified into two strands, supply chain integration and project team integration.

The first strand is the integration of clients and their supply chains.

Central to this integration is the client cluster. A client cluster represents the various components of a client organisation working together on a continuous basis. These clients build relationships with a limited number of suppliers who represent the day-to-day interactions in one part of the industry. Since industry cannot function in isolation, these suppliers form together into supply chains which come into contact with client clusters at multiple different points, as illustrated in the model below.

Integration of the matrix of client and supply chain interaction

Of course in the real world many of the clients and suppliers are interchangeable, depending on their activities and/or position in a particular supply chain. Reality is a multilayered interaction of chains and clients, which it is impossible to represent fully here. However the model serves to convey the concept not reality. As if this complexity were not enough, the whole picture changes when a project comes along and this project team integration is the second strand required to integrate the industry.

A project begins life as a growing need within a client organisation. The need may affect the entire organisation, but more normally, or realistically to solve the need, one part of the client cluster will focus on the need and its resolution.

Client cluster element identifies appropriate supply chain lead cluster members

This client element will call in appropriate parts of its supply chain by selecting ‘lead cluster’members as appropriate to represent their particular chain. These cluster members will ultimately form the ‘Integrated Project Team’, which is focused on the need and its solution from outset to eventual completion.

All lead cluster partners focused on delivering the need as part of a single ”Integrated Project Team’

The Integrated Project Team will stay together until the project has been finished and the need has been proven as completely satisfied, at which point the partners will return to their points in the client cluster and supply chains, or move on together to the next project or activity.

About the Toolkit

Sponsored by the pan-industry Strategic Forum for Construction, the Strategic Forum Toolkit offers information, advice, guidance and training – signposts and pointers to help you find answers that suit your particular projects and challenges.

The Toolkit is split into two main sections of workbooks covering the two strands of integration.

Integrated Supply Chain offers guidance and insight into the processes, methods and tools required to create and maintain an integrated supply chain matrix.

Integrated Project Team (IPT) explains the philosophy and drivers behind integrating project teams, utilising collaborative working methods and approaches to produce teams which operate as if they were ‘virtual companies’ in their own right.

Both sections are defined in terms of generic, not prescriptive, processes and offer insight into approaches, values, behaviours and ideal activities. A tools and techniques section points to recommended methods which can be adopted to support each element. These tools and techniques are ‘graded’ according to levels of awareness and experience, offering progressive guidance from those new to the industry to experienced best practice exponents.

The Toolkit is aspirational, it represents a summary of the innovations and achievements of many of the practitioners at the forefront of change in the UK construction industry. There is no one group or company applying everything contained within the Toolkit and many practitioners are functioning at different levels of awareness and performance. However, the Toolkit provides a framework for clients, advisers and supply chain partners to gauge how optimal performance can be achieved and what to seek from each new relationship.

The Toolkit provides signposts to much of industry current best practice and will be updated periodically to reflect the dynamic nature of best practice application, feedback and development.

For those on board, it holds out a future of exceptional promise, as improved performance feeds through to higher demand. But for any companies left behind, rising customer expectations and improving competitor performance will pose serious challenges.

The Toolkit provides the resources, but the industry must get on with the application.

How do you know where you are in the integration culture change process?

The Toolkit provides a maturity assessment grid (and links to an external Maturity Assessment tool) that identifies the methods being applied in the historic, transitional and aspirational worlds we currently live in, or would like to live in. This grid provides an insight into these different worlds, their language and behaviours, and offers the opportunity to see what the next step in growth might look like so that no one need move too quickly, nor become stagnated at any one point. As with the Toolkit, it will develop as the industry develops to ensure that aspiration is always just outside our reach, giving us the targets to aim for and the hope that continuous improvement will become our norm.

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