“I never make the same mistake twice,
I make it five or six times just to be sure.”
The Global Construction Industry?
Forgive me COAFB for... I really don’t understand why programme seems to be considered more important than quality. And when I say ‘quality’ I’m not talking about making the thing gold plated, I’m just talking about building it correctly.
I moved down under from Europe and I take a lot of pride in what I do - I am a cabinetmaker by trade and have been doing carpentry over here. The first guy that I worked for here was great. He cared a lot about the quality of our work and things were always done right.
I hated the job so much I would wake up in the morning and not want to go to work. Over the Christmas break I dreaded going back in January. In the end I just couldn’t do it so I quit.
I am now working on a residential project for a wealthy client – we are building a deck. We get paid by the hour and there is no deadline – the client is away a lot and we just work on the deck when he is not there. However the crazy thing is that some of my work mates are still in this mindset of ‘programme, programme, programme’. I have caught them trying to cut corners where they know it will not be easily picked up e.g. not flashing properly where the deck interfaces with the house - that sort of thing.
It makes absolutely no sense to me, I mean WE GET PAID HOURLY AND THERE IS NO DEADLINE...!
It’s like they have been so conditioned by working on commercial construction projects that all they care about is speed. It is no surprise to me that there are problems in the industry if people don’t care about the quality of the work that they do OR if the head contractors employing them don’t care.
I hate it.
Cabinetmaker / ‘Chippy’
The Antipodes (Australia & NZ)
Dear 'Chippy who Cares'...
Thanks for the insightful confession. Unfortunately we’re probably not going to have sufficient time to answer it properly. I won’t go into detail but are you crazy - why on earth would you think it important to build the stuff that no one sees properly? Don’t you realise that a ‘fast job is a profitable one’! And note to self for future work – drawings are only intended as ‘loose guidelines’ – you feel free to release your inner creativity and mix it up a bit... ...... ;-)
I suppose we could park up for a moment to address this issue properly... there may be value in that.
It would seem to me that your confession deals with the issue of incentives and priorities.
You prioritise quality over speed because you are incentivised by pride in your work and quite possibly have ‘integrity’ which is, to quote C. S. Lewis (think Narnia) ‘doing the right thing even when no one is watching’. And you are doing the right thing. Because strangely enough I can find no research to confirm that building stuff wrong to go faster is ever cheaper than doing it right the first time. Bob and his mates know this well.
Or is it that simple?
Your co-workers who prioritise speed over quality, despite being paid hourly, may well (as you point out) have been conditioned by the harsh reality of commercial construction whereas:
In short, where’s the incentive to really care, to always do the right thing, especially when no one is checking...?
Because there are clearly many immediate incentives to get away with what you can in order to go as fast as you can. And not just to avoid those nasty LDs, but also to get onto the next fixed price job as fast as you can to make more money; or perhaps just to get the job done full stop, because you under-bid it in order to win it.
Not that these business matters will concern many at the coalface of delivery, who may (through no fault of their own) have little knowledge of the contract itself and are simply responding to the get it done shit travels downhill hierarchical modus operandi of many projects and sites.
Sounds like your gang may lack the intrinsic motivation to want to do the job well, this having been beaten out of them (metaphorically) by the industry. It’s easy to become a cynic. Or perhaps they had no motivation to begin with.
However as you have rightly pointed out, if you are getting paid hourly logic should dictate otherwise. In fact logic would dictate that you might want to work as slowly as possible, dependent on your future pipeline of work of course. Yet behaviours are driven by personal values and once those values are set they can be hard to undo, regardless of logic.
Yet it’s a complex discussion and I’m struggling to find much credible research on the issue of incentives beyond the usual contractual gibberish (although I quite liked this article on LDs authored late last year). It seems that the fundamentals of how to encourage positive behaviours in the construction context are thin on the ground. Distressingly this implies that it's left to lawyers to try and make us do stuff through legal means when an understanding of some basic behavioural psychology by the various project/company leadership would probably be far more useful.
Think of Covid-19 for example. I think it’s fair to say that most of us in lockdown are doing so out of a sense of civic duty and a genuine care for those less vulnerable than ourselves. Many of us are even doing so to our own personal and financial detriment.
Think of what a site might look like if not caring to execute your work correctly - or that which you are responsible for - resulted in something akin to the type of social stigma attached to breaking the lockdown rules. Where people are vocal in their distaste for your non-compliant behaviours and not afraid to say so. Where there are real consequences for not complying. And where there is a real understanding, at a very human level, of the good that can be created by doing the right thing.
On which point, those interested in these things might want to read up on non-financial incentives, against which the concepts like LDs seem like rather blunt instruments.
Bad news however, despite a team's positive behaviours being enabled by effective leadership, research suggests that the industry is lacking that too. Here’s an excerpt from a research piece by the Chartered Institute of Builders:
‘The survey asked respondents to name the person they felt was the most influential within the construction industry. The results have exposed a stark lack of leadership in the construction industry, with the highest proportion of respondents answering ‘none’ or ‘don’t know’.
We. Are. All. Doomed.
Unless you already have integrity. Pride in your own work. Personal quality benchmarks. Stuff like that. Effective and intrinsic motivation.
Seems like you do so we’ll skip on.
Putting incentivised priorities to the side for the moment, in practical terms there are only really two reasons why you personally might need to hurry up:
However you seem like a responsible and experienced soul so we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you are not the problem here, noting that even if you were, not building it right is not really the solution to the problem. Again, refer Bob’s amazing business model.
On the second issue one of two things could have occurred:
Conveniently a heap of research does exist on these programme problems. Here are some of the reasons cited from a 2017 research piece. A whopping 78 in fact:
Hopefully you will pleased to see that your role would contribute to only a tiny percentage of these delays (in this study alone). You may also be reassured to know that client-related causes ranked as the most prevalent and perhaps you can console yourself with this when at the receiving end of the metaphorical shit travelling downhill.
However let’s finish with the most important quality concern of all – the quality of your mental health as a result of all these go faster who cares shenanigans.
If you ever feel like you really don’t want to get out of bed again you can always talk things through with people that care. I know it can also be hard in a new place when you don’t have your usual support network around you but organisations exists that can help you when you’re feeling down. Some links below*:
So if there is anything to glean from your tale of genuine (and regrettable) woe it might be that:
In a hurry? (YES, ALWAYS!!!) No problem! Grab an ATONEMENT TAKEAWAY!
ENSURING INTEGRITY REQUIRES EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP!
POOR MENTAL HEALTH IMPACTS THE BOTTOM LINE!
QUALITY OUTCOMES RELY ON QUALITY INCENTIVES!
And remember, ALWAYS take care of your WASTE...
I hadn't yet been hired when the contract was signed so could do nothing to prevent implosion. The other sustainability specialist wasn't involved in the contract negotiations either (BIG mistake), and the contract was grey and loose but that was 'OK' because the companies had ‘worked together for 30 years’ (assuming that the firm even realised it was grey and loose... – maybe they thought it was a great contract! Well I can tell you now – it has not been a ‘great’ contract...)
The trouble is, the design firm doesn't respect us. And everyone has become lazy and stopped trying. Basically we want to have an affair on the design time because they no longer groom themselves or care about us.*
The projects received a grant and tied to the grant is required LEED v4 Gold. But no one gives a shit. The architect is a dickhead. And I think he knows it. He doesn't care about our task, our team, or our 30-year relationship.
The contract was bad, the communication was really bad, and now I have to work with assholes that don't appreciate or even understand how a design and build contract is supposed to work. On a LEED project. This is the best possible scenario I could ever hope to find myself in... yay for me!
If I owned a trident, I would stab the nonchalant asshole architect with it!
Thank you for your time.
'I used to be an Architect'
Dear 'I used to be an Architect'...
Let’s start with the Architect bashing angle of your tale of woe as let’s face it, the construction industry loves nothing more than a bit of architect bashing.
Or do they?
Well, in my pursuit of truth I did what any self respecting truth seeker would do - I asked the internet. “Internet, is there really a general ‘hatred’ (too strong a word?) towards Architects?”
And the Internet responded. Here’s what Reddit’s top rated answer was:
“It is super frustrating, but it is ingrained in everyone. I even have co-workers that have been a licensed architect for years that hate on younger architects.
It is ALWAYS the same sentence "Architects design shit that can't be built." But most people look at us only as "Designers". I don't know why it is lost on the engineers and even older architects. If a client wants a very elaborate building... it is our job as a collective whole to make it work. It is our literal job to make sure design, feasibility, and functionality coexist in an end product that the client is happy with. It was what we were hired to do and it is a group effort.
Now does every architect (or engineer) do this elegantly? Hell no. Some are giant pricks that unfortunately do not know how to collaborate, delegate, or consult. But it has stigmatised architects (and engineers), even among people within the same field."
If the people of Reddit are right then the ‘Architect pricks’ among us do not only a gross disservice to Architecture as a profession but potentially erode the quality of our built environment as a whole by default. I mean, would you support and/or recommend a profession that you think does not know how to “collaborate, delegate, or consult” and is generally thought of as a giant and un-enriching pain in the ass to work with?
Because let’s not forget, there are some great architects out there who can not only produce great pieces of architecture but who are also extremely pleasant to work with on the way through; who proactively communicate, listen effectively, and have no problem with seeking input on build-ability and methodology as required.
It’s a real shame that Architects with these traits are not more openly recognised and celebrated, as opposed to the quality of Architects being (seemingly always) mono-dimensionally judged by their end creations alone (showcased via glossy photos of mostly empty buildings in Architecture magazines. Sorry, but my personal pet hate).
Now, the subject of Architects and their role in the world today could be discussed for approximately another 100,000 words but let’s park up for the moment and take stock of the other disturbing aspect of this confession.
Who signs a Design & Build contract without seemingly covering, planning for, or even understanding their design risk???
So if there was anything to be learnt from this particular pain I would suggest the following:
And if it still doesn’t work out, just call Bob...
*Important small print - COAFB does not condone marital affairs on construction projects...
In a hurry? No problem! Grab an ATONEMENT TAKEAWAY!
DON'T BE A DICKHEAD!
DON'T RELY ON RELATIONSHIPS ALONE!
UNDERSTAND THE CONTRACT!
And remember, ALWAYS take care of your WASTE...
Just 3 examples from this tale of woe...
Forgive me COAFB for I have sin...gularly failed to understand how the construction sector operates.
This Bob the Builder guy for instance, why is it he is always fixing stuff? Why can’t things just be built right the first time?
From Nowhere in Particular.
For your penance you might want to reflect for a moment on what a great business model Bob and his gang have.
Photo courtesy of Bob and the gang (looking very happy and relaxed due to their great business model).
There is a huge amount of work in this space. To cite an example, a study out of Sweden in 1998 found that the cost of defects in a sample group of seven commercial construction projects corresponded to 4.4% of the total “production cost” while the time to correct them corresponded to 7% of the total working time. In simple terms this means that if the building cost $100m to build, at least $4.4m of that was probably spent on ‘fixing stuff’, and that’s before we calculate the cost of any delays and/or the opportunity cost of not completing earlier.
That study was 20 years ago but considering that productivity in the industry has not appreciably improved over this period (remaining flat in most advanced economies) it is fair to suggest that in the general sense, not much has changed.
I highly recommend you read this report, or at the very least go to page 4 and have a look at Figure 1 – it makes for really fascinating reading. Over the sample pool of projects a whopping 51% of the total defect cost "originated in lack of design and insufficient production management [where p]roduction management includes the contractors’ project management and site management.” So basically human error (in whatever form that may take) could be responsible for over 2% of (fairly easily) measurable wastage on projects - $2m on a $100m build, $10m on a $500m build and so on and so forth, and again, excluding time. The maxim ‘if you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur” encapsulates the situation well... Incidentally the participants of this study i.e. the project teams, thought the results felt about right.
Now at this point it’s key to remember that this study was concerned with defects that were identified during the course of the original build, so were in theory the most cost effective to remedy - if that is not a contradiction in terms. Yet for examples of ‘misadventures’ that come to light so inconveniently after the event we (I) don’t have to look too far - Australia and New Zealand offer some great tangible case studies.
In the 2018/19 financial year alone Auckland Council (New Zealand) paid out $134m NZD on “fixing stuff” since they had issued approvals associated with these projects. That’s a lot of cash in one year for a city with less than 2m people.
Yet while the kiwi problems were mostly associated with ‘leaky buildings’, hop across the Ditch to Australia and you’ll find that the Aussies have their own industry crisis to deal with, via way of “the prevalence of serious compliance failures in recently constructed buildings. These include non-compliant cladding, water ingress leading to mould and structural compromise, structurally unsound roof construction and poorly constructed fire resisting elements.”
This is an extract out of the Shergold Weir Report, research commissioned by the Federal Government that examined the construction industry’s QA/QC processes on a systemic scale. Optimistically titled ‘Building Confidence’, it’s a subtle nod to the fact that there isn’t any now... Here’s another confidence inspiring extract from their executive summary:
“The work required to bring positive change cannot be done by governments alone. Industry has a keen self-awareness of the problems that exist. Whilst there are many participants who display competency and integrity, this is not universal.”
So I will leave you with two thoughts:
1. Clients - chose your supply chain carefully, because it is the people in it that will define the success or failure of your project, and...
2. Whoever is able to invent the world’s first ‘integrity detector’ could stand to make a lot of money.
Maybe even as much as Bob.
Things to note...
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