The coronavirus pandemic has presented the greatest global challenge in living memory and has had a significant impact on our daily life, society and the economy. It has necessitated all project managers to review the way they are delivering projects on the ground because working remotely and following social distancing measures have added extra pinch points in a typical construction programme.
This is no less so than on a complex three-site project Summers-Inman is involved in for Aura Newcastle. Aura Newcastle, an established building consultancy organisation, was appointed by Newcastle City Council to deliver the design and build schemes for SLR Schools Batch 1 – the construction of Simonside Primary School, Broadway East First School and Kingston Park Primary School, which are all located on the fringes of Newcastle upon Tyne.
The appointment has called upon every aspect of the firm’s professionalism and expertise in undertaking the multi-discipline roles of project manager, employer’s agent, quantity surveyor and principal designer within the particularly challenging COVID-19 site setting.
Driven by the projected growth in demand for school places across Newcastle, stemming from the large-scale housing developments planned and underway in the north and outer west of the city, these will generate significant numbers of school-age children, particularly primary-age pupils. Summers-Inman was successful in securing its roles to build these schools on the strength of the added value its teams can bring to the table in education sector construction projects.
Andrew Rapmund, Associate Director at Summers-Inman, who is undertaking the roles of Project Manager and Employer’s Agent, talks about his work on this project and provides eight thought-provoking ideas to ensure successful project delivery within a challenging setting.
Eight ideas to ensure successful project delivery
With any project we begin, we consider each to be unique in its own right so that no assumptions are wrongly made about how things might develop. Instead, we start by asking what the specific objectives are for the client and the project; what are the key measures of success and what are the key risks to achieving them.
Once we understand these three elements, we tailor our knowledge and skills by using the RIBA Plan of Work as the framework for managing progression of the scheme, culminating in co-ordination and delivery of formal reports at the end of RIBA Stage 2 and RIBA Stage 3.
Along the way, we operate with eight steps, which we believe result in the delivery of a successful project – on time, to budget, which meets everyone’s expectations and without any unforeseen occurrences – notwithstanding the challenging environment in which we are all currently working.
1. Strong brief management
Within our firm, we ensure that our brief is robust and reliable. We allow time in the programme to sufficiently engage in end-user consultants and detailed briefings. We always challenge requirements in all respects – functionality, adaptability, specification and cost. We establish that there is a clear, simple document which captures all the key requirements and to which everyone is working.
2. Stakeholder engagement
We liaise with stakeholders throughout the construction process, hold consultations and feedback sessions. We ensure that the project programme has the right amount of time afforded for these consultations so in the early stages of our project these meetings will be focused around design progress, risk review, value management/design workshop and design co-ordination meetings, which are reported and summarised at the monthly project board via our dashboard report.
3. Effective risk management
Too often risk management is merely a workshop that ticks a box but does not deal with the issues in a meaningful way. We address this by using a simple but effective tool – a key issues and risks log, each with an action owner and a red, amber, green priority.
Any more than 15 to 20 items and it becomes unmanageable and ignored. We report on these key items every month and review them in design team meetings.
4. Check in with your design team
We pride ourselves on being good and diligent managers ensuring that the design team sticks to the brief – it is surprising how often members of the team can stray off course – and we challenge all unnecessary enhancements or expensive details. We make sure the programme has enough time for everyone to do their job properly and coordinate information – allowing too little time for this is a false economy.
5. Establish effective procurement
A well-considered procurement strategy is one of the key aspects of project delivery. Too often, design teams revert to what they have done before, often without consultation with potential contractors prior to tender, who are then expected to understand, price and plan a complex project in six to eight weeks. We believe that this is a missed opportunity. We engage with contractors prior to completion of Stage 3 design and ask them to critique it. This way, at Stage 3, changes can be made without significant compromise. A further bonus is that obtaining input from constructors can provide a valuable insight to the best route to market.
6. Strategic programming
We prepare a master programme, which is developed and agreed with the client and project team. The master programme is compiled from a schedule of main activities, milestones and constraints applicable to the project so that it meets the client’s principal objectives. It allows enough time to enable the design team to fully complete and coordinate the design. Likewise, it is vital that an early assessment of the construction duration is made during programme development as the overall completion and ‘go live’ date of the facility will be heavily influenced by this.
7. Be cost-control efficient
At Summers-Inman, we pride ourselves on the accuracy, robustness and detail provided in our cost-planning activities. We maintain a vigilant overview of costs throughout, including challenging design consultants if we believe better value solutions are available. We work on the principle of considering best value, rather than least cost and our lifecycle costing expert is on-hand to consider solutions not just from a capital expenditure perspective but overall best value.
8. Manage change effectively
Once you have established the project budget and programme, it is important that both cost and programme are maintained as the design develops. Our baseline documents for managing any change are the project cost plan and master programme. We instigate a change control system to ensure any changes that may have a material effect on scope, cost, quality or programme are adequately assessed and managed to provide all necessary information for informed decision by Aura and Newcastle City Council on any proposed changes.
But it is not just enough to implement these eight processes. We also need to consider the sustainable element to construction and, moving forward from the coronavirus pandemic, the importance of working together collaboratively.
At Summers-Inman, we are very much aware of the environmental impacts that construction can cause and are active in ensuring we are building our way to a sustainable future. By working closely with Ryder Architecture on all these schools, we know they will be at the forefront of sustainability and use renewable systems to make the buildings as energy efficient as possible, incorporating heat pumps, PV panels, enhanced insulation and LED light fittings.
Thinking of the future
Thankfully, the coronavirus pandemic has not affected progress on these schools. However, it has resulted in some financial implications on current and future contracts. Therefore, it is essential to proactively plan to address foreseeable implications by engaging at an early stage with the contractor, sub-contractor and supply chain to take the necessary steps to mitigate delays.
It is vital that we all work collaboratively, as a team, to de-risk the future by proactively planning for it. Seek compromise and expect that things will be different, reassure people, promote collaboration and a positive attitude!
The next batch of primary schools is due to be rolled out by Newcastle City Council in 2024 and we very much hope we are successful in securing our place with the same team again when they are announced so that we can carry forward some of the lessons we have jointly learned on this batch of schools into the next.
Kirsty Thirlwell, Chief Executive of Aura Newcastle, said: “These schools will provide a stimulating learning environment which will bring to life 21st-century education for teachers and pupils. We are delighted with the work that Andrew Rapmund, Summers-Inman Project Manager, has produced so far. He is extremely competent, a strong leader and remarkable in his delivery, which is an excellent representation of the services Summers Inman provide.”