Collaborative planning: turning construction on its head

Marc Roberts, Chief Operations Officer at BBI Services, explores collaborative planning, and how cutting-edge digital tools can replace outdated traditional methods to drastically ramp up productivity.

When it comes to planning, construction has never been especially imaginative. Construction programmes rarely drive any certainty of delivery, or inspire confidence. In almost every case, planners develop a programme, which they then issue to the sub-contractors to follow, then spend the rest of their time reporting the misses and continually revising the programme – it’s as simple and uninspiring as that.

This approach, often using legacy information and built on lots of assumptions, clearly doesn’t work. It’s not capable of dealing with the real complexities of major projects. It also fails to surface the real opportunities that lay hidden in the minds of the many.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone because designing a programme in isolation from the people who deliver it is, best case, extremely inefficient and, worse case, a recipe for chaos.

A construction project is a collaborative exercise – and that means, from the very start, it needs collaborative planning. Lack of cohesion leads to mistakes and delays, both of which cost money.

So what is collaborative planning, and how can you use it to ramp up your performance? Read on, and I’ll explain all.

Collaboration is key

Collaborative planning is all about coordination, commitment and control. In essence, it means working with everyone in an organisation to minimise disruption, making sure all activities flow smoothly and on time.

From the start, it’s crucial to tease out ‘the art of the possible’ – assessing your skills and capabilities as a team to see what you can achieve, and drawing on the experience of the people you’re working with to help the project as a whole excel.

The best way to set the project up for success is to run a large collaborative planning session for each phase of works. This brings together all the key people working on a project and directly involves the knowledge holders to deliver the plan and make the project a success. From here, you can collectively work out the best way to deliver by exposing the previous lessons learned, exploiting the latest advancements and capitalising on the combined talent in the room.

Additionally, identify your strategy and tactics and clearly define the optimum sequence of works with the key enablers to make it happen. It’s also crucial, at this stage, to agree the behaviours for success and the systematic routines needed to catch, drive and deliver the plan.

Developing a gameplan which inspires confidence in the team and shifting the focus will keep the plan on track and ensure teams feel fully supported. The most effective way to do this is scheduling weekly look-ahead sessions, that make sure your team are thinking at least six weeks in advance and have all make ready needs in place to drive certainty.

Other tactics include creating a weekly work plan, which divides the week’s activities into daily task lists, so each team member is clear on what they’re responsible for and when. This level of planning will then feed into daily reviews which all align with the programme.

Delving into this daily detail allows teams to effectively measure whether they achieved what they set out to do, and, if not, identify any issues – or see if there’s scope to claw things back.

At BBI Services, we believe regular reviews, supported with the right performance dialogue, are vital for driving improvement. Don’t review enough and issues won’t be identified as quickly, which equals longer delays and more scope for things to go wrong.

Taking a systematic approach and deploying everything above provides a meaningful programme. With a fully committed team, you’re also more likely to tackle potential problems before they impact the project.

The evolution of collaboration

Traditionally, collaborative planning would involve getting everyone together in one large room. Using hundreds of post-it notes, each person would map out their part of the programme and stick them to a wall.

Today, things have moved on. Technology has finally caught up and transformed the process, making struggling to decipher handwritten post-it’s a thing of the past. At BBI, we’ve found people engage much better when these sessions are facilitated virtually. Using collaborative platforms, like Miro, teams can work together far easier and achieve a much better output.

One big consideration is which digital collaboration system to use. It’s important to not get carried away with how slick or aesthetically pleasing a product is. Focus on functionality, and what will give you and your team the best value.

Additionally, no one size fits all. Each platform has different benefits and advantages depending on the project. A good way to test if the system is right for your business is by checking it’s simple, intuitive, engaging and effective. If it can tick these boxes, it’s sure to drive improvement throughout the programme.

Remember, it’s never about the software. It’s about the team dynamic, relentlessly challenging the status quo and finding the best way to foster the right behaviors across your projects, supply chain and throughout your business.  Here at BBI, we help teams adopt a performance mindset to become masters of collaboration where best practice turns to common practice.

We can advise on the best planning and control solutions for your business, and the most powerful way to implement collaborative planning on your next project.