A month or so ago, Ross Maynard, operations manager for Lorne Stewart plc on Project SLAM, unhappy with the comment in HVR about BAA leading the charge to partnering, invited Paul Braithwaite to meet him at his Southampton office to talk about Project SLAM , how partnering had been working there for about four years and how he hopes it will change construction.
ROSS Maynard, operations manager of Project SLAM for m&e contractor Lorne Stewart, started on about partnering and Project SLAM almost before I had sat down.
'It will change the way construction works!' he insists. Ross is a partnering zealot, a fanatic, a believer.
Project SLAM is the Defence Estates development for improving the standard of accommodation for its armed forces. SLAM stands for Single Living Accommodation Modernisation.
Expectations are higher than previously. Instead of a barrack block with 10 or 20 beds and only a locker for personal items, soldiers nowadays have a room of their own with all mod cons including a data-line, satellite TV and en-suite bathroom.
The MOD realises the standard of accommodation is a key driver in the retention of its staff and for this reason Project SLAM was born. First phase of the development was for 8,000 beds across the country and the second phase, currently under review, is for 8,500 beds.
Richard Neale: managing surveyor at Project SLAM – responsible for the finances coming right
For Lorne Stewart and the rest of the partners in DEBUT (Defence Estates Bovis Unicorn Together) it is a matter of working closely together.
For Ross and his suppliers, the move was a culture change - and then some!
One example he gave was of one supplier which initially had difficulty fulfilling the terms of the contract. Ross says the firm was virtually overwhelmed by its size - but was afraid to admit it!
'When we discovered the problem, we immediately began to help. Our supply chain manager Colin Perfect was even spending two or three mornings a week at the company working with the management to sort out the trouble.'
He adds that under the usual construction thinking the company would have been removed from the supply chain, but partnering is about working together and sorting out any problems.
'We are all human, things go wrong.'
Not that it was all plain sailing for Ross and his team.
'It was only after the first few buildings that we realised the potential in Project SLAM and that all the team members were serious about working together. It was far from easy in the early days but the more problems arose, the better the team got at solving them and identifying problems before they became an issue.
'We got better - and quickly - as we realised what we were doing wrong'.
Ross Maynard: working smarter – a locking nut for a cable gland costs less than £1 but knocks five minutes off a 20-minute job
One of the reasons the finances came right was that Richard Neale came on board as the managing surveyor.
That is practically the mantra for the whole of Project SLAM - no blame and get better!
Ross admits that four years down the line - one planning and three constructing - he still has trouble switching between being Lorne Stewart's operations manager on Project SLAM and his other job as operations manager for the Southampton office where on some projects the usual construction culture exists. He is working on bringing at least a few of the partnering ideas to other main contractors.
Lorne Stewart was selected as the m&e partner for DEBUT four years ago.
All the partners have an open-book policy. There is an agreed maximum price target cost. Add to this an agreed overhead and profit pot. Each partner receives a percentage share according to the workload and this is agreed before the work starts. If the job comes in under estimate, then each partner gets a share too. (Defence Estates is one of the partners and also receives its share.)
'Everything is based around a 54-bed building in a combination of modular and traditional steel construction.'
Modules of three units each are built off-site, trucked in and hoisted into place. The wiring, piping and lighting are connected up. The plant room is also pre-fabricated. for speedly installation. Ross knows these units are easy to build. Cynics will say that this is not a major project.
'But a turnover of £20m - £25m a year for Lorne Stewart across all the sites must be a major project.'
As for 'easy', while the units may be modular, the places where they are built aren't. For instance, at one location the gas main was in the wrong place and had to be moved before the construction work could begin.
While there is a start and end date a key learning curve has been working to an agreed sequence.
'Take, for instance, a toilet. It is the smallest room, but on a traditional site virtually half a dozen tradesmen are trying to go in to do their part of the job and all these trades are given the shortest duration.'
By working in sequence each tradesman goes in once which saves a fortune, he says.
By contrast, Ross has another traditional job and his m&e personnel are going into each room up to five times - 'and each time costs money'.
Defence Estates is, within reason, quite flexible.
'Obviously what the client wants is a quality, snag-free building. Quality is built into each building. Snag-free is an industry cliché which is rarely achieved. However on SLAM, the buildings are being completed with zero defects. This is delivered through a series of in-process checks.'
DEBUT, on completion of each project, looks after and maintains the buildings for seven years.
Post completion defects are also part of the success of SLAM. A carefully managed system of clearing defects which traditionally ruin a good construction relationship is in place. Lorne Stewart plc is currently 'top of the table' for the clearing of such defects.
Carole Stears: Project SLAM administrator responsible for security clearance for all Lorne Stewart and supplier personnel, clearing deficits and managing the website
Spot the difference
ROSS Maynard's Project SLAM has implications for the rest of Lorne Stewart and, indeed, other m&e contractors.
'We are delivering true partnering.'
Ross frequently presents on Project SLAM to other parts of his company. One slide is about a problem which has
Here, 'you can go one of two ways'. Traditionally, it has been a case of stepping back into the contractual corner. What Ross calls the comfort zone. 'Not my fault, guv!' But there is another way.
The next slide offers:
· Understand the problem;
· Adapt to assist.
Ross insists, it is not a case of stepping back but of stepping forward.
'We are all experts in scoring brownie points across the meeting room table. If partnering is really to work admitting problems is the first hurdle. It is incredible when someone is brave enough to take responsibility for a problem, how others react with admissions of their part in the problem. Get this right and you are on the right road”.
Working smarter saves money for the next phase
ROSS Maynard reckons that by working smarter, the partners are already saving nearly 20% of the budget.
This means that, for the second phase, the estimated cost will be 20% less.
He admits it is a brave m&e company which cuts its turnover (and therefore profit) by 20% on the next job but Lorne Stewart is backing him all the way.
It has even instigated a separate cost reporting system for Project SLAM as this did not fit with existing schemes.
Richard Neale, managing surveyor, sees it another way.
'If we save money on this phase, that money can be used on the next. Ours is a partnership which works.'
Not that anyone is complacent. Ross is already working on the next substantial saving on the heating side of the project.
And it is not just big savings.
He has a box of gadgets. For instance, one locking nut for a cable gland which he has been offered by the inventor costs less than £1 but will save five minutes out of a 20-minute cabling job. And an electrical connector which will save seconds has already been sent on to ventilation supplier partner Vent-Axia. Again, it costs a few pence but it could save installation time. Working smarter also means fewer installers on site. A bonus for site workers was agreed with a working party of management and site workers.
'It is no use Richard and I sitting down and agreeing a bonus if the men can't work that way. Hence we involved them in the process,' Ross insists.
Further, the men on site are encouraged to tell supervisors if there is a better way of working. Every two months there is a national meeting of supervisors and above chaired by Ross, held in different parts of the country often at the premises of supply chain members.
'Our partners at these meetings have the opportunity to show us ideas and innovations for the projects'.
Lorne Stewart hold yearly workshops with the supply chain and actively encourage companies to work together to develop a combined solution for example Thorn lighting working closely with Group Schneider and Vent-Axia on a modular wiring scheme.
'All the suppliers have been on board since they won the first tender.'
In September 2005, the Lorne Stewart plc team held the second awards night for suppliers with awards for sub contractor of the year, distributor of the year, manufacturer of the year and others.
'We realised we don't say thank you enough to the companies and individuals that make Lorne Stewart and Project SLAM a success.'