Change management: change can be good
Should we be afraid of change?
13 May 2016
Seeing change positively is a matter of getting the timing right, writes Ben Tooley
I'm sure we have all listened to our parents or grandparents tell us that change is a bad thing and we should stick to what we know. No doubt we have nodded without really giving the comment a second thought.
But what is change? It can be as simple as buying a different newspaper or sandwich, or as complex as altering the way an organisation uses its premises or requesting a revised layout for a building nearing completion. Change will always happen; what is important is how we react to it. Do you perceive change as a good thing?
Innovation is a critical part of our industry. Suppliers are constantly striving to improve their products, to make them more environmentally friendly and keep ahead of their competition. Controlling costs remains a critical factor on every project, but this needs to be balanced with maximising development potential and therefore value. We must be careful that concerns about costs do not stifle innovation and product development.
Change will always happen; what is important is how we react to it. Do you perceive change as a good thing?
As well as suppliers, contractors are also looking to find ways of improving construction programmes, health and safety, and logistics. All of these are key considerations when selecting contractors, ones in which we almost automatically expect improvements. This is change we accept: it is measured, and we practically insist on it. We feel very little fear when a contractor declares that an improved delivery technique will shave weeks off a programme.
Architects and engineers often debate new technologies, but few clients are willing to be seen as pioneers. There are seldom prizes for being the first to adopt new products because of the risk that they will not perform to the correct specification. Professional indemnity insurers are equally keen to avoid this. These burdens have a tendency to steer design solutions down well-trodden paths and away from change. But how much does this attitude stifle progress?
'Traditional' solutions are being challenged, and we should support such an approach. As Building Regulations and environmental targets are tightened, there is little option but to investigate new technologies. Our role is to plot the right path between being pioneers and conservatives. We're unlikely to buy technology that remains static, and we look favourably on those who help projects by finding ways to improve efficiency. We should bear in mind that the adoption of these changes only encourages innovation and drives subcontractors and suppliers to find further ways to improve.
Finding the right moment
It is usually the timing of change that causes the greatest problem. Change is more easily accommodated in the early stages of a project, when decisions are being made before construction starts. Once works begin, however, any change is usually deemed to be disruptive.
The implications of making the change are inevitably increased cost and time, yet in the longer term the building will probably be more valuable. Does this make change bad?
We have all debated the need to make a change while construction works are in progress. On larger projects, design fashions may change during construction, incoming tenants may demand amendments, or a new requirement develops. We all know we should not instruct changes during this period, but we often have little choice: make the change or potentially constrain the client's options for a building. The implications of making the change are inevitably increased cost and time, yet in the longer term the building will probably be more valuable. Does this make change bad?
Once the dust has settled and we reflect on a project, how many of the changes made during construction – even those made towards the end – do we really think were poor decisions? Very few, I would suggest. We probably just wish we could have made them earlier, preferably during the design stage.
The reality is that measured change is required. We may not all like it, and our tolerance levels are different at different times, but in the main we should see change as positive. Perhaps older generations are more cautious and may avoid change, having already witnessed significant advances in their lifetimes. We should welcome measured change, however, and the innovation, benefits and new options it brings. Let's just try to incorporate change into our projects at the right time and not when the short-term impact will be at its greatest.
Ben Tooley is a project manager at Marick
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This feature was taken from the RICS Construction journal (April/May 2016)