University of Bath School of Management University of Bath School of Management

Research Programme

While many research programmes are investigating specific parts of the supply chain using particular research tools, Agile is distinct in its ability to bring together a broad range of blue-chip partners, representing an entire value chain perspective. Additionally, the range of research concerns pursued by Agile ensures economies of scope and enable Agile to take a long-term view of embedding the research within the construction community. The partners are market leaders in their respective sectors, which means that the research carried out by Agile will be responsive to the real needs of all sectors of the industry.

Agile has developed Benchmarking as a core competence, which is the general research method utilised by the research programme. The objective is to develop those benchmarking tools that proved most effective in the original ACI research programme. These benchmarking tools will be spread to other areas of the construction industry beyond the original focus on road construction and linked together more closely in order to better understand the relationship between construction productivity improvement, reduction in process and production waste and the impact this has on business performance.

The benchmarking will operate on a ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down approach. The bottom-up tools will operate at the level of the suppliers (constructors, consultants and materials suppliers) measuring key aspects of performance improvement. Interesting findings will be investigated more closely using a range of qualitative research techniques to case study and document good practices. When linked with the quantitative benchmarked findings, they will provide a convincing and powerful case for adoption of good construction practices.

The ultimate goal is to encourage the construction industry to provide ‘value for money’ (VFM). The progress industry makes on the road to achieving VFM will be assessed using top-down benchmarking. However, not only will top-down benchmarking monitor industry performance, experience shows it will act as an additional prompt to encourage change along the supply chain. Previous research by the Agile has shown that procurement has been an important influence on the degree to which construction provides ‘best value’ to the client. With HM Treasury’s recent commitment to pursuing design and build, prime contracting and the private finance initiative (PFI) as procurement routes of choice, it is particularly timely to consider how procurement can be configured to drive the government’s pursuit of best value and VFM.

A subsidiary investigation, arising from the main body of the research work, will assess more closely the difficulties and problems associated with the implementation and adoption of benchmarking. These problems have been found to be rooted in the application of appropriate benchmarking methodologies and in social resistance to surveillance of performance rooted in a culture of mistrust. In addition to analysing and reporting the benchmarking findings and investigating good practice through case studies, the research team will document their personal experiences of implementing a wide-ranging benchmarking regime within the construction industry in order to disseminate lessons for other researchers.

1. Bottom-up Benchmarking

The bottom-up benchmarking will focus on the development and spreading of the productivity database and the pioneering Agile cost of quality (COQ) methodology. The original ACI research programme proved the efficacy of these two tools as a means of measuring construction performance and identifying and disseminating good practices. These benchmarking tools require development to encourage wider application. In particular, Agile will pilot real-time benchmarking to reduce the cycle time for improvement and to provide a resource that has the potential to give early warning of project difficulties and hence the opportunity to take action. This has been identified, by the existing project sponsors, as a key means of developing and embedding benchmarking and performance improvement at the project level. Agile will do this as follows:

2. Top-down Benchmarking

Top-down benchmarking will utilise a pioneering in-project system of measurement that will assess the contribution of construction to ‘best value’ through client-level measurement of procurement systems in use. The in-project approach will mirror the bottom-up benchmarking in that it will be a real-time exercise, allowing the Agile research team to correlate observed performance at site level with project performance from a client investment perspective. Agile will do this as follows: