A blended approach and better project management are key to achieving housing goals | Comment

Commenting on the conclusion of the House of Lords Built Environment Committee Respond to housing demand report, Baroness Neville-Rolfe points out that the problem lies in a lack of planning skills. Combined with poor forecasting and communication, the result is a disjointed approach, exacerbating surrounding issues, including material shortages and COVID-related disruptions.

To overcome this, construction needs a more cohesive approach that prioritizes the cultivation of a “diverse homebuilding ecosystem”, embracing a mix of traditional and modern construction methods (MMC), to avoid hitting a proverbial brick wall. This needs to be complemented by a solid approach to project management, using strategies that support staff and encourage development to fill the void around poor planning.

A diverse housing ecosystem follows the idea that integrating different approaches helps build adaptive resilience. In other words, neither traditional construction nor MMC should be favored over the other. The same is true for large home builders and SMEs. By cultivating the diversity of available solutions, we can help minimize the risk of disruption from supply chain issues and skills shortages and increase our chances of reaching 300,000 households per year by the mid-2020s. .

There is, naturally, a strong appetite for prefab and MMC. The appeal of the new is undeniable and trendy technologies are often enticing and full of promise. However, a balance needs to be struck with tried and true traditional building methods, which provide more market stability and consistency in material sourcing and have their own environmental benefits.

There is debate over the suitability of traditional construction methods in a contemporary setting, where sustainability is king. At MPA, we believe that projects that use both traditional and modern methods, where appropriate, will benefit from the best of both worlds.

“The allure of the new is undeniable and trendy technologies are often enticing and full of promise. However, a balance needs to be struck with proven traditional construction methods, which provide more stability and consistency to the market.”

In her reaction to the House of Lords report, Baroness Neville-Rolfe noted that she was very surprised at the “lack of planning skills after years of not training people”. Despite their contribution to the success of housing construction, project management and planning skills are undervalued and underutilized.

We are starting to see this change, but it needs to happen faster to meet the challenges that threaten to cripple construction. So how can leaders support those who manage projects in their company?

First, they need to recognize who a project professional might be, hidden behind the guise of a different job title, whether contract manager, site supervisor, or account manager. There are more people running projects than most think. At Gleeds, an independent property and construction consultancy, for example, 200 of the UK’s 900 employees are project managers.

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Harnessing this existing talent effectively can go a long way. Once identified, leaders can maximize the effectiveness of project practitioners by supporting their development through formalized training, accredited CPD, recognized qualifications and chartered status. It starts to give them the recognition they need.

Employers can then further facilitate the work of project managers by giving them the same weight as their counterparts in marketing, finance and human resources. This can be reinforced by ensuring that they have strategic influence at board level; possible by appointing a Chief Project or Transformation Officer. By having a voice at the table, these experts can ensure that projects are an essential part of strategic development and increase the chances of project success.

A project-centric approach, grounded in professional recognition and accreditation, will encourage a much-needed focus on planning as a key part of the home construction life cycle.

The strategies implemented so far to achieve the government’s ambitious target of 300,000 homes per year are not working. Although there is no time or resources to reinvent the wheel, if the construction industry takes stock of all the expertise and tools available, it is likely to find all the materials needed to help the construction of houses to prosper, with a revision of the plans.

Professor Adam Boddison is Managing Director of the Association for Project Management, Phil Cox is Director of MPA Masonry