Debate 19 - Feedback: Why don’t we learn?

Monday, May 12th, 2003 | Debates

In recent years, clients have expected the construction industry to deliver performance. Consequently, they have been moving from input to output specifications — as with the PFI — on the assumption that the industry knows best what happens to its products.

Feedback (Photo courtesy: Arup)

Feedback (Photo courtesy: Arup)

But how much does the industry really know? As a general rule, it leaves the site as soon as possible after practical completion, does not live with the consequences of its actions, and is not much involved in providing aftercare services. Sadly, many construction professionals on the client side also behave in much the same way. Consequently, old problems persist, innovations miss their targets, and simple effective solutions are not appreciated for the successes they are.

In the new industry regime, one might expect to find much more feedback activity; and indeed there is a growing level of interest. However, to date most of the effort has been put into the processes of procurement and construction, not into how the completed product actually performs. Why?

Many clients assume that things should be right first time. However, as was debated at the Edge in October 2000, while there is much scope for improvement in performance and avoiding defects, the expectation of instant perfection is unreasonable in all but the most repetitive of projects. The customer needs the whole product, not just the physical bit.

Many clients assume that if they get the right people together in an integrated team, the feedback will happen automatically. In fact, you need both the ingredients and the recipe.

Nobody wants to bear the costs (although they are small, and almost certainly instantly repaid by the value added) and designers are fearful of the risks associated with discovering hidden problems (though these appear to be small too).

Effective feedback leads to benefits all round.

Chaired by Bill Bordass - William Bordass Associates and The Edge committee.

Paper 1: Monitoring workplace performance and feedback into design

Barry Austin, Arup R&D

Paper 2: Alliances and knowledge management

Ashraf Michail, BP/Bovis Alliance

Paper 3: Soft Landings update

David Adamson, Director of Estates, University of Cambridge.

Mark Way, RMJM.

Action points generated on the night.

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