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Every year defects in the UK construction industry cost at least £1 billion to repair or rebuild. Some of the defects will be the result of poor communication, for example:

– A poorly detailed drawing.
– Operatives being given incorrect instructions.
– Technical information not being available.

Improvements in communication should result in cost savings, an increase in the quality of the build and a reduction in the level of defect occurrence.
Frequently asked questions We are right at the start of a project. What can we do to try to start communication off on the right track?

Is it worthwhile holding a Kick off meeting?

What about other meetings- how can they be made worthwhile?

Where can technical advice be accessed?

How can technical advice be supplied to site based staff?

What can I do to keep better control of drawing amendments and transfer?

We are thinking about employing a trade supervisor. Is it worthwhile - will this benefit the project communication and the quality of the build?

Are there any new methods of communication which might help my project run more smoothly?

Q1 We are right at the start of a project. What can we do to try to start communication off on the right track?

A1 At the outset and /or the contract stage, it is an excellent idea to try to agree the ways in which project communication will be designed to work. This could be done at a kick-off meeting and needs to involve all relevant people. For example, architect, client, contractors, manufacturers.

The type of issues that need to be agreed include the following:
  • What type of meetings will be held and at what frequency?
  • What will be the method (s) of drawing transfer?
  • How will amended, or unconfirmed drawings be used and controlled?
  • How will defects be graded, reported and tracked?
  • Who will accept and check deliveries of materials to the site?
  • Will the project employ a Clerk of Works, supervisor or gate person? What communication responsibilities will they have and what methods of communication will they use? What level of authority will they have to instruct operatives?
  • Who will communicate with and supervise sub-contractors?

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Q2 Is it worthwhile holding a Kick off meeting?

A2 Most certainly. The project manager should convene a pre-start (or “kick off) meeting” as this will bring several benefits to site communication. These include the following:

  • It allows people to get to know each other; this is likely to lead to better communication and less confrontational attitudes as the work progresses.
  • It provides the opportunity to decide on how communication will operate.
  • It can be used to ensure that all people have the contact details for others working on the project.
  • It gives the opportunity to define the points of contact at each organisation.

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Q3 What about other meetings- how can they be made worthwhile? A3 It is almost universally accepted that no one likes going to too many meetings! However, there are likely to be communication and build quality improvements from an appropriate number of well-structured meetings. The benefits of such meetings should make the time spent worthwhile.

“Kick off meetings” are especially important (see question 2). Trade co-ordination meetings have also proved to be particularly worthwhile, especially at helping site work to progress smoothly and establishing informal agreements between trades.

The success of formal meetings (e.g. the monthly progress meeting) is helped by being structured and including the following:
  • Chairperson
  • Agenda
  • Set start and finish times
  • Record of the minutes

Minutes should always be circulated after the meeting and include action points with the responsible person(s) identified and dates for completion. Consideration should be given to inviting all relevant people to any meetings. However, remember that some people may only need to attend specific parts of the meeting.

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Q4 Where can technical advice be accessed? A4 Large numbers of best practice information documents on issues like design, material selection and construction are available form a variety of sources. For example, manufacturers, NHBC, trade associations, BRE. The documents available vary in their size and format dependent on the intended audience (architect, supervisor, surveyor etc) so make sure that you get hold of the right document for the correct purpose.

Always remember that technical advice is also available in formats other than paper documents. This includes relatively new ideas like manufacturer’s telephone help desks and advice available on the internet, through to the more traditional items such as posters for the site canteen and instructions printed on packaging.

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Q5 How can technical advice be supplied to site based staff? A5 This is a crucial issue and there are a number of ways this can be done, with some of these being as follows:
  • Include technical issues in the standard induction procedures.
  • Use sample panels and mock-ups.
  • Display best practice posters (e.g. in the site canteen).
  • Invite manufacturers to visit the site to demonstrate best practice or new products.
  • Supply operatives with the relevant parts of good-practice guidance (e.g. as a waterproof hand-held guide)

It is important to supply technical advice to site based staff where operatives are inexperienced, new materials/products are in use or there is particularly difficult detailing to be done.

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Q6 What can I do to keep better control of drawing amendments and transfer? A6 The role of drawings in producing good quality work is crucial. Therefore, careful attention must be paid as to how drawings are going to be produced, checked and distributed. The following points must be considered:
  • Provide drawings as early and as complete as possible at all relevant stages.
  • Ensure drawings are adequately detailed and checked before site work starts
  • The different means by which drawings could be produced to help building work progress smoothly (e.g. colour coded, by trade or element, laminated, small or large sized).
  • How much information is needed on any drawing for it to be successfully built from.
  • Where are the drawings to be used/kept, e.g. site office, supervisor, operatives?
  • How to prepare and return amended drawings back to site as quickly as possible.
  • Is there a role for the manufacturers to help prepare drawings?

The provision of complete and correct drawings should be regarded equally as importantly as ensuring that materials and operatives are available.

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Q7 We are thinking about employing a trade supervisor. Is it worthwhile - will this benefit the project communication and the quality of the build? A7 - Assuming that the size of the project merits it, a supervisor on site for each trade (e.g. bricklaying, drainage) is likely to bring benefits to the project communication and the quality of build. However, ensure that the role of the supervisor links with the project requirements. For example, is the supervisor required only to schedule work for the operatives or to be directly involved with "setting out", examination of drawings and quality of build.

To be effective, the trade supervisor must be sufficiently authoritative which may be a problem as the position can be viewed as being neither "operative" nor "management".

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Q8 Are there any new methods of communication which might help my project run more smoothly? A8 Yes - most certainly. Dependent on the size and type of project, the use of new technology to help communication should always be considered.

The benefits of items such as mobile phones and two-way radios are now well known on construction sites (e.g. the use of two-way radios can be very useful especially on larger sites). In addition, digital/web cameras and on site internet and e-mail access may also be beneficial tools. For example, drawings can be e-mailed between the site office and the architect, as can digital photographs of defects and progress. The internet can be used to access information such as Building Standards and good practice guidance documentation.

On large scale construction projects the use of project "intranet" systems has also proved to be invaluable. These systems are based on project wide access via a network of personal computers to electronic ("virtual") project documents such as drawings, specifications and correspondence.


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