Is Early Supply Chain Involvement the Answer to a Question You Haven’t Asked Yet?

George Woollard, Technical Director at Keyline Civils Specialist, expands on the Construction Playbook’s take on early supply chain involvement and how it can benefit architects, designers and, ultimately, entire projects.


George Woollard

is the Technical Director at Keyline Civils Specialist

Innovation, efficiency, value. That’s a snapshot of what early supply chain involvement (ESI) promises, according to the Government’s Construction Playbook.

Advising that the earliest stages of design and specification should be a collaborative effort, the Playbook is effusive about the potential benefits this brings. Taking some of the weight off architects and designers, ESI brings contractors, distributors and manufacturers into the pre-construction phase to “positively inform improved design, delivery and operational outcomes”.

Policies and guidance in the Playbook are, of course, for the public sector, but we’re all aware that where the Government leads, the private sector soon follows. Involving all levels of the supply chain in specification can help us innovate while saving time, money and stress down the line. ESI and the Construction Playbook answer questions architects and specifiers may not have realised they needed to ask – it’s designed to do more than make your life easier; ESI opens up opportunities for innovation that could take projects to the next level.

An outcome-based approach to specification

“Projects and programmes should adopt an outcome-based approach focused on whole-life value, performance, sustainability and cost.”

Heavy emphasis is placed on creating outcome-based specifications in the Construction Playbook, where clarity on the function of each aspect of design is vital. The Government points to this and engaging early with the supply chain as “critical factors in achieving timely and cost-effective delivery, design input, adherence to standards, costing, risk management and overall project structuring”.

Collaboration with the supply chain at the start of a project makes the entire operation more efficient, as the time and money spent on resolving issues that were missed at specification is saved. With increased pressure on architects from the Building Safety Act, it can also help with compliance. Input from suppliers is key to more effective designs – their technical advice is essential to reducing changes and costs, and results in faster delivery when construction starts.

It’s not just cost effectiveness, sustainability or even performance that architects need to consider when creating a specification; it’s all outcomes. As the Construction Playbook suggests, involving the supply chain in this process early will make this a far easier undertaking.

Collaboration? First comes communication

Much of what is laid out in the Playbook seems almost common sense. It begs the question: why have organisations in the construction and civil engineering industry operated in many ways as silos when the slightest increase in communication opens so many doors? A contractor might identify a problem on the ground, and a designer has to scramble to find a solution within a short timescale – the manufacturer is bypassed and, at extra cost and a project delay, the issue is fixed with a makeshift solution.

This doesn’t need to be the case. Architects and specifiers, more than anyone in the industry, know the importance of good planning. It’s a classic quote, but the construction and civil engineering industry feels it more keenly than most: by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

Architects are, by the nature of the work, extremely thorough, but there will always be considerations overlooked and opportunities missed. Getting new perspectives and technical minds on a project is invaluable. If you have a wealth of expertise available to you, why wouldn’t you take advantage of it?

For many architects, it’s not a lack of willingness but awareness. Everyone has a process, and it can be hard to look outside of that when you’ve done things in a certain way for so long. Though this is beginning to change, many wouldn’t even think to pick up the phone and discuss a challenge with a supplier: opening up those communication channels and establishing that easy rapport and trust is crucial to ESI. The Playbook touches on this, and it’s certainly a factor when it comes to sharing ideas and finding innovative solutions.

Opening the door to sustainable innovation

Where innovative solutions are discussed, it usually doesn’t take long for sustainability to become part of the conversation.

In the modern world of design, sustainability is always a consideration – but it’s often limited to existing products. You can look through the products available for a viable, sustainable alternative, but if you can’t find it, that’s the end of the line.

With ESI, that isn’t necessarily the case. The Construction Playbook discusses “innovative thinking” and “inviting the market to suggest novel solutions to problems”. When manufacturers and suppliers are involved in specification, you can create product-based solutions; if a sustainable product doesn’t exist yet, there may be an opportunity to design and manufacture one. Opening discussions and regular rapport with the supply chain is critical to identifying these opportunities. Though, it must be mentioned, that even the Playbook alludes to the difficulties of weighing up a push for innovation with “commercial conditions”; balance, as always, is key.

For architects, specifiers and anyone working on a construction or civil engineering project, ESI presents an opportunity – through the supply chain, you can drive innovation, cut your workload and save time and money. It just requires a little communication.

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