Generic design and construction process protocol -3
The preceding minor quibbles should not detract from the fact that there is much merit to found within the GDCPP. It remains eminently sensible to seek a clear and consistent model of the design and construction process. The idea of stage gates as a means of implementing control would likewise seem entirely reasonable, and is an idea that has subsequently been widely adopted by design managers within the construction sector. While the authors of GDCPP acknowledge explicitly the influence of BPR, GDCPP categorically cannot be dismissed as yet another uncritical manifestation of technocratic totalitarianism. Indeed, Cooper et al. (2005) demonstrate a degree of sensitivity to the overblown guru-hype offered by the likes of Hammer and Champy (1993). Cooper et al. (2005) further recognise the difficulty in defining BPR with any precision. It would seem that the developers of the GDCPP took advantage of the popularity of ‘process management’ without ever quite being fully convinced by the heady rhetoric of BPR. It may well be possible to argue that the language of BPR reflects and reinforces the construction sector’s pre-existing regressive tendencies, but this argument cannot necessarily be extended to innovations which are only loosely ‘inspired’ by BPR.
What does come across strongly within the case studies described by Cooper et al. (2005) is the extent to which practitioners and researchers learned from their collective attempts to implement GDCPP. The process of producing the various process maps stimulated a shared understanding across the project team. This was not therefore a mindless exercise in the application of a heavily prescriptive process model. The process through which the maps are produced accords much more strongly with innovation in action. That the participants found the process to be useful would seem rather more important than they fact that it might have been inspired initially by BPR. There is an important point here which will be reinforced throughout the remainder of the book: how improvement recipes are enacted in practice often differs from the idealised prescriptions which are described in the literature. It is arguably the very process of rethinking the advocated recipe in a specific context which is of prime importance, it would be encouraging to believe that this is what Sir John Egan had in mind when he entitled his report Rethinking Construction – although this is probably wishful thinking. Shifting the emphasis towards the process of rethinking GDCPP for each individual application implies that the Generic Design and Construction Project Protocol is not generic, and not really a protocol either. But this should not be construed as a criticism, as the benefits of such approaches often lie in the way they promote localised learning within project teams. The same argument holds equally true for a wide range of management techniques.
Perhaps the strongest commonality between GDCPP and BPR is the shared theme of ‘unleashing’ the power of IT. Reference has already been made to the way in which BPR boosted its credibility through association with so-called enabling technologies. The same is also undoubtedly true of GDCPP, which mobilises a beguiling list of IT solutions, including: integrated databases, electronic data interchange (EDI), artificial intelligence, neural networks, visualisation, project extranet and building information modelling (BIM). One of the most acclaimed advantages of the GDCPP is the way it facilitates the use of such new-generation IT support tools (Kagioglou et al., 2000). According to Cooper et al. (2005) the main problem in construction is that most IT systems are purchased because of opera-tional rather than strategic business requirements. Given the risk-adverse nature of the sector, most firms are understandably unwilling to disrupt embedded ways of working for the sake of unspecified potential. Of par-ticular note is the argument that:
‘[t]he effective use and co-ordination of IT, people and culture interfaces should optimise the process performance which leads to eventual cus-tomer satisfaction/ (Cooper et al., 2005; 43)
Unfortunately, neither people nor ‘culture interfaces’ can be so easily manipulated in the rationalistic cause of optimisation. The preceding quote raises a plethora of issues relating to the interaction between new technologies and pre-existing embedded organisational practices. In many respects, the authors of the GDCPP were prescient in predicting the adoption/adaptation of advanced IT solutions in the construction sector (with the notable exceptions of artificial intelligence and neural networks). It is striking that BIM has now been accepted as de rigueur on many major construction projects. However, it is equally striking that the implications of BIM for the embedded demarcation of professional roles in the construction sector remains an active and rich research area (Eastman et al, 2008; Whyte et al., 2008; Harty, 2010). The potential of BIM is undoubtedly significant, but nevertheless it seems unlikely to impact upon the accumu-lated problems caused by the collateral damage of the enterprise culture.Of particular note in recent years is the way ‘collaboration’ and ‘integra-tion’ have become linked increasingly with IT solutions. Unfortunately, such technologies have failed notably to ‘integrate’ the multitude of bogusly self-employed workers who lack basic employment rights in the workplace. Notions of integration, collaboration and the use of whizzy IT gadgets seem ill-placed to address the real problems of construction sector fragmentation. At least self-employed migrant workers from Eastern Europe can now send e-mails home on their Blackberries™ as they travel through Central London in their ubiquitous white vans. Needless to say, such vans no longer display CABIN stickers exhorting passers-by to ‘say no to building nationalisation’.