Can Failure Be A Good Thing?

A while ago I read an incredible book called Black Box Thinking.

It gives a great perspective on failure and how this is approached differently depending on industry.

Take the aviation industry for example. When they experience failure, it is examined and a new process or procedure is put in place to combat the failure. Pilots have set instructions to follow in certain circumstances that are most often derived from a previous failure of some sort. This ensures that the previous failure is less likely to happen again or at very least will be mitigated somehow.

This got me thinking how we deal with failure in construction and I think its a very mixed bag of approaches.

Firstly we are great about shouting success from the rooftop. It says look how good we are.

But for every one of these how many failures are there? Maybe we wont know as I believe the construction industry has a tenancy to sweep failure under the rug.

Some conduct lessons learnt reviews however in my experience these are done on the jobs that have gone pretty well. We looked at what we could have done better.

It's rare for the problem jobs go through a lessons learnt but if anything these are the ones with the most potential for learning opportunities and improvements.

A lot of companies will have set rates for productivity and a lot of planners keep a log of previously achieved outputs and their circumstances as this will impact how much work can be done. How often do we dig into the detail and look for improvements?

This really came to my attention while working on a road project where we had a large area of plane out. My default approach was to set the planer to full depth and plane out in a single rip however a very clever QS we had in the team suggested looking in more detail.

He looked at the power curve of the plant and considered the power output vs pick wear on the machine and worked out that although we would get through more picks we would achieve a much higher output by planing the road out in several rips to the depth on the power curve. It really made me think about how often we neglect looking at these types of details. We conducted a trial in the first few days and it was clear that the operation was much faster in multiple rips and the cost of the additional picks was far outweighed by the time and cost saving of the attending plant.

By looking at the operation into a finite level of detail we were able to improve efficiency. We monitored this and after a few days saw a drop in output. When this was investigated it was a third party influence.

Now because we had the data for unimpeded working it was easier to show the impact caused by the third party. It was also something that wasn't picked up on the diaries or allocation sheets so without the detailed monitoring it would have most likely gone unnoticed.

All because a QS got involved with an operational element.

We all have our roles to do but why stick within the limits of those roles, sometimes the best input comes from an outside party that doesn't have the blinkers on. Would we have ever known the process was inefficient if we didn't do the in depth look in the first place? How many methods could be improved if we really looked into the detail...

Getting back to my original point, what if construction viewed failure the same as the aviation industry?

How many bad projects share the same issues?

How many contractors have gone bust by continuing to do the same thing over and over?

How often is project performance or KPIs misreported to disguise the truth?

Why not conduct an independent review of a project reporting programme or KPIs to determine how effective the reporting is in comparison with actual progress on site? We can help, contact us to find out how.

Think about this, you know your completion date and critical path. Have you ever heard someone say "We need everything to go right to meet this programme"... How realistic is this? Do you know the likelihood your project will finish on your predicted completion date? The answer might surprise you and you can find out by conducting schedule risk analysis.

Wouldn't it be great if failure was embraced so improvements could be made. I don’t think this would ever stop failed projects given some of the risk profiles signed up to but it could reduce the amount of problem jobs.


KCES Limited provide Tender, Delivery, Change & Delay programme management services to the construction industry. For more information on how we can help click one of the links below:

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For any further information or to discuss any programme requirements contact us on:

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