Engaging a contractor early will foster a successful project

New Business Director, Richard Bartlett, on how companies that engage contractors early in the design and build process will see the benefits throughout the lifetime of their project

Success in construction projects hinges on thorough planning, prompt execution, and robust engagement with stakeholders. Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) continues to rise in popularity due to its effectiveness in optimising project results.

ECI is a partnership-driven method, integrating contractors at the initial stages of a project. This early collaboration lets them share their knowledge and expertise, bringing forth several advantages:

  • Mitigation of risks: enabling contractors to identify and address potential construction challenges before they escalate. This proactive approach reduces the likelihood of delays and unexpected obstacles and costs during the construction phase.
  • Supply chain engagement: The introduction of the Building Safety Act underscores the critical importance of design and specification. The industry is becoming increasingly aware of this fact, recognising the significant risk to projects without a coordinated design that includes CDP design. Ensuring this coordination by engaging and appointing supply chain partners early is now a top priority.
  • Improved cost management: when contractors are involved earlier, they can provide more accurate out turn cost estimations and budget management. Data from our previous projects and experiences will be provided, ensuring project viability stays at the heart of all decisions.

In turn, it also reduces the need for value engineering as the project scope and customers budgets are wholly acknowledge, leaving instead an opportunity to engineer value – whereby additional value can be worked in at an early stage.

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Successful projects result from early engagement with the main contractor

An example of this is on a recent leisure project. Through collaboration with our supply chain, we offered an engineered value alternative to the customer's mechanical services design which reduced installation costs, maximised energy savings and minimised operating costs. The alternative plant, equipment and design strategy maintained the same environmental conditions and terminal services.

This true engineering value solution saved the customer £350,000, which they have used for extra PVs to further reduce their carbon emissions in operation.

What else does ECI unlock? Further benefits include:

  • Innovation: contractors bring innovative solutions to the table, contributing to the delivery of designs, materials, and processes in the most cost-effective way.
  • Communication and collaboration: early involvement fosters better communication and collaboration for all stakeholders involved. This approach helps identify potential conflicts or issues early on, reducing the need for costly and time-consuming changes later in the process, whilst ensuring the priorities of the project are understood by all parties at the earliest stage.
  • Increased quality and safety: contractors play a crucial role in ensuring construction quality and safety. By involving them early, they can provide input on construction methods that prioritise safety, quality and adhere to regulations and procedures. Within Willmott Dixon, we work with customers across both the private and public sector to offer the vast majority of this advice, support and engagement free of charge. Why? Because we know the beneficial outcome it has for ourselves, our supply chain partners and our customers. Our priority is to deliver the highest-quality projects, delivered on time and within budget, with ECI offering the easiest solution to guarantee these objectives.

A question I continually get asked is what prevents the uptake of ECI in more projects. I believe this derives from a mistrust that can sometimes be harboured towards main contractors, perceiving a potential misalignment in project objectives.

This distrust impedes the adoption of ECI in their procurement process, as concerns still exist about contractors prioritising cost-cutting, possibly at the expense of quality or longevity. Aligning incentives is crucial to counteract this impasse. Ensuring all parties share the overarching goal of maximising project value—balancing time, cost, and quality—can foster collaborative relationships, encouraging the mutual pursuit of optimal project realisation and the broader acceptance of ECI.

Very early in my career, my first boss said something that I will always remember, “show me the incentives and I will show you the outcome”. As a contractor, putting a shovel in the ground is the only way for us to realise our business objectives. Exceeding budgetary limits and undergoing incessant redesigns are counterproductive to our aims. Such alignment of incentives guarantees our unwavering commitment to the customer vision, assuring the culmination of a project that is not only cost-effective but also eminently fit for its intended purpose.

In this, early contractor involvement emerges as a salient strategy, seamlessly integrating every aspect from inception to completion, and ensuring the timely and efficient delivery of a project that stands as a testament to collaborative excellence and shared aspirations.

Interested in learning how Willmott Dixon can aid with your early contractor engagement? Get in touch with us here.