Design and Delivery: Better Together

Collaboration that actually SAVES time and money?!

Some years ago, I had a job writing tender responses for large construction and infrastructure projects. One thing I noticed was a real push toward ‘Early Contractor Involvement’ (ECI) or collaborative contracting models. It's one of those common sense, briliant ideas that levels up the value offered by everyone involved. It may also be the only form of collaboration I know of that adds people but saves time and money.

The main idea of ECI is that the contractor who will be delivering the project should be involved in the design phase. Why?

Because expensive mistakes are avoided when the contractor says extremely useful things like “you can’t put a pipe there",we don’t have the equipment for that” or "try it this much easier way."

Big internal projects are much the same. When we try to make change happen, we tend to split up the ‘design’ and ‘construction’ phases by tier. Senior leaders are the architects of change, while people managers and operational staff are the construction teams. This can lead to wasted time and money.

“The wise man is not he who gives the right answers; he is the one who asks the right questions.”
― Claude Lévi-Strauss


Keeping design and delivery separate exposes us to problems:

  • We underestimate the risks and barriers involved with change

  • We create a disconnect or divide between designer and contractor

  • We make silly, avoidable mistakes.

Bringing people managers and subject matter experts into the room with senior leaders when there is still an opportunity to influence the planning process is a smart way to apply ECI thinking. Done well, it’s a chance to take the handbrake off internal processes before we start trying to get change off the ground.

ECI doesn't work like magic, though. It needs us to plan well in advance, so we have the time to do these conversations well and to make any changes that come through. It also needs a genuine openness to diverse opinion, and to changing direction if we need to.

What do you think about "internal ECI"? Are you grounding design with your delivery team?

Til next week

- A