APPROACH

We believe we have a different approach to construction from most of our competitors.

Underpinning much of what we try to do is our commitment to a directly employed labour force at both site management and trade level, and the extent to which they are consulted and involved in the company. We have an excellent highly skilled workforce which takes pride in its ability to produce a high quality product.

Many of the initiatives we undertake in terms of training, development, lean construction and innovation would not be possible if we were just a project manager rather than a builder more closely involved in the finished product. This close involvement with the building process also influences our interest in overall design and detailing, as well as the quality of the end result.

COMPANY ORGANISATION

The way in which Sandwood is organised and structured contributes to the way in which we handle construction contracts.

We are a relatively small company for the size and type of contracts we undertake, which enables us to give greater senior management attention to each one. Of the four senior managers, two are generally allocated to each project at the outset and will see it through to the end – no marketing department at the beginning and no claims department at the end. Our business strategy is to work with a small number of repeat clients and this gives the company a clear client focus and a non adversarial partnering approach.

On site, the site managers are long term Sandwood employees, not agency staff, and the work is undertaken either by our direct labour force or by our partnered subcontractors. It is our direct labour force that allows us to employ the number of apprentices that we do (currently 20% of our work force); it enables us, through apprenticeships, to address the lack of women in construction at site level, and also allows us to explore more efficient ways of working. We are able to introduce cross company working groups, one of which, the Waste Management Working Group, is using the knowledge and experience of our tradespeople, together with managers and office staff, to look at ways of reducing waste on site.

DIRECT LABOUR

One of the elements we believe sets us apart from our competitors is our direct labour force, and the way in which they and all our employees are encouraged to become involved in the development of the company. We believe that the best route to a productive and profitable company is through a well trained, motivated and remunerated workforce, working in decent, safe conditions.

Our direct employees include carpenters, bricklayers, decorators, labourers and gangers, as well as site managers and apprentices. Direct employment means not only a higher level of quality but also a consistency of product that comes from a settled team. Our staff turnover is very low, particularly for the construction industry and we have no problems recruiting at trade level. A direct labour force also allows us to take on a high percentage of apprentices and train our own future workforce.

INVOLVEMENT AND PARTICIPATION

Most construction companies do not follow our model of direct employment, preferring subcontractors, agency staff and the self employed. There is without doubt a cost implication to our approach because of the Tax and National Insurance system. We believe we offset the cost disadvantage through higher quality, greater productivity and reduced waste, but we have to work hard to be more efficient than our competitors in the industry. This is not a problem with our workers who are highly skilled and motivated by the opportunity to use their skills in a supportive environment.

We ensure all our employees are kept well informed about company progress and objectives through monthly staff meetings at various levels, and by quarterly all employee gatherings, where company objectives, workload and other issues are discussed and addressed.

We ensure everyone is involved in celebrating individual success through annual awards and recognition of training achievements, and of team successes through opening events at most of our projects. Opening events are primarily for the employees and subcontractors who have worked on the site, not local dignitaries.

Everyone shares in the company’s financial success through the company profit share scheme that distributes 25% of company profits equally among all employees.

A lot of what we do in this area relates to ownership. We would like our clients and architects to adopt some of this approach by continuing to recognise the contribution of all the team after the project has finished. By not mentioning the constructor or other consultants on completed schemes, the message is given that it does not matter who built it and that is not the best way to secure an improvement in standards.

COMMITMENT TO QUALITY

Consistent quality of workmanship is a method of operation as well as a value, as it is one of the ways in which we tie the company together into a coherent whole. Our employees take pride in their skills and the opportunity to demonstrate those skills in the buildings we construct.

We consider all our employees members of our quality management team, and believe the key to quality is a committed, employed labour force and experienced, motivated subcontractors. Our subcontractors are subject to formal review by our site managers as well as senior management, which enables the results of quality monitoring to be fed back into future jobs. Our employees believe they are the best. They hate their work being considered defective.

Senior managers are closely involved in the quality of the final product and are able to address issues by changing working practices. About three years ago, we identified that brickwork subcontractor standards were falling. We reacted by employing our own core of bricklayers with a commitment to producing a quality product. We recently made the same decision regarding decorating, where preparation seems to have become a lost art. We now have our own core of decorators and apprentices, and standards are back to a level we are happy with.

Quality issues are taken very seriously at Sandwood and continuous improvement is always at the forefront of our minds. We use both feedback from staff and subcontractors and performance throughout the defect period, to identify any products or systems that have underperformed or developed faults that could cause problems for our clients in the future.

SPECIALISATION

We specialise in Social Housing and have done so for nearly 15 years. This has enabled us to build up a level of knowledge and expertise in one sector, rather than a superficial understanding of many. Specialisation has advantages in the advice and assistance we can provide to our clients. We bring years of Social Housing construction experience to the process, both in the office and on site, from Scheme Development Standards, to low cost methods of achieving EcoHomes or code credits.

Specialising in one sector does not mean a lack of interest or variety. As a relatively small company with a skilled workforce, we are generally given the difficult tight sites, often with high design aspirations. Specialisation goes beyond the product and extends to our clients within the sector. We have always set out to work for a small number of repeat clients – the aim being to be ‘their contractor of choice’ for schemes within our range.

LEAN CONSTRUCTION

The key elements of lean construction are defining value and eliminating anything that does not contribute towards that value i.e. ‘waste’. Value is defined from the perspective of the client as being what the client wants from the building project.

Waste includes physical waste on site but also time, materials, poor quality work, unnecessary or unwanted elements or features etc.

There are many lean construction techniques and we use a number of them on our sites.

1. Reducing Physical Waste
Utilising the advantage of a direct labour force, we have set up a waste management working group within Sandwood, consisting of a team of operators and managers that meet monthly to review how to reduce physical waste on site and encourage recycling.

2. Lean Programming
We utilise lean programming to establish target programmes with float (inefficiencies) shown and monitored separately.

3. Last Planner
Short term programming is devolved down through the organisation to put control in the hands of the people undertaking the work – in our case down to the trade team leaders.

4. Quality Control
As with programming, quality control becomes everyone’s responsibility and is devolved down to the individual and the teams.

5. Flow
Programmes are designed to balance resources to achieve a flow around the building to eliminate bottlenecks and delays.

6. Pull Not Push
Simple schedules to highlight dates when information/decisions are needed, using a simple traffic light system to highlight slippage.

7. Continuous Improvement
Failing to improve procedures, methods and systems is itself waste, so continuous improvement is a central element of lean construction. A stable management and workforce and specialisation in one area both assist in the process of continuous improvement.

RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

Research and Development comes in many forms. At Sandwood we try to be proactive in anticipating trends and understanding client requirements. One way we undertake research is by taking an active role in industry organisations. We are founder members of Build Off Site and have worked with Loughborough University on the Off Site Manufacture for Occasional Clients toolkit.

We are one of the few construction member of the Green Register and have been quick to join the UK Green Building Council.

We try to involve our clients and consultants throughout. This has included a day conference on sustainability, held on site and attended by our staff, clients and consultants. An e-mail forum of the same group devised and agreed on a water conservation specification – and we have recently arranged for clients and contractors to attend a seminar on the Code for Sustainable Homes.

Anticipation meant that we undertook sound testing before it became an EcoHomes requirement and have taken the same route on air permeability testing, partly because we are strong advocates of post completion testing rather than relying on robust details. We recognise that the best way to become knowledgeable about a product is to use it, so we are keen to encourage innovation, particularly in MMC and sustainability areas. This has led to schemes involving Photovoltaics, Rainwater Harvesting, Solar Thermal, CHP units and our first volumetric scheme in Mackintosh Lane. We are looking at different walling and flooring systems for future use and are interested in the prospect of building to Passive House standards.