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How will we manage?

Last month, Martyn Jones speculated on the nature of the new technological-economic wave. Although forecasting is notoriously problematic – even perilous – this month he speculates on what management approaches we might see in the new wave.

Each of the past waves has generated new ways – and reformed existing ones – in which firms organise themselves and shape the forms of cooperation and competition they have with other firms. We are likely to see similar shifts in how we manage in the new wave.

Where to start in answering the question how will we manage? Well, by looking at where we are and what we might decide to carry forward from our current thinking is a good place to start.

The ICT wave, with which we are now familiar, came to be associated with networks of large and small firms based increasingly on computer networks, working closely and cooperatively and even collaboratively together, particularly with regard to technology, quality management, JIT and SCM.

The management approaches associated with the ICT wave included:

The Culture Excellence approach: Its proponents advocating a reorientation from focusing on strategy to recognising the importance of being close to customers, putting customers and the organisation’s people first, and a shift to the “soft” aspects of business, such as culture and emotional connection.

The Japanese approach: Promoted continuous improvement based on the idea that small, ongoing positive changes can reap significant improvements and increased mutual value. Typically, it is based on customer first, involving all employees in building mutual trust, cooperation, commitment, quality control, JIT, Kaizen, and the Five Ss.

The Learning approach: Recognized the importance of learning in adapting to change, acquiring knowledge, using experience to create new knowledge, and leveraging the new insights to improve performance and achieve strategic objectives. The knowledge generated is shared within organisations and, with the rise of SCM, increasingly between partner organisations with the benefit of more collaborative inter-organisational relationships.

More specifically in construction, Latham recognised the impact of the new paradigm and emphasised the importance of relationships and partnering in constructing the team. Egan’s 5-4-7 mantra further established our commitment to the new wave by calling for committed leadership, a focus on the customer, a quality driven agenda, commitment to people, and improving the project process by partnering the supply chain.

Of course, many aspects of these approaches are still relevant, and will be carried forward into the new wave as who could possibly argue against developing better intra- and inter-organisational relationships, having more seamless and effective processes, and learning to support continuous improvement?

And who would deny that in construction we have much left to do to fully implement many aspects of these management approaches, and meet the challenges set by Latham and Egan at the birth of the ICT wave. We can expect that in the new wave there will be some entirely new management approaches alongside some reshaping of existing ones developed in the ICT wave.

Here are some of his suggestions for our direction of travel:

Transitioning from ICT to AIT – from Information and Communication Technologies (ITC) to Artificial Intelligence Technologies (AIT) – while ICT and AI have some overlap in terms of the use of computer technology, ICT is concerned with the infrastructure and systems needed to manage and process data. AI goes beyond this to focus on creating intelligent systems that can operate autonomously and make decisions.

Transitioning from leadership to communityship – where community members (within an organisation, but more widely in project teams, supply chains or local communities) take responsibility for that community’s growth and development, nurturing positive, creative, mutually beneficial relationships between themselves and other members of the community.

Transitioning from customer focus to planet focus – recognising that putting the planet first is no longer wide-eyed naivety but on the contrary helps ensure our existence, save the planet, and in doing so offers the best competitive advantage in the new wave.

Transitioning from Lean and Agile Supply Chain Management (L/ASCM) to Green Supply Chain Management (GSCM) – building sustainable environmental processes into reconfigured supply chains from manufacturing to operations and to end-of-life management, and incorporating the principles of the circular economy: the model of production and consumption, which involves reducing, sharing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible and extending their life cycles.

As we did in the ICT wave, Constructing Excellence – operating nationally, regionally, and locally – will continue to be a platform from which to stimulate, debate and help support the innovation needed -right across our operating system from clients to manufacturers – if we are to fully embrace and benefit from the technologies and ways of working made possible in the new paradigm and address the climate crisis.

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