Powerproject helped our customer Willmott Dixon to add another prestigious accolade to its roster recently. Construction Manager Andy Pritchard and his young team used Powerproject to help deliver this £23 million school project in London on budget and eight weeks early. The impressive result earned Andy a Gold medal in the prestigious Construction Manager of the Year Awards.
Woodmansterne School in Streatham, South London has been transformed from a small outstanding primary to a large all-through school. The latest Ofsted report points out that the executive headteacher and senior leaders “have a clear vision of providing an excellent quality of education. They are determined to achieve it.” This determination has been tested and challenged throughout a long period of construction, first for the primary school and later the secondary school.
Learning from experience
According to the headteacher, they had a poor experience when the primary school was built, so when construction for the new secondary school was due to start, understandably the school, teachers, students and parents were apprehensive.
Andy Pritchard, construction manager at Willmott Dixon and responsible for this project, was determined to deliver the best quality build on time and make it a positive experience for all parties involved. He used Powerproject from Elecosoft to help keep the £23 million, two-year project on track.
Heading up a fairly young team, Andy nevertheless managed to combine people with the right skills and experience for the job. After working for Willmott Dixon for 13 years, Andy himself has a vast amount of experience working in live environments, i.e. build environments that remain open and operational throughout the construction.
“We planned the whole project really well so that construction would not interfere with teaching,” says Andy. “One of the things we are very proud of is that we actually created parts of the syllabus for the school and feel that we improved the teaching environment during the construction programme.”
One of the biggest challenges for Andy was to deliver the project with a very young team, which Andy was determined to turn into an advantage. He made his team visit every single regional Willmott Dixon site to ‘steal’ the best ideas and improve on them.
“In a big company like Willmott Dixon there is a lot of great practice going around,” comments Andy. “The big problem is trying to capture it and get people to adopt it. So we’d go out, find the best practice, adopt it and follow through with it.”
Creating an inclusive team environment
Andy became involved in the project six months before the main building commenced. Taking into account the poor experience the school had had with the previous contractor during the primary school build, Andy set out to use the pre-contract phase to build good relationships with and between all parties involved. He ran eight collaboration workshops with the customer, the supply chain and the designers. This meant he could get buy-in to the programme, design and cost, along with allowing people to air their issues, collecting all answers to the problems at the same time, rather than in the traditional one-on-one arrangement.
Building a great relationship with the school soon exceeded pure working contacts. The Willmott Dixon team made sure to organise some kind of activity for the kids every week. For example, Key Stage 1 students were taught bridge design and engineering students learned how to build a tower. There were talks promoting the fantastic opportunities for women in construction and sponsorship of the teachers’ summer party.
The woodland of the ‘forest school’, a unique selling point of inner-city based Woodmansterne and a vital part of the curriculum, would be not be accessible during the two years of construction. When the headteacher voiced concerns about this, the Willmott Dixon team found a perfect solution. A member of the team, who is studying marine biology, created an ‘urban beach school’ syllabus teaching marine biology and conservation in the classroom and on an outing to the beach.
Another cause close to Andy’s heart was the lack of a proper playground: “When we took occupation of the whole site, including the live primary school, there was no outside playing space for the children. I was determined that we would create a playground, even a small one, as soon as possible and then continually increase it throughout the job.”
The Willmott Dixon team also became involved in other community groups and initiatives like a local gardening project with links to the school and the Brixton Bulls rugby club, whose female team managed to recruit two new players from Willmott Dixon.
Andy worked hard to improve the relationship with the customer project manager. In open discussions, joint planning and process planning writing sessions, they created a relationship built on trust and understanding of each other’s viewpoints.
Careful planning step by step
To minimise disruption to the running of the school and speed up the availability of new space to accommodate the growing student numbers, Andy split the programme into seven sectional completions. Every sectional completion was achieved either on time or early and all were defect free. This meant, as soon as a section was completed, the school could move into it, rather than having to wait for the whole project to finish.
Sectional testing and commissioning is a new practice at Willmott Dixon. Rooms are tested and commissioned floor by floor, meaning that any snags that, in other building projects, only come to light weeks after the building has been handed over, could be caught and rectified before the whole building was completed, and then completely avoided in the yet unfinished sections of the site. As a result, the ground floor was handed over 12 weeks early.
Applying a temporary waterproofing strategy, the contractors were also able to start on the internal works before the roof was on. The drylining had been finished and the M&E installed on the ground floor by the time the concrete was being poured for the fourth-floor roof. This gained the team eight weeks in the programme helping to hand over the whole project early.
“A lot of programming and planning went in to make sure we could carry out the internal work early, with temporary props in place and a temporary water-tightness for the bottom two floors,” explains Andy.
The modelling and programming was done with the help of Powerproject.
“I rely probably as heavily as anyone else I know in my company on the Powerproject programme. Everything we plan and do is entered in the programme and tracked three times a week. We use the programme for everything. During every meeting with the supply chain or with consultants the programme is live on the wall, being tracked live and changed as needed.”Andy Pritchard
Having previously used Microsoft Project, Woodmansterne School is the second project Andy has planned and implemented with the help of Powerproject. He has become a fan: “You can do more with it and customise it to your specific needs. Despite the training we had, I certainly don’t use it to its full potential yet. There are many options with Powerproject.”
Willmott Dixon has a customised front-end template for Powerproject, which, according to Andy, simplifies it a lot: “I’d highly recommend that companies who are going to use Powerproject, find out exactly what the project managers need the programme to do and get their own customised toolbar. It’s so much quicker.”
Learning the lesson
Andy uses the software to plan and track the current project as well as document which practices worked and which didn’t, for the benefit of future projects. The original programme is based on assumptions and changes when information is updated live throughout the build. As Andy puts it: “If we don’t track where we went wrong, we won’t learn from our mistakes before we take on the next job.”
After having gone through the Powerproject training himself, Andy trained his two senior managers in the team to track the project live in every meeting. Every one of the three progress meetings every week is based on information from the programme.
In addition to the construction project, the team started to plan out peripheral activities in the programme that could have an impact on the construction itself. These included the school’s supply chain and what time teachers and students arrive and leave on different days.
Leaving a legacy
Under Andy’s management, the Woodmansterne School project was completed on budget, eight weeks early and defect-free, earning him a well-deserved Gold medal at the Construction Manager of the Year Awards.
Not only did the Willmott Dixon team construct a new, state-of-the art school building, they also built lasting relationships with stakeholders in the school and the surrounding community.
Andy wasn’t the only Elecosoft customer to win at the CMYA awards this time – in fact, every single Gold Award winner has confirmed that they used Powerproject as their planning tool for their winning project. Read more about how the winners use Powerproject for construction planning.