Old Values, New Tricks:

Lean Construction Goes South

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A foundation of family values has provided the platform for a regional builder to turn the latest in management systems into award
winning projects…

After 25 years of landmark developments that have defined the revival of the NSW southern coast, regional builder Edwards Constructions abruptly swept the 2010 Masters Builders Association awards with a series of groundbreaking projects that surprised industry watchers and caught the attention of national media. Now with a diversified operations base, and a similarly expanded portfolio that spans from the snowy mountains reaching down into the far coastal townships and across the southern shires all the way north into Port Macquarie, Edwards is among the leaders of a new generation of construction companies that represent the best of what’s to come.

Identifiable by a technological expertise that features demanding, highly efficient delivery systems, this generation may have inherited the values of family owned builders, but is almost unrecognizable from its unassuming origins.

Today these 2.0 style builders combine the practical know-how of generational experience with the latest in cutting edge resource and human management. And while the modern language of management might produce a wry smile, the fact is in the space of a few years and in the face of an industry collapse, Edwards has applied these techniques – simply rebooted – and flourished.

The result has been a rush of award winning projects and industry accolades, while the cause provides a fascinating insight into where the vision of this generation of builders – lean, disciplined and technically ingenious – will take the NSW construction industry – with or without the solidarity of government and regulatory bodies.

Sam Edwards, Managing Director of Edwards Constructions may have grown up on the job sites of the south coast, but it is his complex, civil projects background – working on massive, city wide operations such as the construction of waterlines and the expansion of a water service concessionaire in the Philippines servicing seven million people throughout Manila – that has informed the Edwards Constructions we see today.

From his time with the French Vinci Construction Group working across Europe on marine works, dredging, pipeline laying, constructing offshore windmill farms to his incredible experiences in Africa, Mr Edwards has developed a capacity to fine tune complex construction systems under extraordinary conditions.

“At one stage they sent me to Nigeria where I was responsible for laying a foundation system for an on-shore Chevron gas to liquid plant. … If you can deliver a project of that scale on time, within budget, while government and civil society are generally imploding around you… then you deserve to draw some confidence from your decision making. There were 2500 employees on site in Nigeria, while the operation was producing 34,000 barrels of natural gas daily. There’d been a few kidnappings in our region, Chevron was the target of a hostile local militia and I couldn’t help thinking – there’s no reason the same systems can’t deliver the same results at home. Where we get shot at less.”

Mr Edwards, who returned to Australia with his young family (wife Rachel, kids Harriet, Sebastian and now baby Charlie) after a stint with Bluescope Steel in Vietnam, became Operations Manager in 2006 under veteran Director John Dubbelaar. With a combined expertise in project management, construction scheduling, resource planning, costing and project accounting, the former consulting engineer consolidated a strategy that has seen the company grow while retaining its lean and mobile philosophy.

As Managing Director, Mr Edwards is responsible for a light 50 odd employees and a crew of regular sub-contractors that now share a collectively unique experience in regional, all-tier government projects, multi-unit residential and public works such as schools, hospitals, courthouses as well as a deserved reputation as an expert in private hospitality and aged care.

“Today, the company works in a very diversified client mix ranging from private sector clients – club industry for which it has a strong reputation – while on the other side of the ledger we’ve accreditation across all-tier government, a long track record of delivering projects for government at local, regional and federal level… So our successes have been on the back of some very visionary decisions made by the directors in the late 80’s early 90’s.

“Naturally, Edwards shares the same values that made its name. Our core values are simple – the company is no show pony – it plies its trade with an unassuming diligence. Because we have streamlined our delivery systems and incorporated cutting edge, Best Practice across the operation this shouldn’t distract that Edwards is more similar to its past than one would think. Edwards has always gone to work with a no fuss, can do attitude.

“Looking ahead, we’ve moved into a diversified management structure and because of this system’s connectivity, each site has a large degree of autonomy. All Edwards’ Project Managers are highly trained and re-trained so we communicate extremely well. Today our Project Managers and Foremen are given an increasingly diverse set of rules which they can apply to their projects, encouraging total quality control and maximised efficacy across the entire scope of safety operations.

“Edwards Constructions are pioneers of a methodology termed “˜Lean Construction Principles,’ a delivery and quality control system which combines the 60 years of south coast construction experience between Directors Bruce Edwards and John Dubbelaar, with the intelligence and insight Sam Edwards gained on the multitude of large scale international projects he has overseen. The concept contains elements of manufacturing Best Practice and Edwards has partnered with Dr Marton Marosszeky from Evans Peck driving to the forefront of lean construction principles.

“Look. Construction itself is very simple. We undertake a brief and hand over the keys at the end of it. At face value Edwards adopts a very simple, straightforward approach. There need not be a lot of complexities brought to bear. But what Lean Construction essentially accomplishes is an efficiency and certainty in construction – which should be there anyway.

The following key elements form a cornerstone to how Edwards drives the efficiencies clients have come to expect.

Safety Metre Audits. “…where we undertake and measure behavioural auditing of our safety performance. This comprehensive model of tracking also allows the management team to monitor, in sync with the project managers that performance has been proven that the efficiency of operations on site is transparent, across all sites.

Time governance. “We run short term look-aheads in what is called the Last Planner Approach which provides project managers with the tools and skills with which to increasingly achieve stretch targets – which they own – and which the project itself sets. So milestones are achieved without compromising or imposing unrealistic goals or pressures.”

Cost to Complete. “We run stringent project accounting where our Project Managers consistently report via project interview the risks, obstacles and/or threats – possible or even unlikely – that present themselves through the dynamics of construction. This allows close tracking and forecasts that ensure we’re exactly where we should be and allow the construction manager to take steps if required.”

Defect Free Completion. “…to achieve DFC we utilise a continuous “hitlist” through the project. As well as minor items to be completed, it also identifies more serious Non Conformances. We document the NCR and distribute to all parties so that the project team can learn from our mistakes. The process of the hitlist is also about capacity building for our subbies – we try to work with the attitude that the following trade is the current trade’s client – not us, not the superintendant and not the principal client. This is another take on how construction projects are sequenced… Essentially, our tradesman can build upon substrates that have been completed with their following work as the guiding priority. It also allows us to clear out problems or incomplete work as we go, ensuring the timeline is preserved and the project team gets a defect free completion.”

The $22 million Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre, successfully handed over in 2008 is a taste of the kind of projects Edwards is now involved in. Technically and operationally challenging, the impressive community masthead aligns Edwards’ Best Practice networks with the company’s previous portfolio of public and private works within the hospitality industry.

Strategically, Edwards implemented an ambitious, highly intuitive mid-term plan focusing on raising employee skill levels, trimming down to core efficiencies and committing to a more flexible and responsive business plan which would include a faster project turnaround.

This began from an operations perspective with a full overhaul of the/its recruitment process. “…focusing heavily on performance based recruiting, we wanted to see, like our clients do, a track record before we put someone in position. Essentially we went for high potential employees with outstanding skill sets and who also possessed core qualities – of which there are many, but I want to say that leadership is by far the most important. We expect leadership from all Edwards’ employees from the apprentice through the entire organizational structure… We also looked internally at augmenting the already proven skill set within our team. Because in the end many of the skill sets we admired the most were on display at some of our more challenging projects. And in the end, Edwards will always be trade based company.”

Mr Edwards says the ability to implement complex outcome focused systems is only limited by the capacity of Project Managers to understand them. And so, with the right balance of experience and technical savvy, Edwards began expanding capacity and prudently developed a diversified client portfolio with a number of core private sector clients centred around their track record of community and entertainment venues and their reputation for successful projects.

“From a strategic point of view a robust and diversified client base means we were able to position ourselves to take advantage of the standard economic building cycles… of course, no-one was prepared for the size and power of the most recent… but regardless we are now able to work with efficiency, flexibility and confidence in a variety of areas that still have activity in those down times.

That essential flexibility and the concentrated harvesting of skills and specialisations has recently led Edwards into some exciting territory. The company personnel is now highly qualified with an impressive diversity of professional experiences with the skills of many managers, foremen, tradesmen and executives allowing Edwards to adapt, react and change direction mid-stride.

“The Master Builder’s Awards are the result of standing on the shoulders of giants. Here I’m speaking about my father, who had the passion and drive – and the vision – to create something enduring. The credit goes to our directors like John Dubbelaar, who have built this company on the values and traditions that we want to see as part of the community we all live and work in.

“The hospital in Bowral, the entertainment centre in Nowra, the National Park offices in Narooma and the Salvation Army Headquarters in Batemans Bay are all projects that we have been positioning ourselves to deliver over a quarter of a century. Its not like we brought in some young guys with degrees and MBAs and invented a new way of building. These projects, through the hard work of our subcontractors and suppliers are something we’re very proud of; although we don’t seek accolades, it does allow us to go back to our partners and show them that like us, others recognize their achievements.”

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

July 14, 2020, 2:23 PM AEST