Left of zero: the benefits of early engagement

Terry Stocks
The Construction Playbook and the Transforming Infrastructure Performance (TIP) strategy have set ambitious targets for the sector, proposing a collaborative and standardised approach designed to deliver better value, and setting a digital mandate to transform processes and support better ways of working.

What is left of zero?

A left of zero approach considers what we can do to maximise the efficiency and impact of operations, not at the start of each project, or ‘stage zero’, but to the left of that: before any work begins. The value of allocating time and resources to set up the right environment, culture and outcomes before we start to look at processes should not be underestimated.

I’m convinced left of zero should be embedded into the way we approach projects across the board. It’s only by understanding the big issues from the start, that we can begin to capitalise on the benefits of standardisation and digitisation to achieve the best outcomes.

Why is a left of zero approach needed?

The Construction Playbook and the Transforming Infrastructure Performance (TIP) strategy have set ambitious targets for the sector, proposing a collaborative and standardised approach designed to deliver better value, and setting a digital mandate to transform processes and support better ways of working.

It’s clear that as a sector, it simply doesn’t make sense to continue approaching projects in a standalone, piecemeal way. In order to deliver on the Construction Playbook, as well as meet environmental and economic targets, we need to take a wholesale look at the bigger picture to create a healthy and sustainable delivery and engagement landscape – by taking a left of zero approach.

How can we implement a left of zero approach?

The key is to get everything in place ahead of time to facilitate a successful transition to collaborative, standardised and digitised working at the highest level. We need to consider people, processes and technology before project conception – from left of zero– if we are to successfully overcome challenges and enjoy all the associated benefits of new and better ways of working.

People

Getting staff and stakeholders on board requires an understanding of the importance of, and reasons for, any changes. Attempting to change hearts and minds, implement new processes or adopt innovative technology during a project, even at the start of the process – our usual point ‘zero’ – is never going to work.

The key is in confidence, education and training ahead of time – giving people the information they need to understand the benefits of a left of zero approach and giving them the tools they need to be instrumental in its implementation and success.

Processes

Left of zero provides a transformational strategic insight into organisational challenges and risks. By examining organisational processes, pipelines and structures in advance, we can optimise conditions to generate successful, streamlined and cost-effective projects that maximise environmental benefits and social value in line with government ambitions. For example, by identifying existing and potential supply chain issues, we can gather intelligence to map the supply chain process, predicting and mitigating against any gaps or shortages – something particularly salient in the wake of Brexit and Covid-19.

Technology

Adoption of new technology can be simply viewed as a better way of getting more accurate information. Projects are built on information, and information is power when it comes to getting things right first time and avoiding costly mistakes. There’s a general assumption that building information modelling (BIM) is part of delivery, but when we start to see it from left of zero, as part of information management, we can see how early implementation can help shape project requirements to inform better delivery.

Left of zero at Faithful+Gould

Charles Kettering once said, “A problem well stated is a problem half solved”, and it’s this philosophy that is at the heart of the Faithful+Gould left of zero approach. Our process always begins with in-depth and considered conversations that go right back to basics.

Getting to grips with issues at the start is never a bad thing. It facilitates meaningful collaboration at pivotal points in a project and supports delivery through the sharing of best practice. It promotes a clear specification process, driving project outputs through maximised efficiency and deliverability, capitalises on innovation opportunities and avoids time wasting. It can also uncover evidence to support business cases and generate new funding opportunities, providing much-needed financial sustainability in this uncertain climate.

Approaching project planning from left of zero provides the oversight needed to see the bigger picture; to identify opportunities and avoid risk. It creates clarity on how to meet specific project outputs or compliance targets, but crucially, facilitates a broader impact, with the potential to effect various outcomes that wouldn’t necessarily have been considered when planning a project in isolation.

A single project can deliver an output; but a left of zero approach has the power to deliver more weighty outcomes that are more generous in scope, providing added benefits that are purposefully connected with societal, governmental and environmental goals.

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