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Key terms and guide overview

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This section of the guide:

  • Defines our key terms: quality, compliance, value and enlightened client
  • Sets out some of the differences between being a client and a customer
  • Provides a brief overview of our six P approach to client enlightenment and achieving better quality, high-value buildings

What do we mean by quality?

Quality is defined as those features and characteristics of a product or service that define how good or bad it is. But quality is notoriously difficult to pin down as it is essentially in the eye of the beholder. And in the case of construction, the beholder is mainly you, the client. In other words, quality is whatever you say it is within, of course, the confines of legality, regulation and social responsibility. This means that being a construction client presents you with huge opportunities to influence the quality of the design and construction of your buildings and the value they add for you, but also your role comes with considerable responsibilities.


What do we mean by compliance?

Compliance generally means abiding by a set of rules. For your project to be constructed legally and safely, it needs to comply with and be designed and built to specific industry standards, regulations, ethical conduct standards and good practice. The applicable standards will depend on your location (e.g. England or Wales), the type of building (e.g. schools  and hospitals have different standards) and the individual design (e.g. is it a Building Safety Act in-scope residential building over 18m tall or a low rise office building where people work?). Where aspects of the required quality can be subjective, compliance can be more straightforward. You may need third party inspection of your project to check compliance, for example by a Building Control body, specialist fire safety experts and structural engineers.

Quality and Compliance are complimentary. Compliance could be regarded as a minimum quality standard, for example the building regulations aim to ensure the safety of people in and around buildings, perhaps the most basic requirement, but requires a good practice and standards of quality in design and construction to achieve.


What do we mean by value?

Value is the regard that a product or service is considered to deserve and against which quality can be measured. If you commission a new building and it satisfies what you need and value then it achieves the required quality. That is why so important that as a construction client you make well-informed, quality and value-based decisions about what you need from a proposed building project and that you communicate your requirements to the other project participants or stakeholders.


Why are you called a client in construction and not a customer?

A client is defined as the individual or organisation commissioning a project – in this case a new building – and overseeing, either directly or indirectly its design, construction, commissioning, use or sale, and in some cases its ultimate decommissioning, reuse or recycling. In other words, as a client you are involved to varying degrees throughout the whole development process from the earliest stages – where you as a client ‘feel a building coming on’ – right through to commissioning. And if the building is not sold at this point, into its use and eventual decommissioning at the end of its useful life.

As a housing association, we are conscious that we are normally responsible for our homes throughout their life cycle of at least 75 years. This shapes how we design, construct, maintain and eventually recycle our building stock.”

There are other reasons why as a purchaser of buildings you are seen as a client rather than a customer. These include the specific features of buildings that set them apart from many other products, such as their complexity and comparatively long economic life.

See the Detailed Notes on the Knowledge Hub page providing further insights into what it means to be a client


What do we mean by being an enlightened client and how different clients view the value of their buildings?

Your journey to enlightenment as a construction client starts with you recognising that as a purchaser of construction products and services you are not just a passive customer but engaged in the process as a client.

Another fundamental part of being an enlightened client is knowing what you need from a new building and that you are able to choose the most appropriate up-to-date way to go about satisfying that need. It’s being clear on the purpose of the proposed building. How will it support your strategic vision, your values and help deliver your objectives? You also need to satisfy yourself that sufficient and appropriate resources are available to properly develop and deliver your project safely and to the required quality.

For further insights into what it means to be a construction client see the Detailed Notes on the Knowledge Hub page


As the commissioning client you will need to demonstrate a clear mandate, or authorisation, for the project and the quality you are seeking. The project mandate is the authority given by you as the client to the project team to develop and progress the project to the level of quality required and within given and agreed boundaries set by you. This needs to be based on a sound business case comprising a thorough analysis of your business, your present facilities and anticipated future building needs.

See the Detailed Notes on the Knowledge Hub page containing more guidance on the importance of the project mandate, and in this case your mandate for achieving a high-quality, high-value building

If you are an experienced and enlightened client you may have the necessary expertise within your own organisation, often called the Internal Team, to establish the mandate for your project. If you are less experienced and on the journey to full enlightenment you will need external help, often by appointing a Client Advisor.


Why is this journey to enlightenment necessary?

Put simply and directly, enlightened clients get much better quality and value from their construction projects.

“We have found that as we have become more enlightened as a construction client so our project outcomes have improved. We are now so much better at understanding what we really need from our projects and much more adept at communicating to our advisers and construction partners what we want. But we are still very on a journey of improvement as a client, and of course, the challenges we face keep changing.”


But how to become more enlightened?

The six Ps we set out in this guide empowers you as the client to work with your end users, funders, stakeholders, advisers, design and cost consultants and contractors to make well-informed, value-based decisions that will drive better quality project outcomes that add value specifically for you as the client and other project participants.

But first, let’s look at some overarching principles of client enlightenment. Enlightened construction clients appreciate that:

• Identifying and effectively communicating their desired outcomes to the suppliers of their construction products and services and keeping those outcomes central to the whole development process is fundamental to achieving the quality of the completed building

• Modern buildings are complex and their design, construction and commissioning is an intricate, long and complicated process and that they need to play – directly or indirectly – an important role in steering a project through several successive phases, sometimes overlapped but always linked, so that the quality and value objectives of their projects are protected and indeed enhanced at every opportunity

• The need to go beyond pure price-based to value-based solutions

• Having multi-party collaborative relationships with advisers, consultants and contractors based on openness and honesty will increase competence trust, add value and reduce risk for all the project participants

• Where possible, developing longer-term, mutually beneficial relationships with project partners generates greater shared understanding and learning leading to continuous improvement and increased mutual competitive advantage

• They are in a position to hugely stimulate innovation and achieve better, faster, safer and greener project outcomes


The graphic below sets out our six Ps of integrated activities and interventions that you, as a client, can make during the design and construction process to maximise the quality of your buildings and drive better and higher value outcomes from your investment.

Three were more strategic and three more focussed on delivery:

Quality-based strategies:
People and Leadership, Purpose and Procurement

Quality in delivery:
Product Design, Process Execution and Performance Evaluation.


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