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Client advice and the role of the advisor

With the recent publication of two new client-focused guides, this month Martyn Jones reaffirms how important it is – particularly in these challenging times – that our clients have sound advice provided by independent, knowledgeable, and trustworthy advisors.

Back in the 1990s both Latham and Egan recognised the hugely significant role clients play in construction projects – and not just as funders, but in shaping project outcomes, determining the system in which the project team will operate, the project culture, its governance, processes, degree of creativeness and innovativeness etc.

But there is a snag.  Not all clients are frequent procurers of buildings with the expertise of clientship developed through a large pipeline of work. Or have experienced and knowledgeable in-house development departments. Or have long-term, trusting, and open relationships with any consultants, contractors, or manufacturers in their supply chains. To use the language in CESW’s publication, many clients are only in the foothills of their journey to enlightened clientship.

The idea of client advisor is not new. The rationale for client advisors was set out by Egan at the beginning of construction’s transition to the 5th techno-economic paradigm in the report, ‘Accelerating Change’ published in 2002. He said, “… many clients will need help setting bench marks and assembling a competent integrated team [as in the 5th paradigm] to do their construction and for this I am sure independent advice will be required.”

He went on, clients should have access to independent [my emphasis] advice to help them assess and articulate their business needs if they are to achieve successful project outcomes and business solutions.  This advice should meet “…the principles of Rethinking Construction, with confidence that it is given without vested interest in the solution proposed.”

Clearly Egan recognised back then that without help most clients would not be equipped to benefit from the emerging 5th paradigm that has gone on to dominate much of construction’s language, although to a much lesser extent in actual practice. This means much of construction has failed to fully embrace the paradigm Egan promoted, with its emphasis on collaborative, win-win relationships, integrated processes, and networks of often small suppliers increasingly linked through advances in communication technologies.

But how much of this is disappointing progress down to the advice clients receive?  Some clients maintain that they would procure in a more enlightened way but are dissuaded from doing so by their advisors.  On the other hand, advisors argue that it is their clients who are wedded to traditional approaches.

Even though it is now half a century since Egan unleashed his model for industry reform, some of our experienced and enlightened clients have expressed their reservations regarding the advice they receive from their advisors in embracing his principles, never mind moving to those of the emerging 6th paradigm.  They tell us that advice does not always resonate with the Rethinking Construction/Constructing Excellence principles of procuring on best value outcomes achieved through integrated and collaborative teams.

All these years on and we are now moving into a new and challenging 6th paradigm, which appears will be driven by:

  • a new building safety regime,
  • the obvious need for better quality and total compliance (refer to the Grenfell inquiry),
  • reducing the effect of the built environment on the climate crisis,
  • exploiting advances in new technologies, and
  • embracing social and political changes for greater fairness and equity.

This will require a further rethinking and repurposing of construction. This means we need to rethink the advice that clients are receiving and the role of the client advisor, as clients meet the challenges and exploit the opportunities that are opening up ahead of us.

This is where CESW’s latest publication, the ‘Client Advisor Guide’, can play a role. With this guide taking its place alongside our previous publications – ‘Outcome led procurement’ and the ‘Enlightened client’s journey to project quality and compliance’ – clients and their advisors have a cluster of publications they can work with together to help shape their responses to the new paradigm.

In particular, the new ‘Client Advisor Guide’ provides some answers to the following key questions: What is it? What role does the advisor play? Who should provide it? What skills and behaviours are needed? Where and when should the advice be provided in the process?

And there is more. Beyond CESW we now have the ‘Value Toolkit’ to help redefine value and how to measure it and “…enable value-based decision making focused on driving better social, environmental and economic outcomes, improving industry’s impact on current and future generations”.

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