We should bring the soft landings idea back to Earth with a bump

Soft landingsSoft landings, hit the ground running, smooth handover, transition phase: whatever words you choose to describe the process the principle is the same. Managers and occupiers of a building – any building, want it to function properly. But why is this apparently so hard for anybody to achieve? Soft landings feels more like tainted love right now. So, think back a few steps and imagine you’re buying a brand new, shiny new-build house. It doesn’t come with an instruction manual, but it is a house – what’s not to know about it. But even new homes have issues. Maybe cracking in plaster, gaps around architraves, doors not closing smoothly and heating systems that is noisy and untested. In the trade it’s called snagging. You call the builder up, you make a list he comes round your new house and checks the list and then argues about the repairs.

But what if you knew the builder better; what if one of his team was living within the spare room (if you’ve got one obviously) and explaining about the new intelligent systems in the house, the central heating and actually sorting out the plaster and architrave right there and then. That would be a soft landing.

That is also what I heard explained to me back in 2006 when I first learned about soft landings. The BSRIA concept sounded brilliant – simple, common sense and a gem of an idea that might bring FM and construction closer together. The meeting I attended was a Constructing Excellence and Design Build Foundation workshop. They openly discussed the banality of construction teams not just avoiding discussions with FMs, but refusing to talk to them at all. Don Ward described how construction teams ‘virtually’ threw a project at the FM team and then ran off. I’d also witnessed this myself when the FM business at Alfred McAlpine chased their construction colleagues for fees to put right work at a PFI project.

Instead Don Ward outlined a scheme where the construction team remained on site for up to six weeks – being readily and happily available to deal with all enquiries and ‘snagging’. This was a soft landing with pillows carried by the construction team.

The clue here is a conversation. It is called collaborative working. All of this strikes me as common sense. Yes, now the soft landings concept has gained momentum and the Cabinet Office think its outstanding and putting everyone under pressure to adopt it by 2016 (which is a tough deal), but it should already be working. Yes the technology is there, yes there are costs to be sorted out – but the principle is not rocket science.
It requires partnership. It demands collaborative procurement principles being applied from the ‘moment you feel a building coming on.’

The recent FM World round table on the subject covered a lot of good ground, raised great points but the discussion about soft landings is not a CAPEX issue. It is not a technology issue. It’s a cultural issue that can be solved by a common sense open dialogue between all stakeholders in the built environment hierarchy.

So Kath Fontana is bang on when she says: “our institutes need to step up.” Too bloody right. They all need locking in a room to discuss whole life costs, collaborative working and delivering value and every other Latham, Egan and Wolstenholme maxim until they 100% have understood the idea to work as a team. A single built environment team focussed on creating great buildings and facilities for the UK. You’ll still make money – but you might be happier, prouder and we will all be living and working in a built environment that is more effective and aesthetically pleasing.

It might be a naive point of view (or idealistic like the BSRIA soft landings framework) but it feels like common sense to me.


andrew-brownAndrew Brown is a writer and consultant with communications consultancy Frank and Brown. He previously led the in-house team at Alfred McAlpine and is a former editor of FMX magazine. www.frankandbrown.com/