Innovation in New Zealand Building Processes

Learn why there is a need for councils to move beyond 'best practice' and instead use innovation to meet customers' expectations

John Sneyd, the General Manager, Building Systems Performance at Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has spoken recently about desire to drive innovation into the building systems of New Zealand.

It’s a principle that’s also written into the Building Act itself. Section 4 (2)(g) requires that a person take into account the importance of allowing for continuing innovation in methods of building design and construction.

When we ask someone why they carry out a function in a particular way and they reply, “its best practice” or “this is way we have always done it,” we are often dealing with conventional wisdom.

People generally undertake functions in a particular way because they believe it is “safe” behaviour and by so doing they are mitigating risk. They cease treating the way in which they carry out a function as a “choice” and treat it as the “rule.”

Best practice generally means that we’re doing the same thing the same way as everyone else. Best practices may be smart at time of implementation, but with time they can become ineffective. Our challenge is to move from a world where best practice is the “rule,” to one where best practice can be a fluid state, that changes and adapts with the world around us.

Best practice generally means that we’re doing the same thing the same way as everyone else. Best practices may be smart at time of implementation, but with time they can become ineffective. Our challenge is to move from a world where best practice is the “rule,” to one where best practice can be a fluid state, that changes and adapts with the world around us.

Keith Smith

Industry Principal at Objective

Creating Innovative Thinking

Most organisations have organisational charts that align with roles and responsibilities. People associate having a role with job security. Having a role provides a sense of permanence. People in roles generally benefit in some form, so there is a natural inclination for role protection.

Innovation often drives change. Which involves risk. When considering change it is natural to ask, “if this innovation fails, will my role still be safe?” A better question to ask is “what is a reasonable range of outcomes for implementing this initiative?”

If organisations want to encourage innovation, a paradigm shift may be required. The concept of permanence or ‘the same job for life’ should be challenged. Rather than continue doing something because it is safe or conventional, a new focus is required, delivering solutions that best serve our end customers!

Organisations need to encourage creativity. Conventional wisdom or beliefs can stifle this. We go about our everyday activities without deeply thinking about why we do it. Each time we encounter best practice or conventions, we should think critically about their existence. Asking ourselves “why” we do this this way and trying to determine where and when this practice originated. We should not be afraid to ask, “what would be the impact if we changed how we do this”?

Innovators create change, they push boundaries, they have vision, often seeing opportunities that others do not. They have a passion to drive change. Most importantly, successful innovators act. They socialise their thinking with influencers within their organisations and encourage them to seize an advantage from competitors that remain in denial about the need to change. In short, they make it happen!

Why aren’t more of us innovators? Our brains are wired to recognise patterns. Recognising patterns enables us to do things intuitively without expending valuable energy on thinking. When we do things repetitively, we rarely question why we do it. People who repetitively carry out institutional practices accept the patterns they have learned. Sometimes, we stop questioning why we are doing things one way, and risk slipping into the status quo. The more fixed our patterns become, the more difficult it is for us to mentally move beyond them — to look at something conventional and reimagine it in unconventional ways. To open our eyes to innovation, we need to move past these patterns and ask ourselves constantly "how can we improve this?"

Innovation in Practice

Like most councils, Selwyn District Council is currently experiencing unprecedented growth. They are receiving more consents each month than they have at any time in the past including the period of the earthquake rebuild. Last month they processed more building consents, issued more CCCs and undertook more inspections than in any time in the past. This is no mean feat considering they achieved this with reduced staff levels. However, despite best efforts, Selwyn is struggling to meet building consent statutory timeframes.

With the advent of private contractors and other roles, they, like other councils, have lost key staff to the attraction of higher salaries. And like other BCAs, in an environment of unprecedented building activity and a national lack of skilled labour, they are struggling to recruit experienced people.

Plato said, “our need will be the real creator”. This was later translated “necessity will be the mother of invention”. Need encourages innovation.

Selwyn’s BCA team have recognised that in the current environment, ‘best practice’ is not enabling them to meet customer expectations. They have applied the “why” to their current consenting practice and reimagined a different approach.

The team has identified that:

  • Using current practice, they have insufficient resource to meet current workloads.
  • Currently most building consent applications are for R2 ‘cookie cutter’ type projects that include restricted building work that is designed by MBIE certified LBPs.
  • Restricted building work design is accompanied by the LBP certificate of work.
  • Most applications have been lodged by reliable group building companies who employ LBPs to supervise and undertake the building work.
  • Building work is inspected by IANZ accredited competent BCA staff.
  • On building work completion, the LBPs provide the TA with their Records of Work.

The team have asked themselves:

  • “If checking is reduced during processing, will this provide them with sufficient resource to meet workloads”?
  • “What will be the impact of less checking and placing greater reliance on the LBP Design Certificates, LBP’s construction skills, BCA inspection regime and the LBP Record of Work at completion of the work”?
  • “If checking is reduced, can the BCA be satisfied on reasonable grounds to issue the building consent and code compliance certificate?

They have decided to innovate and initiate a trial. They will work with selected Group Builders that have in-service history of providing complying applications. They will assign an experienced processor to review their application giving attention to higher risk matters and then issue building consent. Another processor will audit a percentage of the issued consents to check compliance. If compliance has not been satisfied the process will be reviewed.

Adopting this approach should speed up consent issue, reduce application backlogs and most importantly, provide a solution that best serves their customer. They will monitor outcomes, and if this is effective, they will scale up. This process, in time may become their new “best practice” and conceivably become adopted nationally.

Remember, tradition can be the enemy of innovation. Following legislative requirements is mandatory. How we do it is not.

Let’s get in behind John and commit to continually reviewing “best practice, guidance, and interpretations”. If the way in which we currently do things is ineffective, then let’s begin to innovate.