Soft skills save 15%

August 19, 2015

The construction industry is becoming soft. And that's a good thing because this is helping to cut costs, significantly reduce error margins and improve construction-related production. And is there a mysterious formula for achieving this in a world of numbers and processes? No. It is actually an everyday thing for the concepts ‘Heijmans Huismerkwoningen’ and ‘Wenswonenhuizen’. Pim Ketelaars, residential concepts manager at Heijmans, discusses with Michiel Gersjes, director at Van Hees electronics, about how everyone can benefit by addressing soft factors.


The first thing Michiel does is test the doorbell. Some people may see it as a professional compulsion, but he says it is a very easy way to evaluate the work: “If the doorbell has been fitted, then I am able to test the electrical system.” And he also had a similar tip for lighting. “Do you know why we always place light bulbs when a house is handed over? They are useful to residents, but are also the easiest way to show that everything works. In the past, one of our engineers was called because it was said the electrics did not work. He then drove 250 kilometres to the project, saw that a complete light fitting had been mounted, but that a light bulb had not been inserted. Such things can be avoided by simply screwing in a few bulbs before handover.”


Michiel Gersjes (left), director at Van Hees electronics, in conversation with Pim Ketelaars, residential concepts manager at Heijmans.

“It's rather obvious”, adds Pim almost apologetically, “but the conceptual improvements we are implementing are rather straight forward.” After working in a team of co-makers for almost two years, rather than a team of old-fashioned suppliers, costs for Heijmans Huismerkwoningen and Wenswonenhuizen have been reduced by over 15%. And this is major progress in a sector where margins are very tight. Co-makers are given a great deal of responsibility in the whole process for Heijmans Huismerk and Heijmans Wenswonen. They are expected to make a clear contribution to improvements and, together with the people from Heijmans, are part of the product-based approach to home building.

Talk about one another

Product-based thinking requires something which is rare in the construction sector: the elimination of barriers between different disciplines. Michiel: “We have been building homes in the same way for a hundred years, and this approach is now engrained into people's thinking. The approach adopted by Heijmans and other co-makers for Huismerkwoningen, forces us to recognise that there is much more cohesion between the various disciplines than we initially thought. We should not only talk about other people's work, but must also dare to express our opinions about it.”

We should not only talk about other people's work, but must also dare to express our opinions about it

Pim: “The meetings we hold require everyone to have an open mind. We try to encourage this by continuously reiterating that working together will help us all to improve” Michiel: “During meetings, you notice that not everyone shares the same opinion, even though we often think this is the case. And actively addressing this issue helps us to work towards the same objectives and ensure everyone is on the same page.”

What can you expect from a friend?

Pim compares this to a relationship or friendship: “We ask quite a lot from one another and also discuss each other's figures. Would you also do that in a friendship? Can you simply expect a friend of yours to lend you 250 Euros? And such comparisons make our discussions a lot clearer.” Michiel adds: “You can only improve if you trust one another. And you can't do it alone. It requires you to step into the process with an open mind.” “We are convinced - although still need to remind ourselves from time to time - that Michiel knows more about electronics than us”, says Pim. “We thought otherwise for many years and, being the client, made all the decisions ourselves.”

Michiel: “It creates opportunities because we have been able to make the standard Huismerkhuis more appealing by adding home automation. And that increases the value of a new home.” Pim also sees such opportunities on a larger scale: “90% of a basic home is fixed - we know exactly how much time and money it will cost. So we can now start thinking about improvements and specific customer preferences.”


Another type of discussion

This approach will create another type of discussion in the construction supply chain, and Michiel and Pim want to emphasise this. Michiel: “I want Heijmans to realise a thousand houses like this every year. They are appealing homes at a very good price. In the end, people should be specifically demanding Heijmans homes - and I believe that will happen.” But this also demands something from clients, explains Pim: “Investors and housing associations should be more willing to relinquish control. It's not about determining where a power socket should be located or what kind of roofing material will be used. It's about resolving a housing issue for their tenants, and the Heijmans Huismerk can help them to do that. We can tell them about the house's longevity and what it will cost.”

Although he is not finished with conceptual construction at Woningbouw, Pim has already noticed more opportunities: “Why don't we also do something similar for artificial sports pitches? Or for noise barriers, where you are able to offer various types? The benefits could be huge.”