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The new Key Performance Indicator (KPI) figures for 2005 have just landed on my desk, providing a means of recording and assessing performance during the past 12 months and setting guidance for the forthcoming 12.

There are a variety of KPIs: from the Construction Products Industry KPIs (available since 2002), used predominantly by suppliers and manufacturers, to the Constructing Excellence KPIs, aimed at contractors and architects. Admittedly, there is a concentration on 'product' rather than 'process', which, to my mind, reduces the benefits architects can get from the data. But with the 'All Construction' wall chart, there is sufficient information to benefit most practices.

Constructing Excellence gets its data from questionnaires of some 1,000 construction practices. Quite how many architects it has interviewed is unknown - or at least it does not tell - and, admittedly, 1,000 'various construction professionals' means that assumptions premised on such a wide range of experiences, ages, locations and scheme types are statistically dubious but still, the KPI format is a useful reminder of where we are lacking.

The questionnaire results have been compiled by Constructing Excellence into a graphic representation of the general performance across the industry. A graph on 'safety', for example, indicates the number of accidents per 100,000 employees across the businesses. This one is not a good example, since in the AJ100 (AJ 12.05.05), Capita Percy Thomas is listed as the biggest practice with 'only' 3,100 staff.

However, big construction firms and large client groups will find it useful to monitor records over the year.

To see how you and your company sit in relation to everyone else, you need to carry out questionnaires of your own.

For client satisfaction, for example, responses need to be gauged on a scale of 1 to 10: from totally dissatisfied to totally satisfied.

Then simply draw a horizontal line from the y-axis (quantifying the client's rating) until it intersects the CE benchmark graph line.

Read vertically from this point to the x-axis to obtain the score.

Constructing Excellence says that if you score, say, 80 per cent in terms of client satisfaction, then it means that 20 per cent of the industry is doing better than you and 80 per cent less well.

Drawing these percentage results onto a radar chart, you can build up a representation of your performance over the year, which indicates, quite clearly, which areas you have to improve on.

The Constructing Excellence KPIs have been around for a while, but they have just been redesigned to lure in the smaller players in the construction market. A new online 'Dashboard' format means that the graph read-offs are unnecessary, as the programme does it for you.

Mind you, I wonder whether making it too easy will defeat the point. For us, the whole process is simply a useful kick up the backside to make sure that we don't rest on our laurels.

Olivia Johnstone-Wiley is an architectural consultant living in France

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