MMC: A New Industry Norm

IN THE early 1750s Jonas Hanway returned from a trip to France and began carrying an umbrella around the rainy streets of London. People were outraged; some bystanders jeered whilst others simply stared in shock at this flagrant example of social sin.

Perception of the day was that umbrellas were a feminine contrivance, too French, and deserving of ridicule for any man caught using one.  Hanway represented a disruptor to both social norms and the economics of the day.

At that particular time in England, horse-drawn hackney carriages were the primary mode of transportation. Offering a sheltered commute, business boomed for the cabs on rainy days as passengers sought cover. Hanway’s umbrella represented a threat to their business – a threat that they countered by routinely pelting Hanway with rubbish.

Whilst this example may appear as an outlier, many of the dominant technologies that we take for granted today have weathered moments of social tension. Concepts, that with hindsight appear obvious due to their inherent benefits, have often been greeted with fear or stuttered to realise traction because of:

  • what they are displacing

  • the strength of pre-existing habits that will need to change and

  • the emotive perception of risk associated with the new solution

Innovation is rarely as smooth nor as immediate in its transformative effects as we may perceive it to be– it is often gradual and intertwined with context. Whilst social conventions are typically a footnote to discussion around innovation technology, the economy, and social institutions are integrated systems that co-evolve. This has never been so vividly demonstrated than through the events of 2020 – the Covid-19 pandemic necessitating changes social protocols that rapidly accelerated adoption of  adoption of digital technology. (such as Zoom and Teams) that have existed for some time.

For the construction industry, the context has most definitely shifted and in turn so too has the social status of applying Modern Methods of Construction (MMC).

The public sector’s ‘presumption in favour of offsite’ has been accelerated by the shift in the social-economic landscape caused by the pandemic, and the UK Government’s resultant drive to ‘build back better, build back greener, build back faster’. The Construction Playbook, released at the end of last year, formalises an ambition to fundamentally transform the way in which we build to deliver these outcomes, through the application of MMC..

Within their ‘Roadmap to Recovery’, the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) have assumed this context to champion a transformational adoption of digital and manufacturing technologies, encouraging an increase in the number of projects making use of MMC and raising the proportion of pre-manufactured value (PMV) within these projects. This message has rippled through the private sector which, faced by uncertainties in pipelines and challenged to re-evaluate development appraisal values, has continued its gravitation towards MMC in exploring the innovative opportunities it offers.

In responding to macro-economics and changing client drivers, momentum within the contracting fraternity has started to evolve with both new entrants and established players embracing change.

Most main contractors, with a focus towards preserving market share across portfolios in both public and private sectors, have begun a journey of self-reflection around how they may apply MMC to meet their customer’s demands and equally transform their own businesses.

Whilst Laing O’Rourke’s investment in a manufacturing factory is both long-standing and well-publicised, they are no longer alone in defining a vision that embraces MMC – the majority of the top 20 contractors are now adopting a proactive approach to manufactured solutions.

For example:

  • Just over a year ago, Mace launched an offsite technology division called Mace Tech.

  • Wates are advocating the application of a ‘kit of parts’ approach.

  • ISG and Willmott Dixon promote the adoption of standard component design as part of their value propositions.

  • Balfour Beatty have committed to reducing onsite activity by 25% by 2025.

MMC is becoming a recognised industry norm.

It took almost 30 years after Jonas Hanway’s first outing before men in society  became less self-conscious about owning an umbrella. As the Modernise or Die report highlighted (itself approaching its 5 year birthday), our industry can ill afford to wait so long.

At Akerlof, as leaders in MMC, we want to build on the current momentum – to accelerate the creation of industry norms that realise better outcomes for society, consistently. Adapting the words of Mark Earls, author of Herd….

We’re learning from anthropology and focusing on the space between people, not exclusively the space between their ears.

We value the importance of education whilst understanding how the powerful forces of social norms, and inferred behaviours of others, influences us all.Therefore we are proud to promote good work across the industry and to raise the profile of collaborative initiatives that provide visibility of the scale and adoption of MMC, such as:

Familiarity drives commitment – so to help nudge others to follow suit we’re raising our MMC umbrella.

* For anyone who is less sure of this, please read the particularly graphic story of Kitty Genovese or the experiments of Latene and Darley around bystander intervention.

Jamie Hillier


With a penchant for tweed and jackets with leather arm patches, Jamie began his career as a quantity surveyor, before climbing the ladder to lead major projects for a Tier 1 contractor.

Eventually expanding his book collection beyond copies of SMM7, Jamie has interest in a broad range of subjects linked to delivering better outcomes for society and the environment.

His strategic insights on MMC and behavioural science have made their way into numerous government, industry and academic publications, including the Construction Playbook, Transforming Infrastructure Performance Roadmap to 2030, the Platform Rulebook and the RIBA DfMA Overlay.

John Handscomb


Construction is in John’s blood. Learning from his father who was a planner and project manager, John began his career by working on some iconic projects in both the public and private sector.

As a procurement expert and integrator of new ways of working, John has pioneered the integration of platform principles, DfMA processes and supply chain within over £5bn projects in the last 15 years, for some of the largest building programmes in the UK. Despite his considerable expertise, John keeps it simple, communicating complicated ideas with ease and helping to equip the industry with new knowledge and skills.

Outside of Akerlof, John enjoys his executive role with technology start-up ScanTech Digital, spending time with his family, taking trips down the football, playing a bit of golf with friends and the odd pint. 

Our name is shared with George Akerlof, a Nobel Prize-winning economist.

His seminal paper, Market for Lemons, demonstrated the devastating consequences of making decisions under the conditions of quality uncertainty and unequal information between buyers and sellers, increasing the chance of buyers ending up with a ‘lemon’.

This 50-year-old concept continues to retain parallels within the construction industry.

Through our insight and experience, we can rebalance this information asymmetry on behalf of our clients, levelling the playing field to deliver better outcomes.