The Upstream Series is an essay series where Dean Reed engages with the leading practitioners within the AECO community. The goal of the upstream series is to improve how design and construction projects are delivered by asking the question "what should be done upstream to make design and construction better?". In this series, each person will share a few ideas that the industry should adopt and use to make projects faster, safer, and better value for the money.

It’s my pleasure to welcome you to the first essay in the “Upstream Series.” As it should be, I as the editor, am leading off. I’ve also invited others with long and deep experience with Lean Construction to contribute their thoughts on what should happen long before contractors and work crews come to the job site, and once there what to do to be more productive. Ideas that they want more people in the industry to be aware of. Our goal is to offer an array of ideas you can use to deliver greater value to your customers.

1. Change the Rules for Fragmentation to Integration

Today, almost every design and construction company can make a relatively small profit by focusing on their own work. The problem is that buildings always leak at the intersection of contracts because that’s where responsibilities stop, but don’t always start. That’s because the project team, such as it is, doesn’t take responsibility for the whole product it’s delivering. The asset developer/owner pays the price. And increasingly those customers are disappointed and looking for companies and people who can do better.

There is a better way, and that is to integrate our expertise and knowledge, work processes, organization, and information. The problem is that most of us don’t know where to start and how to do this. What a relatively small number of people who’ve worked on Integrated Project Delivery projects understand is that the key is to act like the business partners you become when your company signs a shared risk/reward IPD contract. It usually takes at least a few weeks before the project managers realize that they can’t just look out for their own interests, that they need to help the other managers succeed. Then they and everyone else starts learning how to manage the project and make sure that those leaks don’t happen because they’ve closed the gaps.

This isn’t as hard as it sounds because many eyes are better than just one set. And then the managers can talk to their experts and so the possibilities for problem-solving vastly increase. When they realize that their profit is based on how well the IPD team does, and not just their company, everyone starts to think about how everyone can work more efficiently. That’s when the Lean goal of eliminating waste makes sense and starts to happen. That’s when every IPD partner company makes more money than they thought possible by coming in under the Target Cost.

2. Solve Design and Construction Problems by Using BIM for Simulation and Visualization (BIM+)

Stop designing sequentially; first the architecture, then the site and structure, then mechanical and electrical, and so on moving ever so slowly from concept to detail with each discipline throwing their work over the proverbial wall to the next, and then back again. The design disciplines need to work together and remain engaged with users and facility operators. And bring in the contractors on day 1 to talk about how to build the different alternatives they are considering efficiently and safely.

Build twice, once in BIM to discover problems and test solutions by simulating them, then in real-life after those problems have been solved and detailed in BIM for fabrication and assembly. This work should be done collaboratively by all designers and builders with the assistance of their BIM specialists constantly coordinating their models. Integrate and review designs as they are developed as a team; do not wait until they are finished. That way everyone understands together and at the same time. Simulate use, operation, and fabrication and assembly like aerospace and automotive companies do to identify ways to make a better product.

3. Become Really, Really Good, and Lean

Delivering projects is continuous problem-solving, the earlier the better, which means we should do that before we buy the wrong materials and begin pre-fabricating a design without knowing acceptance criteria. And we should certainly find as many problems as we can before we set foot on the project site. That’s why building virtually in BIM with the superintendents and foremen is so important. And it’s not that hard to take a virtual building to those people who are likely working on another project. This is well worth the effort.

The real opportunity to improve safety, quality and productivity is with the people doing the work. This is why we need to realize that those “great” work plans we’ve made are worthless unless we give these people everything they need to do their best work safely to meet customer expectations, understood and agreed to by all parties well before work begins. This requires that field supervisors do two things. First make it safe for team members to raise questions and concerns to see problems early. Second, spend time with work crews to make sure they have the best methods, and equipment for this particular jobsite.

Next help the crews plan the steps each person will follow, which will become routines that are repeated again and again. Do this using First-Run Video Studies (FRVS). Tell everyone that you want their help in doing what almost every sports team, including those for kids, does. That is to film operations to look for opportunities to improve. Do that, and then look at the video with the crew for possible hazards, and the 8 wastes (Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Not utilizing talent, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Excess processing; DOWNTIME) and ask them how they could work even better. Make those changes and do another FRVS if necessary for that type of installation, and again when circumstances change. This, along with putting detailed BIM on tablets for crew leads, and a well-organized gang-box using 5S (Sort, Set-in-order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain) are essential for doing the work. Then make sure that team leaders and managers are giving the work crews the information and materials they need by becoming very good at using the Last Planner System to see constraints and remove them before they impact the work. This is how to change the productivity curve for all work crews.

4. Change Demand and Supply

How can any, much less all of this happen? Economics is already not allowing construction customers to accept the poor performance they previously did. Large data center owner/operators have begun developing their own supply chain networks in which they distribute work based on performance and capacity to designers and contractors. At least one large Healthcare provider is doing the same. Three of the largest oil and gas companies have invested in research and development of a new commercial platform to dramatically improve outcomes across the board, spawning “Operating System 2.0 (OS2) for Capital Projects” focused on creating “Neighborhoods” of companies willing to adopt IPD methods along with advanced risk modeling, the use of Smart Contracts, and Blockchain verification technology.

We are also seeing BIM consultancies become project coordinators by using simulation /visualization to create information platforms for coordinating design and construction to deliver exactly what customers can see they need to use their buildings/facilities most effectively. Essentially, we’re talking about creating ecosystems to deliver multiple projects in which companies and people who can use BIM+ to collaborate and coordinate work will reap dividends by investing in these capabilities together. Any organization can invite others they work with closely to pursue and execute projects much better by creating problem-solving cultures as business partners sharing risks and rewards. For example, the very first IPD projects in the USA were done by an entity named “Integrated Project Delivery” formed by a mechanical, electrical, and other trade contractors in Orlando, FL which selected the GC after winning projects.

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Dean is a long-time advocate, organizer and educator for Lean and Integrated Project Delivery at DPR Construction and throughout our industry. He is member #1 of the Lean Construction Institute and co-author of the book Integrating Project Delivery, along with Martin Fischer, Howard Ashcraft and Atul Khanzode.