« Blog

Working Smarter – Fostering Collaboration in Construction

By Frank Maury, PE

The construction industry is changing from a traditionally fragmented process to a collaborative and innovative approach. It’s easy to identify when you’ve been exposed to both approaches – traditional design-bid-build projects set clear stop and go boundaries while newer contract structures such as design-build or integrated project delivery push those boundaries aside for long-term benefits. Contractors, architects, engineers, and owners are seeing more opportunities to be creative and stretch outside their comfort zone to discover newer building methods, construction processes, and contract structures for the mutual benefit of more cost effective and efficient products.

New processes, such as prefabricated building components and modern management software, have reduced the amount of waste generated within the project. Waste can mean many things, from construction debris to project staffing to an overly conservative design. These are normal hurdles and challenges for every project team but having a team approach starting at the preconstruction phase fuels opportunity for early and smart decision making. Having, for example, a superintendent’s input or estimator presence involved in the design phase gives contractors a greater ownership of a design where traditionally it’s just handed to them. To buy into this approach, teams must understand upfront costs will be higher with the goal to mitigate costs caused by changes later. I’ve been on past projects where early onboarding of mechanical, electrical, and framing contractors was done successfully because people were willing to explore new ways to enhance the building experience and provide better outcomes in design, safety, quality, and production, which all drive financial security.

Contractors have insight into constructability issues, which may go unseen until it’s too late, and are willing to share experiences (good and bad) with designers and owners when given the opportunity. By designing with the contractor, waste creating processes can be mitigated and systems designed more efficiently. Simpler design, building information modeling, integrated management software, and prefabricated components are all examples of collaboration that create efficient construction and eventual day-to-day owner operation. Delays, rework, and over-ordering of materials are all examples of waste, and if removed or mitigated can generate opportunity for lower construction costs in an age of unprecedented surging material costs. In addition to reducing the many forms of waste, innovative and creative approaches serve as a great example of team building that stretches beyond the project and creates stronger long-term relationships for future and repeat work.

Not all projects are created equal, though. Larger and complex projects with many components and stakeholders may see more benefit from a formal integrated approach. A project with targeted deadlines, go-live dates years in advance, and numerous moving parts will benefit more from this type of collaboration while smaller and quicker commercial projects won’t have as many stakeholders requiring buy-in or decision making. Government agencies may not see as much value added due to stricter or unbending policies and specifications.

Collaboration described above is commonly seen in design-build and integrated project delivery contract types, incentivizing all groups to find the most innovative solutions to drive cost down while still meeting other project deliverables. This does not mean an integrated team is limited to just those project delivery methods. The project delivery method will influence, but not dictate. The project team can sometimes be their own worst enemy, falling into stereotypical roles because of past experiences or fear of change. Creative construction has opportunity to play an integral role in every project and can create positive and long-lasting relationships that drive results and promote a positive community culture.

All of this only grazes the surface of collaborative approaches, and teams have much to dive into and explore with each unique project that comes their way. Contractors must be willing to get into the dirty design details, and designers must be willing to put their contractor hats on to understand how logistics and phasing can influence design. The value added of an integrated team is not measured by the contract but by the teams and people willing to pioneer and innovate.

Frank is a hands-on project manager with a meticulous management style and focus on communication and teamwork. He works with project stakeholders and trades to ensure the desired end-product is delivered to his clients. A licensed civil engineer, Frank thinks like an engineer and speaks their language. He applies this knowledge to every project relative to technical discussions and references with the design team. Frank enjoys working with a range of team members, each bringing a different background, ideology, and lessons learned to the project. He believes the most successful projects are those that can bring those diverse backgrounds together for the common goal. Frank can be reached at [email protected]