BIM+Lean+Integration = Industry Revolution

This post was published in the April edition of MARKETER.

There has been a lot of industry press over the last few years about Building Information Modeling (BIM) and most recently Integrated Project Delivery (IPD).  Other trends such as sustainable design and most recently Lean Construction also seem to be picking up quite a lot of coverage. Our industry is notoriously slow to adopt change.  However, for those forward thinking firms ready, willing and able to adapt and change, these converging trends offer enormous value and possibly could lead to a revolution in our industry.

Many in the industry have spoken about the sequential nature of the design, bid, build process where the architect develops a concept at the conceptual phase of the project, and provides the owner with a guess at the design (after all they typically have not even been hired at this point), a guess at the cost (usually based on a simple $/SF or merely the cost of their last project), and a guess at schedule (typically with no general contractor involvement).  Based on these guesses, the owner/developer will establish their financing and pull the trigger on moving forward.  Not until months down the line will a general contractor provide pricing, based on subcontractor input, which in my experience is 9 times out of 10 dramatically different to the guesses at the beginning of the project and results in value engineering.  It has always amazed me that we use this term, since in this traditional approach, there is no value provided and no engineering processes followed, but rather value engineering becomes an exercise of cost reduction, and in reality results in taking out all the valuable elements, such energy efficient glass and HVAC systems, in order to reduce cost. Overall, many believe that this methodology provides the least value and the most costs.  Yet it is still the most dominant delivery model.

At the heart of the traditional design-bid-build process are contractual barriers that prevent cross disciplinary transfer of knowledge.  When a change is made to the design, the affect of the change to the entire project is unknown, until downstream when it’s too late, and costs the owner the most amount of money.  It’s hard to attend an industry conference without seeing the now infamous MacLeamy curve.  MacLeamy’s graph points out the obvious: change is easiest with the least amount of cost at the front end of a project, and most difficult and costly down stream.  So how does the A/E/C industry pull cross disciplinary knowledge to the front of the process? Many believe the answer is a contractual methodology that not only facilitates integration, but requires it.

At the heart of integration is a simple notion: if two practitioners or groups collaborate they are able to achieve more than they can individually.  When applied to A/E/C this makes so much sense, since our facilities and capital projects are complex and no one knows everything about the entire project, not even the designer.  The domino affect of making a decision is so complex that the only way to know the entire affect is to collaborate.  After all, simply changing the width of a bay, for instance, does not merely affect the structure, it may impact the width of the glass applied to the bay, which may in turn affect the energy load of the building, which may in turn affect the HVAC and electrical infrastructure in the building, which in turn may affect the size of the mechanical and electrical rooms, etc.  There is a domino affect associated with change, and in order to provide owners with the highest quality, lowest cost, and shortest schedule, these domino affects need to be understood and studied. Integration of knowledge and work practices provides the vehicle to achieve this.

IPD is a contractual delivery model that has been piquing the interest of many in the AEC Industry.  The basic premise behind IPD is to remove the artificial barriers our industry has put in place over the years intended to reduce practitioner risk, but ultimately have reduced the quality of our deliverables, stifled innovation and increased both cost and schedules.  Both the AGC and AIA have there own forms of IPD contracts that behave differently, but both have the same net affect; namely to remove the barriers between the disciplines, that promotes and fosters collaboration, shares the risk and rewards associated with innovation, and ultimately provides a contractual framework for delivering better, faster, and less costly capital projects.

Many general contractors have been applying Lean Construction techniques and approaches for a number of years. The premise behind Lean is to improve the project delivery process by applying standardized processes to non-standardized problems.  Most people seem to think of Lean as reduction of job site waste, which is important but only one facet of the entire Lean Construction methodology.  When applied more broadly to the entire design and construction process, Lean principles provide a framework for reengineering our traditionally inefficient processes.  In this broader context, Lean principles apply a project based production management approach in the entire design, engineering, and construction practices of capital facilities. Lean becomes the framework around which an integrated team can work towards a cost affective and sustainable project.

DPR Construction published an article where they applied the Lean methodology of target value design.  In this very interesting article DPR combined IPD, BIM and LEAN methodologies.  Due to a high degree of integration and collaboration, enabled via BIM enabled estimating, they were able to establish realistic budget targets that were continually checked against as the design matured.  In such a delivery model they were able to get buy in from all team members early in the projects life to establish realistic targets, and then, through benchmarking, were able to continuously check the design against these benchmarks.

On a recent project I was involved in the design firm followed a similar methodology to DPR, but went much further. They developed a matrix of criteria that were of importance to the owner.  Owner values included cost, disruption to the site (the site was several hundred acres with over 18,000 native trees), walking distance from one side of the master plan to the other, natural light levels across the entire occupied master plan, visibility of a central design element across the entire master plan, etc. The design firm then worked with the owner to weight these evaluation criteria so that they clearly captured the owner’s goals. The design firm then surrounded themselves with cross disciplinary consultants who collaborated with the design firm to study four master plans consisting of several buildings.  For each building they studied, they reviewed seven building schemes, each with varying numbers of bays, floors, structural systems, HVAC systems, etc.  Each scheme along with various options were then measured and evaluated against the weighted owner criteria.

It is in the early days in terms of projects that combine all of these converging trends.  However, it is my belief that we will start to see more and more projects that prove a new age is upon us in the A/E/C industry.  IPD, Lean methodology, and BIM have each independently started to have a major impact on our industry, but the real revolution will occur when companies adopt a contractual relationship, like IPD, that fosters and promotes integration across disciplines, applies target based principles from Lean to establish realistic sustainable, cost, and schedule targets, and then use BIM to analyze and continuously measure and track the design relative to these targets from concept through completion of construction and into facilities management.

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