Last year UK industry membership organisation Constructing Excellence organised an event (with Rubicon) focused on lean construction which managed to enthuse its London audience with ideas based around basic joined-up thinking on things like eliminating packaging, doing just-in-time delivery to site, simplifying electrical installations, etc. Like Greg Sorrentino, vice president and general manager of US firm Ideal Contracting, I felt that “Most of the things I had ever heard about lean construction was to make sure that you stack things close to the job site, and most of that was just common sense.”
isite‘s Martin Brown (Collaboration makes construction lean) has just blogged about lean construction and its associations with collaboration and building information modelling (BIM), drawing attention to an excellent 2007 article by Karen Willhelms in the US journal Target (“The Periodical of the Association of Manufacturing Excellence” which also has a UK arm). The above quote from Sorrentino comes from that article, talking about a project for General Motors, and he continues:
“It wasn’t until we started getting involved with 3D modeling that I saw a real lean process. That’s where I really saw how it could all come together. It’s a collaborative approach. In the design process, we’re collaborating with the owner and all of his people, so we’re able to have everything they need in the model. We’re able to do collision detection before we actually build. So we end up verifying constructability on the job before we actually start building. We’ve already built it once.”
Later in the article, Sorrentino talks about the team spirit:
“From the time we all sit down and say OK, we’re going to build this project, it’s a team. There is no owner or contractor. We lock arms, and we are now one group. Great ideas come up all the time about what you can do better. That’s probably the most exciting part about it. This really does open up the lines of communication between subcontractors, owners, the architect, and the general contractor. All that other stuff that everybody tells you, if people don’t view themselves as a team, they’re not going to be very successful.”
Tangible benefits included a faster, more efficient (and paperless) process – “We did 435,000 sq. ft. without anything on paper and we walked off the site eight months later…. That’s how quick it works.” Sorrentino’s company is also more competitive on price as a result of embracing BIM: “On the five projects we’ve done using this process, the owner has experienced a 21 percent reduction in price from the start of the project to the end,” and Ideal now has as much work as it can handle (its website highlights its focus on lean construction principles).
The Target article goes on to talk about the Lean Construction Institute (LCI) and Last Planner and then talks about “The Collaborative Contract”:
“… the ‘Integrated Agreement for Lean Project Delivery between Owner, Architect & Construction Manager/General Contractor’ … is a single contract that lays out the agreement among all the key parties for how the building will be designed, built, and paid for, as well as how risk and reward will be apportioned. In addition to starting off with shared knowledge and understanding among the players, the contract itself is meant to support the lean construction philosophy.”
Clearly, Ideal has learned from its manufacturing customers and tackled many of the people and process issues (in which I include contracts, insurance and payment methods) that have hitherto hampered widespread uptake of BIM and other collaborative technologies – remember: successful collaboration is at least 80 per cent people and processes and only 20% (or less) about technologies.
I think the Target article should be required reading for anyone interested in collaborative working in the construction industry.