Moving Construction to A Lower Risk Environment

Credits: Barbara White Bryson

Last week Bautex was fortunate to attend the Texas Public Owner’s Con­fer­ence in College Station, Texas, organized by San Antonio City Architect Carol Warkoczews­ki and the team at The Institute for Lead­er­ship in Capital Projects (I‑LinCP). The event brought together rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the major stake­hold­ers involved in the con­struc­tion of public projects to talk about project planning, financing, delivery methods, and generally how to improve the process of designing and con­struct­ing public capital improve­ment projects.

At the event, Barbara Bryson, Associate Dean Research & Academic Affairs for the College of Archi­tec­ture Planning & Landscape Archi­tec­ture at The Uni­ver­si­ty of Arizona, delivered a thought-provoking keynote address entitled Col­lab­o­ra­tion in a Risky Business.” In her talk, Bryson chal­lenged the audience to consider why it was that:

The design and con­struc­tion industry is the only trillion-dollar industry in the history of the world where clients commonly demand the least efficient delivery systems.”1

The processes, delivery method­olo­gies, and con­tract­ing mech­a­nisms in use are not efficient. The challenge to solving these inef­fi­cien­cies, Bryson claims, is to invest ourselves fully in col­lab­o­ra­tive teams and processes.

Collaboration Reduces Risk

Risk is one of the most mis­un­der­stood and under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed concepts in the design and con­struc­tion industry. Stake­hold­ers intu­itive­ly know that the design and con­struc­tion process is complex and risky and that project outcomes are unpre­dictable. Like dutiful soldiers, we are taught to do every­thing in our power to manage or shift the risks that are just inherent in the process. At times we are suc­cess­ful, and stake­hold­ers benefit. At other times we are not, and stake­hold­ers pay the consequences.

Risk is simply the chance of injury or loss. Risk increases and decreases with our ability to control outcomes. Our ability to control outcomes is based on what we know and do not know. So, fun­da­men­tal­ly, col­lab­o­ra­tion helps to reduce risk by removing barriers to infor­ma­tion flow and control. The fun­da­men­tal shift that needs to happen in our thinking, Bryson concluded, is to stop trying to get better at shifting or managing risk, but to start making fun­da­men­tal changes in the process itself in order to move our projects into a lower risk environment.

Building Systems That Reduce Risk

Hearing Barbara Bryson and several of the other speakers at the Public Owner’s Con­fer­ence drove home the reason why man­u­fac­tur­ers of building systems are so vitally important to the process of designing and building a project.

For one, man­u­fac­tur­ers have a con­sid­er­able amount of knowledge about how things should be designed and con­struct­ed. They hold much of the technical knowledge the project team needs, but very little power to influence decisions. There is tremen­dous benefit, therefore, to bring building system man­u­fac­tur­ers into the col­lab­o­ra­tive process early in design. Bautex wrote about this recently in a blog entitled The Value of Inviting Man­u­fac­tur­ers into Your Inte­grat­ed Project Delivery Process.”

More impor­tant­ly, man­u­fac­tur­ers of building systems are bringing major inno­va­tions to the market that fun­da­men­tal­ly lower the risk envi­ron­ment for projects. These new systems simplify the steps, reduce the number of materials, and lower the amount of labor and time required to construct a project. At the same time, they increase per­for­mance, reduce the potential for defects, lower the cost to operate and maintain, and increase the resilience of buildings. This is not true for many tra­di­tion­al con­struc­tion systems that actually increase com­plex­i­ty and create more need to manage and mitigate risks that are inherent in those systems.

The challenge that was shared last week was to leave the old way of doing things behind, and begin to do the things that reduce inef­fi­cien­cy and con­tribute to moving con­struc­tion into a lower risk envi­ron­ment. Better col­lab­o­ra­tion and simpler building systems go a long way to helping do that.

1The Owner’s Dilemma: Driving Success and Inno­va­tion in the Design and Con­struc­tion Industry, Barbara White Bryson and Canan Yetmen