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.

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