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