Human Side of BIM

According to an aei.org publication, only 12% of the fortune 500 companies that made it to the list in 1955 were still there in 2016. “Thanks to the Creative Destruction that Fuels Economic Prosperity”.

Even more discouraging is the fact that none of these companies are in the construction sector. Few such as Owen (Owen Corning and Owen Illinois) and Rockwell Automation are manufacturers in the sector.

This raises the first questions:

  • “Is it that AEC (Architecture Engineering and Construction) firms are not built to last?”; or
  • “Is it that the sector is not profitable enough?”

Somehow, many practitioners and professionals in the sector seem to have the right answers — if only they are addressing the right questions to start with.

For example, the figures are everywhere that 85% of major capital projects exceed budget and 93% exceed time. It is also known that 30% of construction activities are ‘rework’ and 55% of maintenance remain reactive.

In response to these, some believe the solution is technology.

I mean look at the automobile and medical sector, they are more efficient because they are technologically more advanced.

On the other hand, some others believe these technologies are being shoved down their throats — bringing about resistance to the tech advocates.

In this digest, we take an inside-out approach to addressing the root cause of the problems bedeviling the construction sector. This is mostly informed by leadership works from other sectors.

Major references will be coming from such books as

“The Toyota Way by Jeffrey Liker”, “Built to Last by Jim Collins” and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey”.


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LONG-TERM THINKING

It is practically a norm that typical projects in the AEC sector run out of budget, time and scope. A direct outcome of this is pressure all the time — pressure to meet deadlines. The only problem is: “there will always be deadlines”.

The number one principle of the Japanese business model which has transformed the business world is this:

Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.

According to Stephen Covey in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, you have to:

Begin with the end in mind.

The earlier stats from aei.org is a testimony to the fact that most Firms in the AEC sector are not built on an underlying philosophy. There is no Hedgehog Concept that guides the direction and decisions of the company.

According to Jim Collins, a hedgehog concept is a simple, crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding about the intersection of three circles:

  • What you’re passionate about;
  • What you can be the best in the world at; and
  • What best drives your economic or resource engine.

These discoveries do not come overnight. He stated that it takes at least between 2 to 10 years for a company to discover her hedgehog concept — through a series of validated learning.

How many firms in the AEC sector are ready to even analyze their activities, let alone formulate a guiding concept from the insights?


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PEOPLE THINKING

According to Jim Collins in “Good to Great”, every great company first decides WHO, before deciding WHAT. This begins with what he termed a ‘level 5 Leader’ — a leader with a powerful mix of personal humility and indomitable will.

A shared view from diverse studies has confirmed that such leaders grow from within the organization — not imported from outside to address crises.

According to Jeffrey Liker in “The Toyota Way”:

  • Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy and teach it to others.
  • Develop exceptional people and teams who follow the company’s philosophy.
  • Respect your extended network of partners and suppliers, by challenging them and helping them improve.

In the AEC sector, this is embodied in the “Integrated Project Delivery (IPD)” approach. This entails integrating people, systems, business structures, and practices into a process that collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all participants to optimize project results, increase value to the owner, reduce waste, and maximize efficiency all through the project’s life cycle…

While this is ‘ideal’ to work towards, it takes a painstaking long-term philosophy to assemble a level 5 leader, a great team and an extended network of partners and suppliers and get them to share a common vision and philosophy.

In the low-trust environment of the construction sector, everyone is out for their head. People hardly care to understand external parties, let alone work towards a third better alternative — a Win-Win or No Deal Approach. No amount of technological intervention can ever compensate for this.


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PROCESSES — PLANNING AND DESIGN

After an AEC Firm has defined her organizational philosophy (the Hedgehog Concept) and has answered the questions of ‘WHO’ (leaders, teams, and partners); they can begin to address the questions of ‘HOW’.

This begins with Project Planning and Design Coordination.

In line with the IPD approach is the BIM Execution Planning (BEP). There are many formats available in the industry.

Popular ones are the formats from:

However, it is important to understand that this is a process (the HOW) that brings people (the WHO) together.

For a firm that intends to create BEP template(s), they have to start by defining the Goals for their typical projects. These are mostly client’s and organizational goals that are, in turn, reduced to BIM Uses.

After that, they develop Process Maps over the life cycle of the typical projects:

  • At what point do these uses come in?
  • How do they relate to each other etc?

After that, they define the Information Exchanges across the project’s life cycle through an Information (IE) Worksheet. Then, they will finally define the Required Infrastructure (Hardware, Software, IT etc.) that is necessary to achieve the Project Goals.

The final outcome is the BEP template — a document that is constantly updated as more validated learning comes in through the firm’s growth cycle.

Design Coordination is simply a series of information exchanges following the BEP.

Once again, it is obvious that a functional BEP is an outcome of validated learning that will typically take years for a firm to ‘perfect’. This underscores the long-term thinking principle.


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PROCESSES — CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT

According to Jeffrey Liker, when people study the Japanese approach (e.g. The Toyota Way) to business, they are always intrigued by the efficiencies. So, they will typically ask: “How do I implement this in my firm?”.

The truth, however, is that before the processes can yield efficient results, the foundational issues need to be taken care of first.

  • What is the underlying philosophy for your firm?
  • Who and who make up the extended team?

In recent times, offsite fabrication is gaining more attention as it promises to save cost, time and overall resources.

So, we will briefly review some lean manufacturing principles:

  • The shop floor — or assembly — has to be set up in a Continuous (One-piece) Process Flow, to bring problems to the surface. As against the batch production system, ‘one-piece flow process’ has proven to be more efficient in the long-run.
  • The shop floor — machinery and people — need to be ‘programmed’ to stop to fix problems, so as to get quality right the first time. Use of AI-enabled machines can be a good complement to people on the shop floor.
  • Use Standardized Tasks as a foundation for improvement and employee empowerment. According to Stephen Covey, this is referred to as Stewardship Delegation.
  • Incorporate Visual Controls into the system to reveal problems — so no problem is hidden. Such a feature as the use of Andon Lights on the shop floor is a good application.

In summary, these Lean Manufacturing Principles should be built to fit the firm’s goals and philosophy — informed by the people and processes.


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PROCESSES — SUPPLY CHAIN/FACILITY MANAGEMENT

In line with the IPD approach, the suppliers and partners of an AEC firm should make up one big team. As a result, information is openly shared, with stakeholder trust and respect. Risks are collectively managed and appropriately shared. Team success is tied to project success and is value-based.

According to Stephen Covey, this interdependent relationship begins with ‘Character’ (individuals), which brings about ‘Relationship’ (teams); out of which flows ‘Agreements’. These are all nurtured in an environment where support ‘Systems’ is based on Win/Win ‘Processes’.

In essence, without a synergy emerging from the team members, technology cannot produce a long-lasting outcome — and such a relationship cannot endure for long.

Now think again:

Why has no AEC firm endured on the fortune 500 lists for long?

In line with lean manufacturing, we will still review some principles:

  • An AEC firm has to use a Pull System to avoid overstocking or overproduction.
  • The firm also has to use a Leveling System to ensure an even output. This, in turn, requires a well-calculated inventory against unforeseen circumstance — without bringing about wastes.
  • With the use of an open communication system (such as the Kanban System), updates can easily be passed across the entire unified teams.

In summary, the people dimension is a prerequisite before the technology can function. In an atmosphere of shared goals, creativity thrives — and this extends even to the Facility Management Phase of the building life cycle.


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TECHNOLOGY ACCELERATORS

During the dot.com burst of the early 2000s, many companies quickly rose of out of nowhere — but disappeared just as quickly…

According to Jeffrey Liker, a foundational principle of the ‘Toyota Way’ is:

Use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology that serves the people and the processes.

These are referred to as Technology Accelerators by Jim Collins in “Good to Great”.

We live in a very tech-intensive era. While many of these emerging technologies — AI, AR/VR, Prefab, 3D Printing, Smart Sensors, Automation etc. — address real problems, they are not the panacea to the real underlying issues facing most AEC firms and the industry at large.

Having clarified that notion, technology has a very important role to play in the advancement of the sector at large.

The idea underlying IPD and BIM (Building Information Modeling) is to enhance collaboration and information-sharing amongst project stakeholders.

  • Technology can easily enhance such pressing issues as collaboration and clash detection during the design process.
  • They can accelerate RFI (Request for Information) and Change Management.
  • Technology can help schedule and manage project delivery, more efficiently.
  • They can help to better manage safety issues on site — as well as labor/productivity.
  • Technology can ease quality management and close-out.

However, the most important role that technology can play for the AEC sector is the centralization of all this information. This would provide many insights for AEC firms. This would, in turn, serve as the most accurate source of validated learning for these firms for continuous improvements.


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LEARNING ORGANIZATION

A very unique feature of the AEC sector is that the outcomes are not standardized. No two buildings, for example, share the same users, location, layout, and delivery team. While some companies have tried to standardize certain components, buildings are mostly bespoke.

Thus, an AEC firm is supposed to be a Learning Organization.

According to Jeffrey Liker in the “Toyota Way”, this is embodied in three principles:

  • Go and See for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation (known as Genchi Genbutsu). That is the essential difference between the ruler and the leader. The former commands from behind; the latter, directs from the front. In a learning organization, everyone is willing to go to the site, the shop floor etc. to see things firsthand and learn — then cascade the learning down to the subordinates.
  • Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly covering all options; implement decisions rapidly (known as Nemawashi). In a learning organization, all affected parties are part of the decision-making process. Everyone’s opinion is duly considered before arriving at a consensus. This can be a slow process, but once a decision is made, it is implemented rapidly.
  • Become a learning organization through relentless reflection (Hansei), and continuous improvement (Kaizen). As a learning organization, you need to constantly evaluate progress against the underlying philosophy and long-term vision of the organization. You also need to constantly improve the existing processes. When everyone is part of the shared vision, people will be more willing and open to continuously improve the existing processes. This is because they are part of the formulation activities in the first place.

In summary, true leadership in the construction sector is more necessary than ever to meet the burgeoning demands on the industry…


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***Adapted from Blaze Monthly Digest – January 2019.

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