Collaboration and effective communication in construction are central factors in successful projects. Large projects require numerous disciplines and extensive project teams including the architect, engineers, consultants, construction manager, other design disciplines and the general contractor along with specialty contractors. The most important early focus of a good construction manager will be to vet potential project participants with an eye towards building a harmonious and productive design and construction team.
Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress and working together is success.”
Collaboration at its best brings together the creative ideas of all design professionals and blends these with the practicality of the contractor and other team members. The idea is to not only push the envelope on aesthetics, but to integrate practicality, constructability and budget into the design from the beginning. Generally, for a project of scale, a construction manager orchestrates this process to create a highly functioning team. When this process is well-managed, the benefits to the owner both aesthetically and functionally can hardly be overstated.
Effective team collaboration should be established as soon as possible in the planning and design process to achieve maximum results. In the early design phase, a core design team is assembled to articulate and define the client’s program and evaluate the project’s feasibility with regard to land use, constraints and budget. Beyond capturing the owner’s goals, the architect must incorporate many additional parameters into the developing program. Other disciplines should be consulted for their input as the design develops. Creative problem-solving flourishes best in an open environment where people communicate, brainstorm options and evaluate ideas and concepts. The more discussion and free exchange of ideas among the owner, architect and project team, the more opportunities come to light as the project design evolves. Eventually, conceptual drawings are further developed into construction documents that include building plans, elevations, sections, site plans and a myriad of construction details; however, these drawings cost money and should be produced after a solid understanding of the client’s program has been achieved.
One of the most valuable benefits of open collaboration is transparency.
With all parties concentrating on their own scope of work, a good construction manager will keep a focus on the larger goals of the project and the details, facilitate communication and collaboration among the disciplines and ensure they stay on track during the lifecycle of design and construction. Because every design decision has a cost and schedule implication, practical considerations from the builder must be integrated during the entire process to keep cost and schedule under control.
Collaboration is about team building and teamwork.
Any collaborative process must be built on trust and respect for each stakeholder’s expertise and experience. Most contractors, architects and other professionals appreciate collaborating on a project with a construction manager leading the team because it gives them a level of confidence in the process. The construction manager’s independent viewpoint is not tied to any design discipline or agenda; thereby it is helpful in establishing a baseline of respect among team members. Trust develops as people begin to understand each other’s distinct personalities, abilities and perspectives. They are then better able to create a joint understanding of the organizational workflow, align around project goals and work together to achieve them.
Cloud-Based Collaborative Construction Solutions.
There are many cloud-based tools that assist in facilitating and improving collaboration in construction projects. The tradition of meeting in person for extensive owner/design team meetings is not always possible, especially with clients who are tending to their own business interests. Virtual meeting technologies, screen sharing, phone and video conferencing, shared workspace and virtual whiteboards allow project teams around the globe to keep connected and continually move the project forward.
BIM (Building Information Modeling) is a 3D modeling software process that allows multidiscipline collaboration among the extended project team regardless of location. BIM’s digitized project representations conceptualize the virtual construction of a building prior to its actual physical construction. Modeling can be extracted, exchanged or networked to enable the architectural, structural and MEP design disciplines to collaborate in real time, enabling the team to expose and analyze potential problems and discrepancies. When properly managed, the BIM model reduces changes in the field by highlighting conflicts and clashes such as where structural, framing and mechanical systems may wrongly intersect. Trade subcontractors can extract specific information from the model to get a jump on shop drawings, pre-fabricate or pre-assemble systems. Waste can be minimized on-site and products delivered on a just-in-time basis rather than being stock-piled on-site.
Collaborative Project Management Software. There are numerous cloud-based collaborative construction management software systems including Procore, PM Web, Prolog, Expedition, BuilderTrend and Viewpoint. All can be accessed via the web so that work and decisions can be made anywhere with internet access to accelerate the exchange of information and facilitate project progress. Once team members log in, they can access digital project information which reduces the amount of back and forth exchange of project-related paperwork such as documents, drawings, invoicing, etc. Many systems offer variations on takeoff, estimating, bid management, project scheduling, project management, customer and service management features. Most systems can be custom configured and adapted to meet specific requirements.
File Sharing Services. File-sharing services such as Sharepoint, Google Drive, Dropbox and HighTail have evolved beyond simple uploading of large files to share and are collaboration platforms to some extent. There are a myriad of differences between these service options such as storage limits, price plans, flexibility, security levels and encryption. Many require downloadable desktop or mobile apps for accessing and sharing files. Some offer collaboration with other file-sharing services and workflow management, document collaboration, e-signatures and integration with Microsoft Outlook.
Projects are built by and for people.
Any of these technologies can help overcome geographical boundaries to facilitate collaboration. Throwing a new tool at people and requiring they use it and obtain efficiency in collaboration, however are two different things. Projects after all, are about people and human interactions. If you intend to implement a collaborative tool on a new project successfully, all the key players on the team need to buy in and accept the method, tools and processes as part of the project culture.
Collaboration is about people working together. Effective collaboration can stimulate team synergy, creativity and productivity that are greater than the sum of all the individuals on the team. To collaborate is to listen, adapt and offer suggestions. It is to cooperatively work with one another and foster a creative environment to increase innovation and effectiveness for the benefit of the client and project at large. Look to your professional construction manager to champion the collaborative process and balance the competing needs of a project.