The construction industry in Australia and overseas wastes over 30 per cent of its efforts.

Research studies over more than decade point to the common sources of wasted effort.  They include the following:

  • Designs typically require multiple information inputs, which are obtained progressively from different sources, leading to several iterations of the design.
  • When the cost budget is unknown or uncertain, several iterations of a design may be required, leading to (not uncommonly) between three and 10 design cycles being required to bring the design within budget.
  • Up to 40 per cent of the design produced by architects and engineers is not used by the trade contractors for whom it is intended – the architects and engineers “push” on to trade contractors the design documents they think trade contractors want, rather than the trade contractors “pulling” the drawings they require for construction.
  • Poor coordination of designs by different designers (architects and engineers) and trade contractors and the resulting clashes can add five per cent or more to costs.
  • The cost of re-work because defective work typically accounts for between five and 10 per cent of construction cost.

This is not a peculiarly Australian issue. Rather, it is a product of the structure of the construction industry, the increasing complexity of its services, and the creation and operation of “silos” within that structure. A 2004 Construction Industry Institute/Lean Construction Institute study suggests that as much as 57 per cent of time, effort and material investment in construction projects does not add value to the final product, as compared to a figure of only 26 per cent in the manufacturing world.

If that wasted effort were to be reduced by only one third, it would lift Australian construction output by more than $10 billion annually. If the changes required to achieve that reduction were to “ripple” through the industry, it is conceivable that within a few years, the improved output would be substantially higher.

Research studies in Australia and overseas all point to the need for a change in the environment in which project teams are appointed and operate, if this waste is to be reduced. A collaborative environment is required, where all team members are encouraged to contribute to problem solving, and those contributions are respected – in other words, a genuine team environment.

Increasingly the industry is adopting delivery strategies that use greater collaboration amongst project team members and is using BIM to drive out waste and wasted effort, to avoid disputes, and to deliver outstanding project outcomes. Outstanding projects meet and deliver the service needs of end users and those that manage the assets on their behalf.

Outstanding projects are characterised by:

  1. End users expectations being met or exceeded
  2. The client’s strategic and financial objectives being met
  3. Project team members achieving their financial objectives
  4. The project delivery team having enjoyed working together, and wanting to work together again
  5. Community and stakeholder expectations of the project in terms of safety, design, environmental outcomes, and social objectives being met or exceeded.

The collaboration required to deliver such outcomes requires alignment of goals across the project team, including key project sponsors. That alignment in turn is a product of the degree to which the team members are indeed a team – that is to say, the extent to which they are integrated.

As is the case with any team – sporting, social, or business – the more effectively it is integrated, the better it can perform. There is a continuum of levels of integration commonly seen within the construction industry, with varying levels of matching collaboration and cooperation amongst members of the project team.

The higher the level of integration of team members at the early design stages, the greater the opportunities to gain maximum benefit from the use of BIM. The powerful combination of modelling and analysis tools with integrated, collaborative processes is creating a sea change related to BIM. As adoption of these tools and processes spreads, teams will continue to find new productivity-enhancing ways to leverage the power of BIM for better project outcomes.

An important consideration in the selection of a consultant team is an awareness of the ability of each discipline to collaborate effectively on the creation of a single, integrated model. This is best achieved if the consultant team is selected and commissioned as a whole and on the basis of their demonstrated ability to create the integrated model required for collaboration between team members and across project stages. It is likely that this will lead to the formation of strategic and enduring partnerships between individual disciplines or potentially, a significant increase in the growth of multi-disciplinary practices.

The USA construction industry has developed its thinking along similar lines, and taken things a step further in advocating for a delivery strategy built around Integrated Project Delivery or IPD. Four levels of IPD are promoted to reflect the degree of integration a client wishes (or is able) to use. The third level takes the form of a multi-party contract model not unlike the Alliance model now common in Australia, with early appointment of contractors to help design and model the asset to be constructed using BIM.

IPD can and does exist in a variety of ways, from the type of formal contractual structure described above to other more limited forms which are nevertheless focused on greater collaboration, shared responsibility and early involvement of part or the whole of the team. Integrated practice is a term sometimes used to describe a form of integration for the design team alone which, while beneficial, does not realise the potential for integrating the whole team, including some specialist subcontractors.

I stop short of advocating the creation of a full and formal IPD as a matter of course – IPD is no silver bullet. There are always commercial, policy, or legislative issues that will determine the appropriate degree of integration for a particular construction project. The more important challenge is how to increase the degree to which teams are integrated, and how to adopt the appropriate delivery strategy for the selected level of integration.

All project sponsors must decide how much integration or collaboration is appropriate or desired on their projects. There are straightforward approaches that can be used to enhance collaboration amongst project team members and to identify issues to be addressed to increase effective team integration. If they choose not to, and keep on doing what they’ve been doing, they’ll keep on getting what they’ve been getting – up to 30 per cent wasted effort.