How to increase project success with collaborative project delivery

Collaborative project delivery is a process in which all project team members, including the construction team, integrate and communicate ahead of their prospective actionable roles.

By Matthew Goss, Mario Vecchiarello, Kurt van Heiningen, CDM Smith October 22, 2018

Learning objectives

  • Understand how collaborative project delivery provides higher-quality projects via ongoing coordination and constructability reviews.
  • Grasp ways in which collaborative project delivery better manages schedule by incorporating phasing and critical path items into construction documents.
  • Learn about how collaborative project delivery provides more value in the form of fewer delays, fewer change orders, and the selection of the best procurement method.

A project can be deemed successful only after the project is completed and the owner has used, occupied, and operated the systems within the building. The steps and processes taken to ensure a project’s success occur throughout the total project delivery process, particularly at project inception and during the initial planning phases.

Collaborative project delivery is a process in which all project team members integrate and communicate ahead of their prospective actionable roles, and it is key to project success. The success of the delivery process itself can be a strong indicator of overall project outcome.

It is important to indicate what consists of a collaborative project team. A collaborative project team consists of various key team members including the project’s owner, the project manager, function group engineers (i.e., mechanical, electrical, structural, civil, geotechnical, and environmental), architects, the commissioning agent, the construction manager, the construction cost estimator, the BIM coordinator, and the specifications team.

On some projects, this group could be expanded to include permitting experts and expeditors as well as third-party participants, such as independent reviewers or the program manager. Often, project teams do not execute in a collaborative fashion. Instead, they tend to get too far into the deliverable processes before involving other key team members outside of their specific knowledge or functional area. This delayed interaction often results in design rework, production-schedule slippage, cost-estimating issues, and a less-than-optimal overall outcome. Cost-estimating issues can manifest themselves in many ways, such as additional costs to the owner as a result of scope creep or through the identification of items not previously coordinated or accounted for.

Benefits of a collaborative approach

By involving key team members in the initial planning and kickoff phases of a project, everyone will have a keen understanding of key project parameters. Key team members should be involved from the initial planning and kickoff phases of a project through each project deliverable and milestone. This allows them to provide their input and remain current with project status and directives.

General collaborative project processes and steps often incorporate the following actions and benefits, which allow for the successful delivery of a project:

Project delivery – Depending on when the project team is engaged in the overall project effort, they may have the ability to discuss project delivery options with the owner. If engaged early in the process, the project team can openly review and discuss all potential applicable and appropriate project delivery options (e.g., design-build, construction manager at risk, design-bid-build, progressive design-build) available for the specific undertaking.

Openly reviewing and discussing all delivery options as they relate to the owner’s needs will allow the most appropriate method to be selected to meet the owner’s requirements for schedule and budget. If engaged later in the process, the project team can discuss other applicable options with respect to project delivery, such as phased construction, early work packages, etc. Only through the collaborative process can the optimal delivery approach be determined.

Collaboration through all phases of construction – Too often, constructibility reviews occur only at specific milestones during the design phase of a project, for example, 60%, 90%, or in some instances, not at all. This late feedback can result in costly redesigns to bring design concepts in line with best construction practices or lessons learned from previous projects. Using a conceptual predesign approach where system selection decisions are made early is typically the ideal method.

Embedding the construction staff in the design development phase by including them in the design processes allows the team to continually evaluate design decisions together and examine and evaluate potential alternatives. This promotes the use of best practices and lessons-learned solutions to construction issues that may have occurred on previous projects. This interaction provides the design engineers and architects with proactive construction feedback to incorporate into the design. This most often materializes as the “means and methods” are determined.

For example, review feedback may indicate that a certain equipment selection is too large to fit through a given opening. Typically, this could be addressed through a number of options including phased equipment installation (in which equipment is installed before a building component, like a roof), creating a construction opening, or perhaps selecting smaller equipment. Each may be an acceptable solution, but the optimal project solution can only be identified through the use of project collaboration.

More accurate cost estimations – Accurate cost estimating is paramount to a successful project. Whether the project is a traditional design-bid-build or an alternative-delivery project (i.e., design-build/progressive design-build, construction manager at risk), construction cost estimating ensures the design team provides a scope within the client’s available budget. Involving the cost-estimating team early during project execution helps the design team, and the client, steer the design and scope to the allowable budget. Preventing these items from being introduced to the project during design helps to minimize potential redesign and drives more efficiently to a final deliverable.

Best practices often include paring up design-team members with their functional cost-estimating counterparts. Doing such allows teams to fill in necessary blanks as the design progresses. For example, early in the design process, detailed information most likely is not available on the drawings that would allow an estimator to do a comprehensive material “take-off” cost estimate and, given the nature of the project, a high-level unit-cost approach may not be entirely appropriate. Working together, design and estimator teams can review the overall scope of the projects and identify components and/or ancillary items not shown or captured, providing for the most appropriate cost-estimating solution.

Collaboration with plant operations – The importance of coordination from conception with operators, commissioning agents, engineers, and contractors will allow for a continuous dialogue and thorough vetting of constructability and operations-related concerns. These interactions during the design process will help minimize, forecast, and identify potential operating issues once construction begins, and they will help ensure continuous plant and facility operations.

Similar to constructability, early team communication will allow the identification and potential resolution of both “how” and “what if” scenarios. Although this can arise on any project, this is often encountered when completing renovation work on a facility. For example, it was necessary during one renovation to replace the building’s main electrical switchgear. However, doing so would require a complete facility shutdown-an outage that would last several days-which was unacceptable to the owner. Through the collaboration process, it was determined that an acceptable solution would be to provide temporary equipment, which would result in a minor outage that would be more manageable.

Through the collaboration process, the owner, construction manager, and engineer were able to identify a phased approach, identify appropriate temporary equipment, secure its availability, and identify a location for installation. A more efficient method to maintain operations is to place and energize the switchgear in a new location and have both the new and existing equipment energized while the loads are transferred one at a time. This option is only possible if there is sufficient space in the existing facility to allow both switchgears to operate simultaneously during the transition period of the loads, after which the old switchgear will be demolished.

Better means, methods, and identification of critical path items – During design and review, collaboration allows the complete project team to propose, discuss, and review constructability options to identify preferred construction methods. The early discussion of these methods will not only allow the design to consider construction methods, but also identify potential options and evaluate them for impacts on the cost, schedule, and resources.

In addition, these reviews will also allow the project team to appropriately identify and review critical-path items and develop plans of action to address any concerns. A best practice to address issues on the critical path, long-lead items can often include equipment pre-purchase. The key, however, is to ensure complete team acceptance and buy-in to resolve any potential issues or conflicts.

Collaborative resource (personnel)- loaded scheduling – The use of resource-loaded schedules for both design and construction allows the design-build team to build a schedule more accurately. Identifying thestaffing needs of the projects by expertise ensures the availability of human resources to meet the demand of both the design and construction efforts. The resource-loaded schedule combines interdependency and constraints among the various trades for both design and construction to provide a more realistic and accurate schedule.

Resource-loaded schedules accurately predict the design and construction timeline, allow for correct identification of resources, identify gaps, and allow the team to make corrective actions early on to mitigate potential schedule slippage. By using work-process indicators, progress can be weighed against the resource-loaded schedule and any appropriate adjustments, such as adding or removing resources, can be allotted to the project as necessary and appropriate.