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Early Engagement: Best vs. Typical

Early Engagement: Best vs. Typical

Research Suggests Collaboration Helps Improve Project Outcomes

By Donna Laquidara-Carr, Ph.D., LEED AP Industry Insights Research Director, Dodge Data & Analytics

Recognition is growing across the construction industry about the importance of collaboration. However, the reliance on anecdotal experience to demonstrate that importance makes it much more difficult to drive the change needed in the process of building design and construction to encourage more collaboration.  A pair of studies conducted by Dodge Data & Analytics for the Lean Construction Institute help fill that gap, by providing quantitative research that makes a compelling case that the industry needs to make the fundamental change of embracing collaboration if it is going to improve project performance.

The studies asked owners and architects to consider two recently completed building projects: their best recent project in terms of its overall performance and their own satisfaction with it, and one that they would describe as a typical example of the work they conduct.  Then, they were asked two series of questions about those projects; the first set revealed the difference in performance between best and typical projects and the second looked at differences in how those projects were conducted, including the use of various lean and industry-leading practices.

The differences in performance between best and typical projects reported by the owners were quite stark. Sixty-one percent reported that their typical projects have schedule delays, whereas 79 percent said that their best projects finished on-time or early.  Similarly, nearly half of owners (49 percent) reported that their typical projects exceeded budget, but only 17 percent of them found that budgets were exceeded on their best projects. These findings demonstrate that many building owners believe that the delays and overruns are a typical part of doing a construction project.

The findings from the owner study were used to set minimum thresholds of schedule and budget performance for the typical projects in the architect study, which led to less dramatic differences. Instead, architects were selecting the difference between best and typical based on their own experiences with the projects.  But even with these minimum standards in place, best projects were more likely to finish ahead of schedule (18 versus 3 percent of typical projects).

While the studies could not look directly at all the factors that caused these differences in performance, they did look for some correlations based on what happened more frequently on best than on typical projects. The most compelling correlation was between team building, collaboration and improved performance. One factor is the engagement of key stakeholders, including the entire design team, the prime contractor and the most important trade contractors. On the best performing projects, 76 percent of owners reported that these stakeholders were engaged before schematic design, but that early engagement was only reported by 34 percent of owners on their typical projects.

In the architect study, the engagement of the various key stakeholders was looked at in more detail. On their best projects, 74 percent of architects reported that the primary consultants were engaged before schematic design, compared to 56 percent on typical project, again demonstrating the importance of early engagement.

Team chemistry was also closely correlated to performance. Over two thirds (68 percent) of the owners rated the team chemistry on their projects at the highest level possible, compared to just 10 percent of owners on their typical projects. The designers report a similar disparity, with only 16 percent finding excellent team chemistry on their typical projects, compared with 58 percent on their best projects.

The study also looked at several lean practices, and those that encourage more collaborative practices–such as Co-Location/Big Room, Target Value Design, and Full-Team Onboarding–consistently correlated with better overall project performance.

The findings of the two studies are clear – prioritizing greater collaboration and team chemistry is critical to help improve project performance in the construction industry.

Donna Laquidara-Carr, Ph.D., LEED AP is the Industry Insights Research Director at Dodge Data & Analytics.