MEP to the Front, Pt. 1: Can AEC Teams Play Nice?


December 6, 2019 | All

Can the construction industry build and share knowledge and innovation? Aside from having dozens of iterations of an answer, it’s even more telling that the question isn’t asked very often. Construction companies and contractors have been engaging in competitive struggles for work for so long that it may be outside the realm of conscious thought to even suggest that firms cooperate and share innovation. After all, innovation – aka. proprietary information – is the stuff that profit is wrought from. Innovative developments have been held tightly by AEC firms since the very first building projects. That’s what distinguishes one firm from another – even more than that, innovation invites notoriety, accolades, awards, and ultimately the well-heeled customer/owner looking for someone to best and uniquely memorialize them in their building project.

Does it make sense that the “it’s mine, all mine” scenario holds true even in the atmosphere of plenty that the construction industry is currently enjoying? There’s more work now than there are skilled workers to complete it. Firms aren’t scratching and clawing their way through bid openings like they were twelve years ago. Instead, in many parts of the country, they’re trying to figure out how to construct the backlog of projects they’ve taken on.

When we compare the AEC industry to the medical industry, for instance, it begs the question, What if medical firms held that tightly to medical innovations, choosing not to share with other firms the procedures and processes that can make the industry more efficient, more responsive, more . . . healing? In reality, the medical industry is a good example of how important collaboration is. Diverse teams worldwide benefit from sharing information gained through research. And what about the legal industry? Future decisions are based on past cases. The legal profession takes a lot of heat, but there’s no debate that it’s super-organized, and decisions are grounded in precedent.

Used widely, a supportive process of collaboration in AEC could elevate the construction industry to new heights of productivity and safety that we can only dream of at this point. On the limited basis where collaboration is currently being used, projects are routinely brought online ahead of schedule and under budget. Who doesn’t want that?

As pointed out in Barbara White Bryson’s book, “The Owner’s Dilemma,” one place the AEC industry could benefit from benchmarks is in measuring improvement, performance and success. Building on the knowledge of other firms – avoiding making the same mistakes – is one way to elevate the industry. The AEC industry needs a foundation of knowledge that’s built, tested, compiled, and shared.

So, can more AEC firms collaborate to create and maintain a base of “precedents” for use by the entire industry? Can they share their time-honed knowledge and innovations for the good of the whole? With the collaborative process delivering projects at a higher profit margin to happy owners taking handoff of projects ahead of schedule, more and more firms will gravitate toward collaboration. If AEC firms want to stay in business, they not only need to overhaul the way they design and build buildings, they need to involve all the project teams early in the design-build process. Otherwise, they’ll be left in the dust wishing for the good old days of 2019.