Fabrication: Moving Outside Your Comfort Zone


May 25, 2020 | All, Fabrication

It’s not about “me,” it’s about “we.” Michael LeFevre, retired architect and current leader of a design thinktank, believes designers, contractors, owners, trade contractors, technologists, and strategists all need to work together to bring about a shift in the construction industry toward a collaboration-focused business model. In his 2019 book, “Managing Design: Conversations, Project Controls and Best Practices for Commercial Design and Construction Projects,” LeFevre shares three ways collaboration can be improved:

  • Be intentional in taking time for planning at the beginning of the project.
  • Set aside time to get to know the project teammates and enable better working relationships.
  • Consider shared incentives on a project, since historically contracts have set people up to be adversaries.

These tips are certainly not part of “business as usual” for many companies. “There’s huge value to having the courage to get outside your comfort zone,” LeFevre told Christopher Riddell on an episode of AEC Disruptors podcast.

Although LeFevre amassed his experience in the architectural realm, his experience rings true for fabrication. The flat line of productivity in AEC industry compares poorly to other industries, and fabrication appears to be a key. The industrialization of the aircraft industry spread to manufacturing and agriculture, but it hasn’t caught on as strongly in construction. In addition to technology advancements, like prefabrication, LeFevre believes increased collaboration will contribute to boosting construction productivity – possibly 20% or more.

Through the interviews and research for his book, he determined that the industry’s standard “over budget, lack of profitability” way of doing business is amplified by a reactive design process, which adds risk to projects. Employing collaboration on a project will manage those risks, and that’s a message that needs to be articulated to the owners. Owners need to buy into collaboration early in a project.

It’s certainly a change in the way things are done, and change is disruption. Technology exists to enrich that disruption – people can get information, share it, reuse it, and exchange it. They can have more conversations around the project. Although technology can alienate people, it makes other things easier, like linking teams globally when they need to be engaged.

When we look through the lens of collaboration, what we’re really seeing is better communication, which connects the designers, the owner and the builder as a team. As LeFevre explained, “When an architect is compensated on a percentage of construction cost, they’ll cost themselves money to do that.” Where does that money ultimately come from? The owner. So making the owner part of the process is critical, and the way to do that is a dilemma that the other project teams continue to face. Change may make us stronger, but how do you effect that change?

LeFevre believes many construction projects are unprofitable because designers are trained to be creative, think outside the box and generate more options, while contractors are trained to get from point A to point B quickly and efficiently. Their processes are different, and they can make great complementary teammates if that relationship is nurtured, but they need a person who is the connector, a translator if you will, that can bridge that gap as projects become more and more complex.

Traditional management is not the best way to harness the power of complementary teams. However, fully collaborative delivery methods like integrated project delivery (IPD) with a shared incentive contract is a good way to do it (if the legal issues that stand in the way are mitigated). When you share a BIM model, you must trust each other and harness the abilities and acumen of everyone involved. Based upon the way it’s always been done, this is not a comfortable place to be. But to ratchet up construction a notch in productivity, it may need to be the new way it’s done.

LeFevre believes the industry is going down the road to increased collaboration. Will you be on that highway? If you’d like an experienced partner for the journey, contact Applied Software today. The industry experts of Applied can bridge the gap for your complementary project teams as you move outside your comfort zone.