Stage 3 - Construction

Full implementation of the Systems Approach will result in significant time and cost reduction when measured against impartial (unbiased) standards.  Lean and IPD may improve the experience of its users - but their claims to reduce time and cost can't be proven in most one-off project types. That's because the benefit of their processes can't be measured empirically. That problem is solved with the Systems Approach.

Stage 1 of the Systems Approach provides a knowledge system so that owners and design/builders can know the likely outcomes, and how to steer to optimized results. This knowledge system also provides process improvement with the ability to measure against objective standards. It's Stages 2 and 3 that enables the data to be automatically captured and submitted to the PDSA cycle. Without Stages 2 and 3, the data system is not sustainable.

Stage 2 provides the digitical operating system - integrating and automating the preconstruction process. Stages 1 and 2 provide the knowledge and digital platform from which to build the Stage 3 construction process.

Full implementation of the Systems Approach tackles the problems that The McKinsey Global Institute cited in their 2017 Report: Reinventing Construction – the route to higher productivity. McKinsey’s research and analysis led them to make several recommendations. Three of these align with the Systems Approach:

  1. Restructure misaligned reward and contracting – In construction profit increases as cost and billable hours (effort) increase. This drives up both. The Systems Approach provides impartial value determination. This enables the design and building team compensation (return on effort) to improve by reduced (rather increased) cost and effort – as is the case in manufacturing.
  2. Aggressive Automation – Non-productive (waste and support) labor makes up over 90% of construction effort according to the Construction Industry Institute. The Systems Approach standardizes, integrates, and automates each stage to dramatically reduce the non-productive preconstruction labor. It also increases construction productivity by reducing common design defects.
  3. Manufacturing-inspired Production – McKinsey limits manufacturing-inspired concepts to pre-fabrication.  The Systems Approach transitions every phase - space programming to going-live - from one-off, reinvent-the-wheel-on-every project - to a systematic assembly of componentry that is pre-programmed, pre-designed, pre-priced, and ultimately pre-purchased. Pre-fabrication, although the last step, is a very important piece of the puzzle. 

Transitioning construction from its one-off approach to manufacturing-inspired construction requires some upfront investment – what we call “Building the Plant”. The Pareto Principle applies here – to pre-plan, -program, -design, -price, -procure the 20% of the componentry that makes up 80% of the project whole. With the “Plant” in operation – we are ready to substantially “Produce the Product” that is already 80% programmed, designed, priced, procured and ready for fabrication and assembly. 

The Systems Approach – including manufacturing-inspired construction - applies to customized buildings as well as highly prototypical buildings. This approach – and its data engine (Building CATALYST) – result from two inspirations. The first is the W.E. Deming management philosophy, which is grounded in systems theory. You can learn more here: Reinventing Construction. The second comes from Steelcase – the world’s largest interior systems manufacturer – and their Workstage brand of buildings. The Workstage vision developed around a kit-of-parts from the data cabling to curtainwall – and much of the componentry and assemblies in between. As shown in Figure 1, Workstage enabled customization of the kit within a building line or elemental assembly.


Figure 1 – Steelcase – Workstage brand MAC prototype

The Systems Approach focuses on the functions that drive both owner business (operations and revenue) and building design...they are totally connected. Like Workstage – but applied to more complex facilities - the kit-of-parts span from the instruments used in treating a patient, for example, to the building structure - and everything in between.  Figure 2 shows a patient room object – a mini-project completely connected upstream to its planning and programming sources, and downstream to its design details, material selections, and component costs.


Figure 2 – Pre-designed Patient Room (Catalyst/dRofus/Revit interface)

In “Building the Plant” we incorporate the Pareto 20% of content from which we compose 80% of the project – and then apply the Toyota concept of autonomation that enables the subject matter experts at each stage to tailor (customize) the whole facility much more effectively and efficiently. Autonomation integrates what the computer and “plant” is best suited for with human expertise - to more precisely deliver the unique needs of the project.

The first full Systems Approach pilot initiative has begun on bed patient floor fit-out project in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Scaling the Systems Approach will produce the highest owner value and greatest return on effort for the building team. This requires owners, planners, architects, engineers, and builders to join forces – spreading the “Building the Plant” R&D costs and pooling the buying power.

This is possible – and easy – if we can bring together innovative leaders across all these stakeholders willing to work together under a new philosophy. According to Deming, “A change in philosophy requires unlearning industrial thinking evident in departmentalization, scarcity of knowledge and information competitiveness.”