ARC / Connect

Lean Project Delivery

06.04.13 / Ray Paradis, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Recently, Peter Reiss and I attended a Boston Society of Architects Construction Administration Roundtable discussion concerning how lean construction practices affect project delivery.  The expert panel consisted of leaders from Boston’s design and construction industry representing differing views of lean project delivery. 

There was an example given of a project that eliminated Requests for Information (RFIs), submittals, typical value engineering and the traditional Design Development Phase.  I assumed that for most of the architects in the crowd, this seemed like a fantasy and marketing gimmick by the contractor’s panel expert.  However, after hearing the panel (consisting of both architects and contractors) share similar project experiences – and from my own experience – I am convinced that there can be a more practical way to deliver better efficiencies across the entire project spectrum.  These efficiencies can contribute to project VALUE for all team members, not just to the Owner.

Lean construction can be described as a so-called “process improvement philosophy.”  Knowledge exchange between all members of the project team needs to occur at the right time throughout the life of a project. As part of this process philosophy, architects need to describe and document the design in terms of how it will be built (not just provide design intent) as part of the Contract Document (CD) deliverables. In order to achieve this goal/step, the entire building team needs to collaborate, including product representatives, cost estimators and the sub-contractors who will do the actual building per the Architect’s design. 

The roundtable also touched upon how successful projects incorporate a series of key mock-ups early in the process (during the traditional Design Development/ Construction Documents Phase) to ensure that any pre-fabricated techniques, as well as all sub-contractor integration, are thoroughly coordinated before CD’s are delivered. This adds to the comfort level of the entire project team and in most cases, clears away all of the inefficiencies of the traditional construction model.

(Visual mockup at University of Massachusetts Medical School, Albert Sherman Center)

One comment made during the discussion was that the lean process as related to an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) project “enhances team harmony.”  I was fortunate to work on an IPD project with a prior firm and can indeed confirm this comment.  I worked on the Autodesk Headquarters project in Waltham, MA and was responsible for the design, detailing and coordination of a new vertical Lobby space that was to be carved out of the existing floor slab construction.  During the Design Development Phase, there was an established set of coordination meetings that all parties attended:  the architect, architect’s consultants, owner, cost estimator, construction manager, sub-contractors and manufacturer’s representatives.  These meetings helped define the cost of the Lobby space, the sequencing of construction and the “how it will be built” program, as it was ultimately defined in the contract documents. 

(Above photos of Autodesk Headquarters courtesy of

All of the effort that the manufacturer and sub-contractor would expend to produce separate shop drawings and subsequent architect’s review, was already integrated into the construction documents set.  Though we still did a formal submittal process, in hindsight, this step could have been eliminated due to the effective integration of details throughout the project.  The actual submittal review took minimal time and on almost all occasions met approval without any comments.  Having the cost implications and the sub-contractors input on how it was to be actually built during the Design Development Phase was instrumental in a seamless transition from the initial design concept to actual built form in the field.

The inherent challenges to Lean Project Delivery were also discussed.  First, the Owners need to be willing to invest time and money up front early in the design process, compared to the traditional project delivery method.  There also needs to be a more clear and efficient way to present metrics to the owner to ensure a greater level of comfort with this process.  Another challenge is that the entire project team needs to agree on relative cost with a defined scope at the early stages of a project.  Integrating a qualified Construction Manager and engaging sub-contractors early on can help to identify the cost and parameters of the project.

As one gentleman joked at the end of the discussion, “my wife is always telling me that I need to become leaner.”  Project delivery in our industry needs to continue to evolve and become leaner as well.  The efficiencies delivered can not only be attained on the construction side of the equation, but also for owner’s user groups and the design implementation as well.  Bottom line: we can all be more efficient.

At ARC, we continue to look for ways to employ lean practices.  For example, we have been incorporating multiple early mock-ups, preliminary Building Information Modeling (BIM) clash detection, and incorporating sub-contractors at early stages of projects.  Recent projects where we have taken this approach include the Deerfield Academy’s Center for the Arts Renovation and Addition and Genzyme Corporation's Biologics Support Center (pictured below). 

(Deerfield Academy, Center for the Arts Renovation and Addition)

(Genzyme Corporation, Biologics Support Center)


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