Convergence: How to Supercharge Lean, VDC and Sustainability
by Chad Dorgan, McCarthy Vice President Quality and Sustainability
A perfect storm is brewing in our industry. Project teams are facing new processes and cultural changes at an ever-increasing pace, all while projects become more complex, schedules more compressed, and trade personnel more stretched to meet the increasing labor demand. The three significant cultural changes for the AEC industry have been Lean, Virtual Design & Construction (VDC), and Sustainability. When time and resources are stretched, something has to give if we do not address the increasing demand for project teams to successfully integrate these three facets. The solution is Convergence.
Competing Cultural Change
Lean started in manufacturing and has been making inroads to the AEC industry over the past five years. The slow start was primarily due to the fact that construction is not directly parallel to the manufacturing industry, where product and processes are very repetitive. However, certain key concepts of Lean have translated well:
- Quality-Based Process: What has been key is the recognition that Lean is a quality-based process at its core, and that we are not adding to our current quality cultures in our companies, but rather enhancing our cultures with some better tools and methods.
- Individual Empowerment: Simply put, Lean is fix what bugs me with the focus on the individual. If it bugs you and you fix it, there are massive payoffs in satisfaction, productivity and team morale.
- Continuous Improvement: By focusing on continuous improvement, Lean breaks the old approach of establishing a procedure and sticking to it – instead, we focus on always assuming the procedure can be improved upon every day.
- Effectiveness: Being effective means you have a single cycle on each activity; even if the cycle is longer. You must first be effective before you can be efficient.
- Waste Awareness and Elimination: Finally, Lean is about recognizing the eight forms of waste and driving their elimination on a constant basis.
VDC is melding our time-tested core processes with technology, software and virtual models. This melding can result in improving, modifying or eliminating a core process. Ultimately, VDC is not about the technology or model, but about improving team collaboration and engagement through visualization of the project and its execution.
Another core value of VDC is the concept of a Single Source of Truth. By combining process and technology to increase access to information, every project participant can be accessing and using the same information to do their job. Gone are the days of having different documents in different locations and not knowing what other team members are doing.
For many clients, Sustainability has become a major corporate value and ethos on which a business operates. This goes well beyond just the building, which is the focus of the AEC industry, and includes:
- Impact on the Environment: Fundamentally, sustainability is how we impact the environment and what we are doing to reduce that impact. It is not about a certification or plaque, but what we do every day – it is cultural.
- Materials/Management/Personnel: Sustainability spans materials used, management practices and the people involved throughout each process.
- Operational Impacts: The main impact of a building on the environment is the 30 to 50 years of operation; minimizing the operational impacts has the largest sustainability value.
- Client Supply Chains: Corporately, clients are focusing well beyond their physical assets and looking at all of their supply chains and the impact their company has broadly on communities around the globe.
The Silo Approach
One of the biggest challenges with the three cultural transformations the AEC industry is undergoing is that each program is viewed as a silo. In many cases, each program has its own champions to support the culture change, and they message and focus differently.
Ultimately, the silo approach results in poor communication of value and cost to those you want to change culturally. This leads to misalignment of team members and often results in repetitive activities being completed within each silo. Ultimately, we are not achieving true value propositions for owners and project partners.
Concept of Convergence
Convergence is the process of coming together or the state of having come together toward a common point.
When you look at the individual cultural changes the AEC industry is currently experiencing, it is relatively easy to identify core common elements across them. In addition, culture change is fundamentally about the “process of change” and can be easily applied across each of the three areas. Finally, as each team member has a different definition and is at a different point along the path of change, there is an opportunity through Convergence to eliminate confusion and gain understanding.
The goal of Convergence is to:
- Align through Core Elements: Allow the team to focus on the change and not the individual silo buzzwords.
- Eliminate Terminology Bias: Help individual team members get past terminology bias and possible poor past experiences with one of the programs.
- Overlay On and Across the Project: Overlay on top of the project and across all processes to achieve value and true cultural change since every project team is unique.
- Define/Document Value by Project Team: Value and documentation is done by the project, as the change needs to be personal to sustain onto the next project.
Convergence Core Elements
The Four Convergence Core Elements eliminate confusion and provide clarity of focus to the team members:
- Individual responsibility: The individual needs to do something or to make a change. If they are not responsible for their actions, the individual programs will and do fail.
- Process improvement: Improve upon what has been done in the past, with many instances where the three programs overlap on trying to improve the same process.
- Team alignment: Align the team around its primary purpose.
- Culteral: Ultimately, each program wants the culture to change, hopefully for the better.
- Establish Team-Based Priorities/Terms
- Project Process Alignment
Establish Team-Based Priorities/Terms
The first step in Convergence is to not focus on the programs but to have the project team establish their priorities and the terminology to be used. The best way to do this is through the use of the Nominal Group Technique – a group brainstorming approach.
The Nominal Group Technique is the quickest way to get consensus of diverse teams such as the owner, occupants/users, design partners, trade partners, and community and government officials. The key to the Nominal Group Technique is to ask questions that elicit broad responses, require discussion, and can result in defining the priorities for the team. For Convergence, the three questions that get to the heart of the three programs include:
- Lean: What processes bug me? This allows the team to identify where they should focus their initial attention to bring the greatest value to the overall team.< > What information do we need to build the project? This goes back to the single source of truth concept and ensures that we get the right information first, and then apply technology and software to support that.< > How can this project be sustainable? This gets away from focusing on the building or a rating system and gets the team to look at sustainability at the project level.
- Key Milestones/Deliverables: The team starts with putting key milestones and deliverables on the white board. It is critical that these are agreed to first as any misalignment will cascade through the rest of the project.
- Team-Based Process Mapping: Each team member puts their key activities on the board with individuals talking in small groups to understand the activities and preceding and subsequent activities.
- Swim Lanes: The activities are then divided into swim lanes — either for different groups, the key programs or some other categorization — that allow for better understanding by the team how the project will be executed and by whom.
Ultimately, we have found the Collaborative Process eliminates jargon among the team members and gets everyone to focus on how the team needs to work together to achieve success. This also eliminates redundant and repetitive processes, identifies and eliminates waste within and among team members' processes, and provides clarity to how the entire team will work together.
A simple example of Convergence can be shown through a VDC model:
Through Convergence, the discussion of what information is included in the model (VDC), how the work will be executed (Lean), and how to improve the performance of the final building (Sustainability) are all accomplished concurrently and cohesively. In the example, Lean is highlighted by the green walls with respect to prefabrication, the man lift for logistics to access and install the prefabricated components, and Sustainability through the building enclosure, specifically the shade devices.
Convergence aligns and streamlines seemingly separate project processes to ultimately lead to continuous team improvement. Through Convergence, teams will see a reduction in the effort to execute a project. The team will also see improvement in time as providing clarity in communication and direction to the entire team eliminates confusion and improves efficiencies. Lastly through convergence, teams will see a cost-savings impact as the most cost-effective approach is always to Do Work Right the First Time – during design, throughout construction and for ongoing operations. Convergence is an effective approach to making this happen.
About the Author
Chad Dorgan, Ph.D., P.E., LEED AP BD+C, is Vice President, Quality and Sustainability at McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. He is based in Newport Beach, Calif. Chad received his Ph.D. in Indoor Air Quality from the University of Wisconsin where he also earned his bachelor of Mechanical Engineering degree. He has 23 years of experience in the construction industry, including the last seven with McCarthy where he directs the company’s quality, sustainability, and VDC programs nationwide. Chad can be reached at email@example.com.