At Miller Valentine Construction, we use a number of delivery methods — but all of our work is grounded in collaborative principles. This four-part series explains what collaboration means in the construction industry and how we pursue it. The last installment of the series talks about how to encourage collaboration to drive business benefits.
There’s a reason companies boast about their years in the industry: we learn from experience.
In collaborative working models, the pool of experience is much broader. Everyone has a seat at the table, so projects benefit from multiple companies’ lessons learned — not just those of the owner or construction manager. And let’s be honest: every project has some hurdle or difficulty to overcome (especially over the last 2.5 years and into the foreseeable future).
Collaborative teams are candid about the challenges they’re facing (or predicting), so the entire group can contribute to the resolution. Instead of burying a bad memory, they learn from mistakes and build improvements into the next project. Ultimately, that benefits the entire industry.
In collaborative models, partners are valued for their technical expertise, not because they’re the lowest bidder. Experienced and collaborative partners can help you cut costs, of course, but not by sacrificing bigger-picture goals such as quality. They’re more likely to find efficiencies or reduce waste because they understand the entire project scope instead of just their slice.
As projects increase in size, owners have more to gain from collaboration, according to project delivery research from the Construction Industry Institute (CII). Researchers at CII said complexity adds risk, which can drive up cost.
You don’t dance well with a partner the first time. Collaboration leads to continuous improvement when you:
- Select for collaboration. Don’t pick a contractor that you’d only work with once. Choose partners based on a range of criteria, not just price. Collaboration requires a good cultural fit as well as technical skill. Look for partners who ask good questions, listen and approach everyone on the project team as their equal.
- Bring the right people to the table. For collaboration models to work, everyone needs the opportunity to participate. Owners, trade partners, and associates need to hear and contribute to issues, feedback, and options that are being explored.
- Get input early. Ask for contractors’ input and expertise before they’re on the job site. Owners that solicit input on scope and delivery models before breaking ground are more likely to design better schedules and contract terms and avoid risk.
- Welcome ideas from other industries and trades. Experience is valuable, but we risk falling into “the way it’s always done.” Collaborative teams invite fresh viewpoints that can lead to innovative solutions. Partners should feel free to introduce ideas they’ve seen on other job sites or in other industries.
- Transfer knowledge instead of handing off projects. In a collaborative effort, nobody leaves the project. That means there’s no “hot potato” handoff from one stage to the next. Team members transfer their knowledge to the next phase but stay invested in the project (and accessible). That incentivizes contractors to deliver their best work.
- Communicate clearly and constantly. Not every conversation is fun. But if you don’t discuss challenges, they’re likely to be repeated. Don’t wait until the end of a project to have difficult conversations — you’ll miss opportunities to improve. Communication also builds trust, which benefits projects over time.
- Apply your experience. At the end of projects, reconvene to document lessons learned — the good and the bad — so they can be applied to future efforts. Gathering feedback from the entire project team amplifies the impact of lessons learned for everyone involved.
In CII’s study of 96 construction projects, respondents reported that collaborative models outperformed traditional delivery methods in nearly every assessment area: cost, schedule, quality, communication, and change management. And from our experience, collaboration creates a better experience for all of the project partners involved.
Every stage of a project can be collaborative, regardless of the contracting or delivery method. Start collaborating early. Select the right team. And clearly articulate your vision. Then, everyone can apply their experiences toward your build.
Link to other articles in the series:
- Integrated Project Delivery
- How Lean/IPD can Create Certainty in a VUCA World
- Collaborative Contracting: Making it Happen
- Construction Industry Institute: Updating Project Delivery and Contract Strategies
- “After the Revolution: Understanding a Decade of Change in Project Delivery Systems and Their Impact on Project Performance.” Construction Industry Institute, May 2021.