Insights
January / February 2019

Teamwork Unlocks Success - Lessons from the Lacrosse Field

Raj Vora, PE
Article - ISPE Pharmaceutical Engineering

Across industries, the trend is toward speed to market. - Whether it’s meeting consumer expectations for instant service or being the first to bring an innovation to shelves, companies have plenty of incentives to make products and services available faster.

Raj Vora
Raj Vora

This has generally been a positive development for stakeholders throughout the architecture/engineering/construction delivery chain. Consumers get the products they want sooner. Companies and their shareholders often see better results. Contractors and suppliers—as well as the people they employ—reap financial rewards. Traditional workflows also become leaner and more efficient and drive the entire industry forward.

Speed to market can be so appealing that it’s easy to assume anything that looks leaner is automatically better. At its heart, lean production isn’t about doing more with fewer resources, however; it’s about bringing the best resources together, optimizing them, and breaking free of legacy workflows that have not kept pace with technology. Creating a team that looks lean but retains blind spots might actually lead to more waste.

As manufacturing changes, all of us with roles in that evolution—especially in construction and design should be careful to focus on what really constitutes lean project delivery. As the life sciences world also begins to focus on smaller, more nimble facilities, however, there are already signs that the goal of speed to market is causing some to lose sight of the best ways to build.

While the rationale behind trying to “lean up” construction delivery in manufacturing is sound, the logic behind omitting a construction firm needs some examination. The best way to obtain sole-source contracting remains true design-build or methods like CM/GC that integrate constructors with designers early in the process.

Creating a Championship Team

As a longtime lacrosse player and fan, I admire Bill Tierney—one of the most successful coaches in NCAA Men’s Division I lacrosse. After long-term success at powerhouse Princeton University, Tierney led the University of Denver’s team to the semifinals five times during his seven-year tenure. Tierney, who clearly created high-caliber teams, is also the source of a quotation that’s especially applicable to my work in construction: “Every game is so important, especially in a year like this with so many upsets. You can’t lose focus. After last year, I think the reminder is still clear enough.”

Construction and design may not be as ashy as college lacrosse, but having a team with the right skills and dedicated focus is the key to success in both ventures. Despite this, there is a growing trend of owners moving away from traditional construction partners and utilizing their design teams as their construction managers.

It sounds like a great lean solution, right? It seems like a chance to have fewer cooks in the kitchen, and create a more streamlined process from benchtop to business and a single-source contract solution.

This approach might sound good on paper, but project owners who follow it risk losing some of the things a partner with a core construction business brings to the table:

Technical building expertise: Too often, construction is viewed as simply executing what is on a set of drawings. In reality, contractors and construction managers have decades of field knowledge that brings amazing designs to life. In addition, complex projects with a variety of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and process systems or cleanroom space requirements present potentially costly pitfalls. A specialized construction rm not only knows how to avoid them, but how to anticipate them.

Local market knowledge: Construction managers’ deep knowledge of and experience with local subcontractor markets can bring value throughout the construction chain that other firms cannot. In addition, local labor markets vary widely, from availability of craft and union agreements to local processes for permits. Challenges with even one of these areas can affect project schedules and budgets.

Lessons learned: Construction rms with years of experience know where the pitfalls are, and often have the in-house expertise to help avoid them. Making the same mistake twice (or more) is the antithesis of lean delivery. As in any team sport, a rookie’s long-term success often depends on learning from seasoned veterans, the ones who already know how to avoid common errors.

A Winning System

While the rationale behind trying to “lean up” construction delivery in manufacturing is sound, the logic behind omitting a construction firm needs some examination. The best way to obtain sole-source contracting remains true design-build or methods like CM/GC that integrate constructors with designers early in the process. Some owners take things a step further and “lean forward” with integrated project delivery (IPD). What appeared to be a fad several years ago is now a very real project delivery system within the global life sciences industry.

Our industry has spent so much time calling these approaches “alternative delivery” that it masks their wide adoption. Putting construction, design, and engineering partners together creates the industry equivalent of a championship sports team, and allows each firm to not only focus on its strengths but also to work together toward the common goal of customer outcomes. In IPD, where each entity signs the same contract and shares the same stake in success, that cohesiveness is even more formal.

It’s natural for any project owner to want a superstar on the team. To yield the best results—a team that doesn’t just make the playoffs, but can win it all—stars and key supporting players have to work together.

Project owners don’t need to cut corners in the name of speed to market. The design and construction process is not a boxing match or marathon in which an athlete is competing only for himself or herself; it’s a team sport. Putting the right team together and letting individual talents build the best workflows will ultimately bring facilities online faster and be more replicable across the industry.