Building is hard. But is it possible we’re making it harder than it has to be?
As we pursue and win bids, we gradually develop understanding of the design requirements of each project, and the desires of the customer regarding both form and function. Post award, we collaborate with our assigned design teammates to develop an even deeper level of understanding needed for design and construction drawings.
Then the race begins, toward a beautiful place called Substantial Completion. Unfortunately, the race is rarely smooth and we rarely get to our destination without a few bruises and a lot of headaches. While doing our level best to meet the expectations of customers and design team partners, inevitably, design and constructability will clash. Clashes lead to changes and changes lead to re-drawing. Throughout the journey, the consistent theme is re-drawing to make accommodations while still providing a product that will be acceptable.
These iterative revisions are time consuming for all project team members. It’s frustrating to create, review, approve, and install changes. In my opinion, this traditional workflow is long overdue for a major disruption.
How the Iterative Design Process Works Now
Today, customers typically begin their building journey by engaging a design team in a dialogue related to a particular desire. The needs of the customer are designed at a schematic level and the requirements for performance are identified.
Once criteria for the desired finished state is validated and agreed to, the design team defines the iterative process and begins their work toward “Construction Documents.” This process usually includes health checks along the way, including 30% Design Development (DD) review, 60% DD review, 90% DD review, 30% Construction Document (CD) review, 60% CD review, and finally, at last, 100% CDs.
Throughout this part of the journey, all design team members are drawing and redrawing based on developing knowledge about requirements and constructability. All of this arduous effort should yield a buildable project… but wait. At this point, the drawings are turned over to the construction teams to create shop drawings based on their disciplines (Concrete, Steel, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, etc.). The construction teams then iterate the drawings again, until everyone–design team, customer, GC–reach a point of agreement that they have met the requirements and the intent of the design.
By the time we get to this point, the drawings have been re-drawn dozens of times. This is the iterative design process as it exists now.
What? There has to be a better way.
Transforming the Iterative Design Process for Construction Drawings
The amount of sweat equity involved before construction even begins, in order to achieve constructible drawings, is immense. Reducing this effort would save time, money, and the frustration of covering the same ground over and over again.
There has to be a leaner approach. But, how do we achieve “Lean” design development, without compromising the integrity of the design?
Quite simply, we should be asking our design team members to put their pencils away once the schematic design and performance criteria has been established. Stop asking designers to create construction drawings, which the construction teams will then have to re-draw to make constructible. Instead, we can ask them to act as trusted advisors to the construction team, while the construction team (or construction document management team) produces the construction drawings.
This would eliminate the entire shop drawing process altogether, and reduce overall cycle time. It would also result in more complete design development, because the collaboration would happen inside a much closer relationship. Understanding of materials and equipment will be brought to bear during design development instead of after, which allows for much more informed decisions throughout the process. Construction drawings can be designed with a fuller understanding of downstream activities including, but not limited to, budget, schedule, and facility management.
In this model, the design team remains in full control of final design, while accessing the field knowledge and expertise of construction teams much earlier in the process.
Toward a Leaner Construction Future
Builders, owners, and design professionals have already started to migrate toward more Lean environments for the iterative process. Design assist and IPD methodologies are producing some helpful results. But the iterative process needs this disruption: A complete hand-off of the drafting aspects of iteration. In this environment, construction companies and design teams will be able to provide next level best in class results for clients.