Many efforts to drive construction innovation and improve the industry involve limited solutions developed to solve limited problems.
We all experience what I like to call ‘shared pains,’ or a common set of barriers that prevent us from our true potential when it comes to digital collaboration. The solution comes not just from construction technology, but through foundational changes in our process and behavior.
But we can’t just talk about it, we have to do something...
This is why I recently partnered with Autodesk to create a forum and space for professionals across the project lifecycle to come together and solve larger industry problems in new ways. As my good friend and colleague, Laurie Spitler says:
“If you just solve the contractor’s problems, you’re only solving the contractor’s problems. It takes everyone coming together to discuss the whole picture in order to innovate and move the industry forward.”
Laurie Spitler, Autodesk BIM 360 Product Manager, A3 Workshop veteran
Over the past year, I have worked with Autodesk to execute several A3 workshops across the country, with the most recent one concluding at Autodesk University Connect & Construct Summit.
We also partnered with the Lean Congress Institute (LCI) where we invited thinkers from around the world to experience the collaborative problem-solving power of the A3 approach during the LCI Congress in October. A lot of great information has come out of these workshops - ideas that I look forward to sharing with you in this article. But first, let’s dive into the biggest question you're probably asking yourself...
What is an A3 Workshop?
An A3 workshop uses a structured problem-solving approach pioneered by Toyota over a half-century ago. Typically used by lean manufacturing practitioners to support continuous improvement, the A3 gets its name from the single sheet of ISO A3-size paper that has been traditionally used to guide the process and record the results.
The A3 approach provides a framework for different perspectives to assess their collective shared pains, align around a common vision of the future, and advance forward with a realistic implementation strategy. Together, each develops a better understanding of why these root causes exist, and what counter measures exist to help us overcome them and reach our “blue sky vision.”
An A3 workshop provides a framework for stakeholders to assess their collective pains and create solutions.
The most challenging section of the A3 report - not surprisingly - is the follow-up. The next steps are clearly described in the report, and understood by the participants. However, the common theme discussed was that once we enter the real world of training and implementation, it’s “easier said than done.”
Our A3 workshops were run as part of a joint effort with Autodesk’s Construction team to drive more collaborative conversations between a group of disparate AEC professionals trying to break down barriers and solve problems. These barriers included how to better understand the owner’s metrics for success, how to track monetization of early project planning, and how to improve project handover.
Results Of The First A3 Workshop
After four workshops we definitely learned a lot, capturing over a dozen innovation plans to improve team collaboration and drive better projects insights. Looking back at each workshop holistically, it was clear that the more diverse the participant group was, the more value was generated in their A3 report. This is especially true at the LCI Congress, which brought together contractors, engineers, architects, software manufacturers, tradespeople, and property owners to address our compounding challenges related to submittal workflow and the exchange of as-built documentation.
AEC stakeholders came together to address compounding challenges related to submittal workflow and as-built documentation.
It was great to see everyone across the construction supply chain working together towards a common goal. At the end of the day, the reason we have these A3 workshops is to help AEC professionals develop a common language for establishing our collaborative ‘rules of engagement’ in the digital age.
“The idea was for us to develop a better understanding of what it means for a contractor to deliver a successful project,” says Spitler. “It’s not just the language in the contract. We needed a framework for understanding the owner’s definition of success and how to deliver on it.”
Laurie Spitler, Autodesk BIM 360 Product Manager, A3 Workshop veteran
The workshop process is simple, by design. It begins with a blank A3 containing only a subset of questions and the order of which to answer them. Participants then begin the process of brainstorming (and debating) the root causes of their shared pain, and document each step on the path to adoption and return on investment.
In these particular workshops, participants were asked to identify their top ‘shared pains’. These include:
Ambiguous contract requirements that are not clearly understood by recipient stakeholders
Finding the “best” time to perform a digital constructability review
Capturing project data to measure project health (cost, quality, schedule, etc.)
For each integration challenge, we did a root cause analysis by asking “why” each challenge exists, and taking the question down to five levels. Below is an example of “why” a technology challenge like “the iPad is not charged” is certainly not the root cause.
The groups then identified a series of countermeasures to tackle the root causes, which can be summarized with the following plans of action:
Remove the incentive roadblocks: Each impacted stakeholder across the informational supply-chain should be able to share and access data without facing undue risk to the individual. Contracts should incentivize transparency, accountability, and innovation.
Confront the barriers of human condition: Even when working in a shared risk and reward environment like Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), traditional mindsets lead to legacy behaviors that erodes transparency and trust. Each project stakeholder must truly understand the shift in mindset and motivation required to be effective in more progressive delivery models.
Address the inherent communication breakdowns: With so many different perspectives now trying to collaborate in parallel, terms and acronyms are bound to get ‘lost in translation. Conduct a dedicated kickoff meeting with stakeholders to clearly understand the owner’s project requirements, and define the common language and process standards that will most effectively meet the client’s expectations.
The workshop process begins with a blank A3 containing only a subset of questions and the order of which to answer them
It was clear after the Autodesk Construction A3 workshops that many opportunities exist for us to leverage technology integrations to solve industry-wide challenges. The real challenge, however, relates to how the technology is defined and implemented in the real world, where no two scenarios are the same. We learned that by focusing on specific workflow challenges, and using a structured framework like the Lean A3 report, we can develop realistic implementation plans that will better define the value proposition, and the commitment necessary from each stakeholder to achieve the expected return on investment. Workshop participants were challenged to bring these A3 innovation plans back to their companies and look for opportunities to implement them. These collaborative exercises help us to see the opportunities for innovation that are right in front of our noses, we just have to take a little time to step back and look for them.
I am excited for the opportunity to take these A3 opportunities out of the workshop and onto a real world pilot project in 2019!
The Construction Innovation Magic of A3
The more we talk about these shared pains between integration standards and collaboration incentives, the easier it becomes to create action plans to address them, the more likely we are to see measurable industry improvement.
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