Controlling the Cost of Time: The Key to Successful Life Sciences Construction

Without good early decision making, time can adversely affect even the best-designed projects.

Speed-to-market is front of mind for project owners across the life sciences space, from biotech research & development to pharmaceutical manufacturing. While efficiency in construction itself is key to keeping schedule, Mike Marston, one of DPR Construction’s Life Sciences core market leaders, recently spoke at the Advancing Life Sciences Conference about how owners need to consider how their decisions in the procurement process can have long-lasting effects on the project schedule and building operations. Marston discussed top takeaways with us after the event.

An individual on a stage giving a presentation in a conference room.

Where do you see the best chances to streamline decision making on life sciences construction projects?

Marston: The first thing is to understand who the real stakeholders are for a project and to understand the cost of time. We can usually work together to find ways to fluctuate within budgets. We can look at different materials in procurement to address quality and we can always modify budgets. What we are challenged with is time. There are only so many things we can do to accelerate a project. Therefore, we need to plan our projects to not waste and take advantage of the time we have as best as possible.

As a result, project teams should look at time through the lens of how it affects their overall business, and not just the construction project. If we make decisions just based on a short-term construction process, the impact of time or delay to a client's business could be tremendous. Understanding the business and financial models of your firm and how those defining features of business should inform construction is a great filter not only for early decision making, but through the course and completion of the project.

While many customers we work with have differing levels of engagement, what we can say is the process needs to start early. We want to get involved as early as possible and ask questions to have them contemplate with the design partner to make the best decisions, taking into consideration current and future supply chain and labor conditions. In a traditionally siloed execution of a project, there is the risk of being focused so much on design without proper consideration for construction and eventual building operations. Clients need a contracting partner who has not only the short term look at what's coming up, but also the long-term data to inform robust business decisions. 

three people talking on a jobsite

Everyone is focused on speed-to-market. Where do project teams risk getting hung up?

Marston: Certainly, the objective on any project is predictable results, specifically around quality, time and budget. One of the risks that can affect those three components is material and equipment procurement, especially if you’re not pull planning it into the early-stage decision making process.

For example, an owner might design a completely custom facility and, on paper, everything looks perfect to optimize the end product—the facility. If that plan focused only on optimization, it risks supply chain problems. Suppose key pieces of equipment can only come from one manufacturer or a pool of very few manufacturers. Your design is great from a quality perspective, but you’re hurting schedule and budget before a shovel has even hit the ground. This can impact construction, but also facilities and operations throughout the lifecycle of the building as well. Global supply chain impacts can have tremendous impacts to business operations when failures occur if spare parts or qualified labor haven’t been considered in the designing of a project.

moving a crate on a construction site

What are the longest lead times you’re seeing in the supply chain recently and what can customers do to head them off?

Marston: Certain commodities—that can mean materials but also a manufactured product—like copper still tend to have fairly long lead times. We are also seeing other commodity shortages in precious metals, which affects manufacturers of chips and other electronic components that go into these specialized facilities. We're still feeling some of the pandemic effects because of the disruptions, short term bubbles and demand requirements.

The good news is much of the supply chain problems that we had a few years ago have smoothed out, but it's something you have to be watching constantly because the supply chain is extremely complex. We are playing on a global level and geopolitical impacts are tremendous right now. So are infrastructure impacts or adjacent market impacts. There are so many things that can potentially affect your supply chain. Teams should make sure to design and schedule flexibility into projects to minimize potential supply chain impacts.

The number one thing customers can do is to set their plans and bring in their partners to streamline decision making early. This will allow clients to get the best information early from the construction market to best mitigate impacts to their projects.