While the world was adjusting to life with COVID-19, DPR Construction sought out its industry partners and customers to collaboratively look forward as we navigate this unprecedented pandemic and its effects on healthcare. These discussions delved deeply into current impacts, challenges, and opportunities that are emerging as the pandemic continues to affect the world.
This is the first in a series of briefings sharing collective insights. This introductory briefing provides an overview of key topics. Upcoming installments will include looks at:
DPR would like to thank Banner Health, City of Hope, CO Architects, EYP, HGA, HKS, Jacobs, Perkins & Will, Rady Children’s Hospital, Sharp Grossmont Hospital, SmithGroup, Stantec, Virginia Commonwealth University Health System, WSP, and Site Plus, a communications consultant to DPR, for their participation in gathering these insights.
What Did We Learn?
When these conversations began, DPR and its partners were all just beginning to understand the pandemic's effects and implement changes to address new concerns and ways to continue to provide services by and for the healthcare industry. Throughout every conversation, one thing became clear: the future is not predictable. Success means learning to deal with that unpredictability and also refraining from acting prematurely.
Solutions that health care systems and the industries that support them need to be future proof. Measures put into place now must continue to be of value into the future. How? There was agreement among participants that flexibility is paramount.
The challenges posed by COVID-19 generally fall into three categories: safety, capacity, and isolation.
Safety considerations must take into account patients, staff and essential vendors, including the design and building team. Separating infectious patients, providing adequate PPE to staff and frequent testing are the primary essential strategies that were identified.
Surge capacity planning must consider the increase in pandemic cases. This was the first area where design and construction professionals had an impact. Initial temporary solutions yielded to planning that can accommodate on-going patient care concurrently with isolated surge needs.
The use of portable HEPA filters to create negative pressure rooms quickly accommodated the necessary isolation of patients until better separation strategies could be implemented.
There’s no one solution for all, every system and facility have a different footprint, a different financial position, and different operational considerations. All these things must be considered within the local context.
Additionally, the discussions yielded that there is a silver lining amongst the effects of COVID-19. The pandemic has clearly accelerated several positive changes in healthcare.
Foremost is the adaptation to a digital healthcare model, telehealth and telemedicine. There was clear acknowledgement that it was not technology and connectivity that were inhibiting telehealth implementation as much as it was insurance payments and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) lack of coverage. When emergency waivers went into effect, the use of telehealth exploded. When it was offered by medical practices, it was quickly adopted by patients. Now, it is here to stay.
Data interoperability has also taken a huge leap forward fueled by pandemic reporting. Patients’ electronic health records had still been maintained in silos between doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies. With the onset of COVID-19, data standards are rapidly being developed, adopted, and implemented.
While not immediately rectified, the pandemic has demonstrated the need for more of a national supply chain instead of relying on international manufacturers for items such as PPE, drugs, and diagnostic tests.
Some temporary changes may lead to permanent efficiencies in space usage, such as off-site electronic patient registration and PPE donning and doffing in designated anterooms, and alternate clinical workflows.
There is certain to be another pandemic, disruption, seasonal surge or similar critical healthcare crisis. The convened panel of healthcare leaders all agree that planning ahead now for better flexibility in our health care facilities is one thing everyone can and should be doing.
Mass timber, healthy spaces, adaptive reuse, resiliency and more are leading discussion topics in the realm of sustainability.
We've put many resources in one place as the sustainability community gathers virtually for Greenbuild this week. Through experiences on our own projects and for our customers, we believe a healthy and high-performing built environment can be constructed affordably for any project type in its core markets.
Mass timber continues to gain ground as an innovative alternative building material. Engineered for loads similar in strength to structural materials like concrete and steel, mass timber allows crews to build tall, with a lighter, natural, low-carbon and high-quality resource. As its adoption grows, questions inevitably arise about the do’s and don’ts of its deployment. Continue reading >
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, there has been significant speculation about what the pandemic will mean for workplaces in the future. The return to the office will happen, and when it does, it will look different for every organization. What will be important, though, is making sure offices are set up in ways to minimize further disruptions and optimize the health of their occupants. Through the design and construction approaches, businesses can plan for resiliency in the face of not only this pandemic, but other potentialities that could disrupt business for weeks or months at a time. Continue reading >
In a shift from the midcentury trend of downtown abandonment and blight due to the rise of suburbs, adaptive reuse has been gaining ground—a shift The National Trust for Historic Preservation calls “reurbanism.” Adaptive reuse differs from restoration or historic preservation because it fundamentally changes the purpose of a building to meet different occupant needs. It creates an opportunity to not only update the aesthetics of a structure, but to push the envelope in design and construction by transforming aging structures into high performing buildings. Continue reading >
PEOPLE ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT ASSET IN A BUILDING. BUILDINGS SHOULD SUPPORT THEIR WELL-BEING.
We’ve all walked into a room and been overly distracted by smells, lighting, temperature, noise or other environmental factors. We all know the resulting feeling of a headache coming on and the desire to move to a different space where we can focus. The places where we work should be designed and built to encourage our ability to do the things we’re best at, rather than distract from them. How much productivity is lost when whole groups are working in less than ideal environments? Continue reading >
The Miller Hull Partnership recently received Living Building Challenge Petal Certification for the renovation of its San Diego studio. Built by DPR Construction, the 4,600-square-foot tenant improvement included upgrades to the open office, conference rooms and model shop. Continue reading >
HOW DPR'S LIVING LABS ARE PIONEERING NET-ZERO ENERGY BUILDING CERTIFICATION
In the ever-evolving sustainable design and construction arena, many owners and project teams are setting their sights on a goal that seemed improbable just a short time ago: creating commercial buildings that produce as much or more energy as they consume each year, known as net-zero energy buildings. Continue reading >
DPR Construction played a key role in the extensive efforts of WRNS Studio's Seattle office to seek Living Building Challenge Materials Petal certification, which would be a first for DPR’s Northwest region. WRNS desired a higher standard of sustainability with the project, a concept that aligns with DPR’s sustainability goals. Continue reading >
This Earth Day, DPR is taking stock of its impacts on the planet and communities where it operates and reflecting on the environmental performance of its office operations, especially the observation that high-performance buildings at market rates are realistic. Continue reading >
Austin, TX-based superintendents Emory Sweeney and Steve Paredes know the value of good planning and being good partners. Their robust collaboration coupled with a project-wide commitment to aligning everyone on the team, regardless of role, made all the difference on their most recent project, with their team completing a downtown Austin hotel six weeks ahead of schedule. What was the key to success? “Man, there really is no secret sauce,” Paredes said. “It comes down to having good relationships, a good plan, getting the key personnel in early, and having our self-perform workforces alongside us. We’ve had some people really stand out on this project who have now begun leading others, so we can leave saying we’ve executed on a high level and we’ve also built some good builders.”
Q: What are your roles at DPR and describe the paths you took to get there.
Sweeney: I started at DPR as an intern and then became a project engineer right out of the University of Texas at Austin, where I studied Civil Engineering. While I was a PE, I found that I really enjoyed being out in the field, helping coordinate work and interacting with the trades, so on one of my projects I made a switch and started doing both. From there, I progressed to assistant superintendent, then superintendent.
Paredes: I’m a general superintendent, and I’m on the leadership team in Austin. I studied Construction Management in college, but in 2006 I saw a need opening up in the field with a lot of experienced superintendents retiring, so I took advantage of that and went the field route. I’ve been able to do a lot of projects I really enjoy—tall structures in a hectic downtown environment that are logistically challenging—and I get to share my knowledge. What really drives me is building good teams, and I get great satisfaction from knowing we’re not just building projects; we’re building people.
Q: Why do you think being a self-performing general contractor makes a difference on a project?
Sweeney: One of the biggest benefits is that everyone is on same page as far as overall goal for project. There’s no hidden agenda; it’s all DPR and we all have the same goal. There’s an extra level of honesty and transparency that makes things a lot easier. You feel like you’re talking to a friend. The things we do in the field drive the critical path, and we have a massive impact as a team that helps the schedule. That all comes down to communication and that lack of a barrier.
Paredes: On this project, it made all the difference with our schedule. We did all the structural concrete from level B3 up to level 34, and Concrete was able to gain us about a month overall. We used a climbing core system, which used to be unique to Austin. Our concrete lead had a lot of experience with it on the West Coast, where it’s utilized more. It allowed us to keep the form work intact. With limited space around the project, keeping that form work up on the deck rather than having to fly it down after every pour was pretty instrumental. There was a cost upgrade to it, but it allowed us to gain some schedule time back. Now if you look around Austin, I think there are four other projects that have climbing core systems, and prior to this project there were zero.
Our Drywall group performed all the framing and drywall on all the guest room levels, from level 7 through 34. We never missed a drywall hang date throughout the entire project. That was a big milestone, and we hit it on every single one of those floors. Our Interiors group installed every bit of doors and hardware, all of the bathroom accessories, and the shower glass enclosures in the guest rooms. Our Division 7 team performed all the acoustical and firestop, and did all the waterproofing down below grade. They executed flawlessly. We did a really good job with our self-perform group, and we’re awfully proud.
Q: What have you learned from each other?
Paredes: What I got from Emory is a renewed drive. He is intense with planning and scheduling, and with what he expects from people. Part of our job is to motivate others on our team, so it was refreshing to see someone who has that intensity. His persistence with things is never-ending and watching him teach other people has been awesome. I’ve been able to take some cues for how to talk to others; he’s a really good partner.
Sweeney: It’s important for us to be able to give people guidelines but then allow them the freedom to develop plans. We have to manage expectations because we can’t touch everything personally. I needed to develop that skill: to help people grow and develop their own plans, and help them develop professionally. This is the first project where I felt I accomplished that and really helped build some good people. When we encountered difficult situations and tensions ran high, Steve was good about taking a step back and finding ways to keep people on the jobsite motivated.
Q: Talk about a time in your career where you intervened to make the work on-site safer.
Paredes: Our planning throughout this hotel project really aided in that, but we worked hard at it. We wanted to be very intentional, so we called a meeting with all our project leadership and foremen from our concrete crews. We tried to make it personal, and we talked through everything. I wrote on the board every person who was on-site. We drilled down into making the craft part of the process. After that discussion, there was a huge revelation for the entire team on what safety on the jobsite really meant. It wasn’t about me policing it. It was about being a team and caring for each other. It was about being productive, doing our jobs, and making sure everyone went home safely each day.
Q: What is one thing you think everyone can do to make the industry as a whole safer for everyone?
Sweeney: Find partners on your job who make safety personal—who take it seriously and always do the right thing—and then encourage that mindset to spread across the organization. You can’t sit down with everyone, so finding partners to talk about the importance of safety makes it infectious. The other component is not putting up with incorrect behavior. There’s a quote: “The thing about morals is it’s not what you say, it’s what you tolerate.” If you see something, say something and don’t tolerate unsafe activities. Training is a huge part of it, too. Make sure you have all the tools you need, then hold people accountable.
Paredes: For us, it’s about having an unparalleled training program to arm people with the tools they need to make the right decisions and have the entire team brought in on that mentality.
Q: Was this experience different from other projects you worked on? How?
Paredes: This is the first job for me that had my stamp on it 100%. It was really on me and the project manager to set up the project correctly with the knowledge that we were going to utilize our self-perform trades for the critical path work. When Emory came on board, I told him we were not going to allow ourselves to fail. We’ve been on jobs with scheduling issues, and I refused to allow that to happen here. Our SPW teams understood that we were all in this together, and we fought for each other. We set up that mentality from the beginning, and it had a huge impact on our overall success.
Sweeney: This was the first time I had ever done a hotel. I think our biggest success was our self-perform collaboration. We embraced the fact that we’re all on the same team--project management and the craft. We’ve talked about that a lot in the past, but I’ve never seen it as strong as it was on this project. Once we were all able to get on same page, we were hitting our schedule, and that led to this culture of everyone else falling in line. Our SPW team on this project was huge, delivering excellent work.
Q: To be successful in your role, what skills does a person need?
Sweeney: Accountability—to yourself and to others. And communication, which is huge to me. You have to communicate your plan and your expectations around schedule properly. That doesn’t mean talking TO team members, but talking WITH team members and getting them bought in. Once people agree and there’s buy-in, then you hold each other accountable.
Paredes: In my role, you have to be able to set boundaries and let your team make decisions while operating within those boundaries to allow them to grow and succeed. During my career, I’ve learned that I operate better when I can make my own decisions. It’s important to know when to offer more guidance within that matrix and when to hold back and let your team drive.
Q: What would your advice be for the next generation of builders entering this field?
Paredes: For me, I was cocky and arrogant when I started out. I thought I knew a bunch of stuff, but I’m still learning every day. So, take advice from others. Don’t be afraid of criticism and be open to others’ thoughts and ideas. Be a sponge when you’re starting out and know that at the end of the day field operations is pretty damned cool. We’re the builders.
Sweeney: Be humble and admit that you don’t know a lot when you’re just starting out. Be willing to accept that. In the beginning, you don’t know a lot more than you do know, so act upon that. Find the right information. Ask questions. Learn. Be accountable. Trust is such a massive thing in our industry, so walk the talk and do what you say you’re going to do every time.
DPR’s work on the VIVEX Biologics, Inc. interior expansion in the City of Opa-locka, Florida offers a key example of how the right plan and solid technical building skills can convert a commercial space into a productive life sciences and pharmaceutical R&D environment.
“This project was unique from the beginning because the outside box of the warehouse could not support all of the MEP components and all of the live loads,” said Ryan Colleran, a project manager at DPR Construction. DPR’s preconstruction and self-perform work teams collaborated with SDS Engineering to come up with a solution that would support the existing roof structure of the 40 feet high and 77,000-sq.-ft. high-bay warehouse space without the need for additional steel. “We decided to have a cold-formed system (CFS) erected by our drywall crew. A cold-formed system is a box within a box and that gave us a lot of flexibility,” said Colleran.
The 40,200-sq.-ft. cold-formed overhead structure was designed by the project team by using the new load-bearing walls and the existing exterior concrete tilt-up wall panels. This process allowed all the new MEP systems and ceiling components to be supported independently of the original structure. “Based on the strength of that system, that will also allow us to put in a second floor in the future if we desire,” said VIVEX Vice President of Operations Tim Maye.
Additionally, the CFS solution saved time in the schedule and created a convenient way to access the new MEP and ceiling systems based on its location just above the new ceilings. “The CFS system was a cost reducer for the customer as well. By using the CFS system, the client would not need to touch or reinforce the existing roof structure,” said Colleran.
The project team utilized as much self-perform work as they possibly could, from drywall, framing, and concrete. “We were able to pour all of our concrete pads and exterior work. We also utilized our specialties group,” said Colleran. The project team was able to make all penetrations and maintain the structural integrity through the CFS work by incorporating header details and even tube steel to span large openings that their light-gauge metal could not span. “One hundred percent of this facility was modeled by VDC. Our preconstruction team connected with our VDC team early in the process to model all of the components related to constructing this cold-formed system.”
Raising the 40-foot-long CFS structure columns also presented a challenge when it came time to raise them to a vertical position.
“We decided to use a pulley system,” said Miguel Boschetti, a DPR MEP project superintendent. “Not only did we do it safely, but we were also able to save a lot of time. When we first started on this operation, we were taking about 10 minutes per column. Once we started implementing our pulley system, we cut that time to about one minute per column,” said Boschetti.
Although the CFS covers more than 50% of the entire project, no changes were made to the original design by the architect and engineer. “After we built the system, we were able to finish it with our acoustical ceiling tile and drywall, so aesthetically you won't even see the system. So, it's very pleasing on the eyes,” said Colleran.
Located in an existing warehouse space in South Florida, the VIVEX project includes clean room, research & development, freezer storage as well as miscellaneous office and administrative support spaces.
“We're all very excited here about getting into the new place and it looks fantastic. DPR has done an excellent job. And when someone from DPR said, okay, we're going to do this by such and such a date - they would do that,” said Maye.
As nonprofits continue to adapt their crucial work under CDC and local COVID-related guidelines, DPR Construction’s Sacramento office facilitated a “COVID-19 Best Practices” protocol discussion this summer for the leadership team at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento. A long-standing member of the Sacramento community, Habitat for Humanity is dedicated to empowering and helping low-income families improve their shelter conditions by providing access to specialized resources and trainings. Committed to carrying out its Community Initiatives (CI) vision of Building possibilities for the under-resourced, DPR has expanded upon its CI Pillar 1 offering of “Facility construction and renovation” to include COVID-19-era safety protocols and developing a COVID Pre-Screening App to maintain safe jobsites.
This collaboration between Habitat for Humanity and DPR focused on what jobsite protocols Habitat currently has in place and took a deep dive into how DPR has continued to build safely through COVID-19 restrictions. Due to the nature of Habitat’s community service work, their goal was to host building events and have volunteers on their jobsites, while still following proper safety protocols.
DPR Project Manager, Aaron Schwartz and Safety Manager, Robert Pflueger shared resources and tools that are a part of DPR’s COVID-19 Task Force with Habitat’s Chief Operations Officer, Development Director and Director of Construction. During this discussion, they presented key safety tips, including how to disinfect commonly used tools throughout the day and planning workdays to minimize crowding and congestion on jobsites.
Schwartz mentioned, “We also presented the COVID Pre-Screening App we use for daily temperature and wellness screenings for anyone entering a jobsite.” A few months later, DPR is now in the process of helping Habitat set up the app as an additional tool to safely proceed with their building events.
“DPR was more than happy to support Habitat’s needs during this unforeseen time and our COVID-19 Task Force enabled us with great information to share,” said Pflueger. “We presented our COVID-19 resources and walked their team through DPR’s standard guidelines used to make sure we maintain safe jobsites daily.”
Since 2014, DPR has partnered with the local Sacramento Habitat for Humanity on days they construct homes, also called “build days,” and has financially supported the organization through the company’s CI effort. “It’s been an ongoing relationship where they leverage our technical expertise as builders, and we provide them with unique resources to help them make a difference in what they’re trying to do for the community,” said Schwartz.
When the pandemic began, Pflueger said one of the first calls their CI team made was to their partners at Habitat, extending assistance with any trials and tribulations the nonprofit may have been facing during that turbulent period. “No matter what the challenge was, DPR was going to be there to support Habitat’s needs through it all,” said Pflueger.
Not long after, Habitat reached out to DPR and expressed that they were not comfortable having volunteers on their jobsites, so they opened the opportunity for DPR to help them frame a house. “They know that when DPR commits to a project, we show up with skilled craft laborers that can knock out a ton of work,” Schwartz said, “and our team has fun doing it, as well.”
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento’s Chief Operations Officer Shannin Stein, expressed her gratitude by sharing, “I continue to be humbled by the amount of support DPR provides our organization.”
Schwartz says, “We were put in a situation none of us anticipated, but DPR has learned a lot along the way and by sharing those lessons, we’re hoping to continue to make progress with how we manage COVID-19 as a community.”
DPR Construction’s Dean Reed knows a thing or two about Lean construction and integrated project delivery (IPD). You might even say he wrote the book on the topic! Co-authoring that book and bringing meaningful data to the fore to show the benefits of IPD, though, took years of practical experience in the field applying Lean methods in collaboration with industry organizations such as the Lean Construction Institute (LCI).
Now, LCI has awarded Reed with its Pioneer Award, which recognizes individuals who have moved the design and construction industry forward in embracing and implementing Lean principles and methods. Specifically, Reed was recognized for the award because of his commitment to advancing Lean thinking as a teacher, mentor and colleague.
Reed shared some thoughts about the award and where he sees the industry going next.
Let’s talk about the award. What does it mean to you?
The award means a lot to me because, in my mind, I think of it as the Greg Howell/Glenn Ballard Award, as they were the real pioneers of Lean construction in the U.S. and the world. To be named a “Pioneer” is to be recognized in line with those two trail blazers. It’s even more meaningful as it came as a surprise; I didn’t know I was nominated. I am humbled by it, especially knowing there are other equally deserving people in the industry.
You’ve connected Lean with DPR’s Ever Forward core value. How do they align?
I left a well-established builder after nearly nine years to join DPR, which, at the time I made the change, was much smaller. I made the switch all because of DPR’s core values and particularly Ever Forward. At that time, DPR was the only contractor I knew of talking that way, about the opportunity to be better and how the company, the industry and individuals like me could be as good as we could be.
By that time, I had already discovered Lean Construction and virtual design and construction (VDC). Like the saying goes, you don’t get to choose your parents, but when you get good ones it’s quite an advantage. I was in an environment where I was able to have access to those concepts and just beginning to understand them, and DPR was a place where I could try to integrate them into my work as a project planner and scheduler. I don’t think I could have done that any other place.
My approach has always been to collaborate with others and I have had many terrific partners as I’ve worked throughout DPR. I have learned an immense amount from those people, like (DPR Management Committee member) Atul Khanzode, who co-authored Integrating Project Delivery and (current DPR board member) Eric Lamb who really taught me what delivering value required in such a fragmented industry. DPR was really committed to providing best value to customers from day one and still is. We must do that first and also earn enough in return to prosper and continue to get better. That means a commitment to Ever Forward and that path leads to Lean.
How far has the industry has come with Lean over your career?
It has become part of the language of construction. When that happens, it influences thinking. I see people throughout DPR as a matter of course trying
to create psychologically safe project cultures to identify and solve problems so information and field work can flow. There is such a baked-in focus on providing exactly what is needed at just the right time to avoid rework and wasting time and effort. I see that throughout the industry, too, and LCI has definitely made a big contribution to spreading Lean thinking.
What do you think is coming next?
I do not believe in being Lean for Lean’s sake or doing VDC just to say we did. DPR continues to be focused on being one of the most admired companies by 2030. I know we’re making a tremendous effort now to reach that goal, and I see Lean within that context. It has become part of our thinking and the way we operate. Lean supports our mission and vision. Lean is all about creating an organizational culture to solve problems to improve performance. I think we will see more and more people at DPR and in the industry go from where I was in 1996, barely understanding Lean, to the point where they help others incorporate Lean thinking and methods into everyday work. Once people internalize Lean and VDC to work together effectively as one integrated team, it will shift the entire industry and the way they see their roles within it.
With so many moving parts on and around a construction site – deliveries, work crews, heavy equipment and more – there are opportunities everywhere for one aspect of work to affect every other part of operations. DPR Construction’s teams work closely to make sure it all goes off without a hitch. Even in normal times, delivering on-schedule, on-budget, top-quality work is no small job. With a variety of economic and societal pressures to consider as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, finding ways to increase certainty is a top consideration.
“We’ve done research that shows that the most successful projects are the ones with a highly-engaged owner throughout the project,” said Moawia Abdelkarim, one of DPR’s operations leaders. “We think there are questions customers can ask even as the team mobilizes and throughout the job that can contribute to the outcomes they’re hoping for, increase alignment and best position the construction team for success.”
Who’s Doing the Work and are they Involved in the Plan?
Often, customers want to get competitive bids for nearly every scope of work to ensure they’re getting the best deal.
“One thing we strive for is to show the value our self-perform work crews can bring,” says Angie Weyant, DPR's national craft people practices leader. “We rely on subcontracted trade partners on nearly every project for a variety of things. When it comes to critical path, though, we want our customers to know they have the opportunity to leverage DPR’s skilled workforce to perform the majority of work. Having those resources in-house helps us remove unknowns and potential disruptions.”
In an industry that already has a skilled labor shortage, DPR is able to manage available labor and bring workers into planning discussions earlier.
“On a recent project in a very busy Texas market, our team found ways to cut schedule because we were able to bring self-perform foremen to the table much earlier for a critical path element than if it had been put out to the market,” Weyant said. “Our employees can leverage their expertise on everything from phasing to durations earlier and be aligned with the full plan because they’re part of the master contract. It’s a tremendous efficiency.”
Moreover, for elements that are subcontracted, customers should consider when those partners can be brought to the table and make an effort to ensure that payments can be made for early work in a timely manner.
“When subcontractors, especially smaller or growing MWBE-certified businesses, commit resources to planning, they don’t have the capacity to wait for work to be put in place to receive payment,” Weyant noted. “Some customers might wonder what they’re paying for at earlier planning meetings and it’s important to see the value that is gained from them.”
Are We Aligned on Progress?
One of the great joys of working around construction sites is that, every day, the site looks different. “Progress” seems like something that can be intuitively seen. DPR’s Kevin Britt, who leads the firm’s planning, scheduling and production planning (PSPP) efforts, sees things in terms of a road trip.
“Suppose you want to take a road trip from San Diego to Boston,” he said. “It’s easy enough to say the plan is to drive from start to finish by a certain time, but are you going to stop anywhere? If so, where and when? What does that look like and what does it mean for your trip? The steps along the way are what make the journey, not just the destination.”
As such, Britt recommends getting aligned beyond milestones throughout the project and revisiting plans throughout. The larger focus should be alignment on the priorities, goals, risks, opportunities, and quality expectations that are associated with those milestones.
“Working together, project partners should start their work early, understanding the desired outcomes and letting those determine the right milestones, clearly identifying what they are and what they’re not. That way you can prioritize what needs to happen for all the key milestones, not just the ending ones,” Britt said. “It’s not just about putting together the initial schedule and a plan. Just like a sports team adjusting to how a game is unfolding, it’s important that designers, engineers, trade partners, and customers are proactively involved in ongoing discussions and be ready to collaboratively work together when the conditions that were initially assumed change during the life of the project.”
Britt sees that collaboration as key to creating a system for timely decision making by project teams.
“Making informed decisions quickly with the right people at the table, virtually and in the job site trailer, is as important as making sure quality work is then put in place in a safe and timely manner in the field,” Britt said. “Like the road trip, when you can refer to technology and data on a navigation app, you can quickly pivot and adjust. We have equivalent tools that aggregate data to forecast the plan and monitor progress that can serve a similar role.”
The good news is that, overall, there is starting to be enough quality data available to inform decisions at a variety of project stages and apply it in meaningful ways. DPR’s Colin Thrift recently worked with project partners to analyze schedule risks presented by the pandemic for a pharmaceutical facility in the Southeast.
“We were able to show where specific risks were, when we expected the most exposure to them and how the team could work together to mitigate them using our risk planner tool,” Thrift said. “The original plan was great. The risk planner exercise just helped us refine it and led to action we could take in the field immediately to lower exposure later.”
Are we Really Lean and Efficient?
DPR’s Cory Hackler is one of the firm’s Lean experts. He’s seen how easy it is for well-intentioned customers committed to reducing waste in the construction process to oversimplify the issue.
“There’s always a lot of focus on resource management, which basically means keeping every person fully utilized and busy,” Hackler said. “What has to happen first is flow management.”
Brilliantly illustrated in video, flow management is a perspective change Hackler believes the industry needs to shift to in order to see high performing teams.
“In construction, focusing on keeping every person at full capacity ultimately means people are putting fires out left and right,” Hackler said. “There’s an issue with this type of delivery as workers have no bandwidth to do anything but act as fire fighters every day. It affects other workflows on site and everyone ends up in reactive modes. What we need to do is shift to teams focused on efficiency in the entire workflow from design to completion.”
That means opportunities for every person on site, from project managers to superintendents to work crews. Similar to the cross-country road trip analogy, teams need to understand the details of steps along the way.
“For a road trip, our plan would need to include the tasks before leaving the house, packing and what we may need to bring,” Hackler said. “Then there are food stops, side trips along the way and, finally, an estimated time of arrival so people can plan on the time and day at which you will show up.”
Hackler sees the construction version of those stops as things like design management and preconstruction as preparations. Then, there is construction management that is agile enough to adapt to changes and milestones and, finally, completion. The ability to pivot resources when something doesn’t go as planned can bring collaborative problem solving to mitigate the issue without drastically impacting other areas of work.
“Right now, there are plenty of unforeseen factors that can throw a wrench into even the best plan,” Hackler says. “What if there’s a disruption at the end of the supply chain in terms of delivery or fabrication? The traditional system based on resource management breaks down quickly there. Flow management focuses on keeping work moving; having a team that can pivot to troubleshoot an issue that yields a faster outcome with fewer disruptions to the rest of work.”
Staying Engaged Is the Key
“Construction is never going to be ‘set it and forget it,’” Abdelkarim said. “Leveraging data, managing resources the right way and more aren’t just tools for pre-mobilization. These are things to do throughout the lifecycle of the project.”
By fostering a collaborative team culture, customers can set a tone for the life of the project and play a vital role in sharing project success.
“Everyone has an interest in the best outcome on site,” Abdelkarim said. “As a result, everyone should have an interest in collaborating throughout the project to ensure alignment that will enable the best outcome.”
While “Service September” looks different in 2020, DPR Construction’s Community Initiatives Champions and Task Forces continue to use the month – and the entire year – to embrace the company’s philanthropic vision. That vision, Building possibilities for the under-resourced, moves forward by supporting nonprofit partners’ missions through skills-based volunteering that DPR uniquely provides. Aligning DPR’s core business strengths with the needs of front-line nonprofits helps improve social outcomes and increases volunteer engagement within DPR.
Whitney Dorn, who serves as a project executive, president of the DPR Foundation and as a leader of DPR’s Community Initiatives Leadership Group (CILG), shared, “Like many companies, we have a defined philanthropic vision. It’s smart business: greater focus equals greater impact and outcomes. We’ve worked with organizations who help under-resourced community members expand their possibilities to identify where their needs align with our skills. The expertise we used to build a great company is the same expertise we provide to our nonprofit partners.”
“Providing construction and renovation services are obvious,” Dorn added, "but we also lean on our teams in learning & development, innovation, team building, and other skills to provide much needed youth education modules and operational support for the administrative side of an organization.”
With assistance from nonprofit partners, DPR has identified three areas of skills-based volunteering where the company’s expertise best aligns with the needs of the organizations, referring to them as the Three Pillars.
Dorn dove into the importance of the Three Pillars when identifying which opportunities best represent DPR’s knowledge and various talents to better assist nonprofits achieve their goals.
“These Pillars allow us to zero in on what makes DPR an indispensable partner as we are able to provide volunteer service that is specific to what we are best at, and it is also what our non-profit partners have determined they are most in need of from volunteers. This differentiates us from others who may also be volunteering and donating to similar causes,” she said.
Pillar 1: Facility Construction & Renovation
After over 20 years of supporting community organizations, Dorn sees a great need here. “Organizations rarely have room in their budgets for facility renovations, repairs or upgrades,” she said. “We help our partners thrive by creating increased capacity, greater safety and accessibility, and a strengthened sense of pride of place for participants and staff.”
In 2019, DPR completed more than $2.1 million in construction projects for our partners across the country, ranging from complete interior renovations to security fencing to a fresh new coat of paint.
This past spring, nearly two dozen craft worker volunteers from DPR’s Dallas office completed a new basketball court for the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas. The deep-rooted community partnership between DPR and the YMCA made it an easy decision when deciding to collaborate with other organizations to honor local basketball star, Andre Emmett, and deliver a state-of-the-art “Dream Court.” Keith Vinson, vice president of operations for the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas, shared, “This court is huge for our organization; we appreciate DPR and all they’ve done for us.”
“What makes this Pillar a unique aspect of what we do is that DPR is a self-performing general contractor with our own craft workers to support these projects and employees who volunteer because they inherently love to build great things,” shares Dorn.
Last year, DPR transformed a facility over the course of four days for the Second Story Teen Center, a nonprofit in Dunn Loring, Virginia, dedicated to improving the lives of youth and families by providing safe havens. The Second Story staff shared, “Without DPR’s lead and execution on remodeling our Teen Center, our teens would not have a safe place to go after school to get food, homework help and positive mentorship. DPR’s remodel created a much more adequate and dignifying space to serve the youth.”
“By offering specialized services such as planning, scheduling, estimating and VDC, as well as construction, DPR not only demonstrates its core strength as a builder, but allows our core value of ‘enjoyment’ to shine through,” said Dorn.
Pillar 2: Career & Education Guidance for Youth
DPR looks to support nonprofit organizations with education and career programming for under-resourced youth with its Pillar 2 offerings.
“Building the workforce is an acute need in our own industry, and introducing careers of all types can offer an opportunity not previously known,” Dorn said. “We have a unique expertise and people with a passion for sharing it. That can be as important, if not more, as a facility upgrade.”
These efforts range from high school internships to sharing construction industry career paths to learning the technical tools of a trade. DPR’s Build Up High School Internship has grown to more than 20 talented youths nationwide, with graduates moving on to pursue construction related work.
“Harnessing a wide range of skill sets with varied resources at our disposal, DPR has continued facilitating virtual trainings and events during the COVID-19 pandemic,” added Dorn. Two examples of this include DPR’s Seattle office hosting an online educational event for YouthCare’s YouthBuild program, where they held a Q&A and introduced the various career options within the construction industry, and a virtual course led by DPR’s virtual design and construction (VDC) leaders in South Florida for the students of The Milagro Center on how to use 3D modeling software called "SketchUp."
Like many of the partnerships between DPR and its nonprofit partners, organization leaders trust DPR employees to lead various educational events for the same organization. Last summer, The Milagro Center and DPR created an 8-week career-focused program, “Girls Go Build,” designed to encourage girls to expand their math and science-based learning and pique their interests in technical trades. Leaders at the Center shared, “DPR played a major role in structuring this program for us and leading several sessions. In fact, one of our students changed her [high school] major as a result of the Girls Go Build program and DPR’s influence.”
Pillar 3: Operational Support for Nonprofit Partners
Finally, DPR builds lasting relationships with local nonprofits and helps strengthen their operational capacity. In some cases, these efforts deliver the most benefit for an organization.
“Professional development plays a pivotal role at DPR and its Ever Forward company culture,” Dorn said. “Within this Pillar, our employees use their administrative, professional and technical knowledge when extending operational support to their nonprofit partners."
This often takes the form of pro bono leadership and career development courses, strategic guidance, sitting on organization boards or committees, and preconstruction, planning and estimating services. The Future for Kids team in Tempe, Arizona, shared: “Through [DPR’s] board leadership, financial support and sharing of business expertise, we have been able to double our impact, now serving over 1,200 youths who face adversity each year.”
Similarly, Pendleton Place in Greenville, South Carolina, worked with DPR to secure a grant with a large, local philanthropic organization, assisting them with quotes and estimates, grant writing suggestions and letters of support.
“[DPR] remained beside us as a partner during grant finalist interviews and presentations,” said a Pendleton Place director. “As a result, we were awarded this significant grant, which directly impacts our community’s foster care children and improves the quality of their lives thanks to the expansion of our facilities.”
“Focusing on these pillars not only helps us deliver the most tangible results for our partners, it also helps ensure we’re focusing our resources in the right ways at a time when people feel overwhelmed,” said Dorn. “Even with the obstacles to in-person volunteering, our CI champions commitment to the organizations and their constituents allow us to continue to provide meaningful philanthropic support.”
According to CBRE’s North American Data Center Report, United States data center inventory increased by record levels in 2019, up by 22% from 2018. In the rush to build and get new facilities online, owners typically take a speed-to-market approach to construction that leads to incomplete designs, cost overruns and schedule delays. As the old saying goes, “You can have it fast, good or cheap. But not all three.” But an alternative design and delivery model breaks that paradigm, promising to deliver higher quality projects on time and on budget.
Current State of the Industry
The traditional design-bid-build approach to building data centers seems to prove this pessimistic outlook. Despite the focus on speed, most construction projects come in late and over budget. Consider the following statistics:
Nearly three out of four construction projects are delivered late. In 2012, according to the global management consulting firm, Kearney, 75% of projects saw their schedules slip. A 10-month project took 12months on average. In 2016, Lean Construction Institute (LCI) reported that number improved only slightly to 73%.
Cost overruns are common. In 2012, Kearney also reported that 63% of construction projects were over budget—some by nearly 20%. According to LCI, that number increased to 70% by 2016.
What factors lead to these startling deficiencies? Competing market sectors and widespread labor shortages across the U.S. contribute to the shortcomings, along with rising material costs. But these factors only tell part of the story.
Contract terms and hard bidding approaches also play significant roles in projects finishing late and over budget due to significant overtime and/or fees to expedite equipment. The traditional design-bid-build delivery model creates a costly adversarial relationship between the owner and its contractors, and between the vendors.
Traditionally, an owner conceives a project and hires a design firm to plan and design it. When this process is well underway, the owner solicits hard bids from general contractors and, much later, from the major trades. This approach to first costs leads to aggressive fee bidding followed by jobsite tensions and eliminates the owner’s ability to leverage the team’s field expertise, past experience and current best practices.
In the field, trades focus on their own work, rather than respecting and coordinating with the other trades. A lack of cooperation can lead to more Requests for Information (RFIs) which, in turn, can cause delays. Change orders become commonplace as vendors seek to increase profitability. Frequent design changes also lead to project delays and additional change orders. Furthermore, ambiguous scopes and incomplete documents increase the risk for vendors, who are asked to proceed “at risk” to maintain the schedule.
Ultimately, the owners are dissatisfied because they experience schedule and cost overruns. The schedule delays can affect Level 4 / 5 commissioning. A facility's actual Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) compared to expected design performance may suffer. In short, the traditional design model is fraught with problems.
Target Value Design (TVD) provides an ever-forward solution that resolves these issues and promotes innovation to best serve the owner and all the stakeholders.
What is Target Value Design?
TVD is a collaborative, innovative, team-based project management approach—applied throughout a project from the very first step of project planning and conceptual design through final project turnover—that ensures a successful outcome for all parties. It is a lean construction tool that incorporates cost as a factor in design, allows owners to make real time business decisions, minimizes waste and creates greater value. It also alters the construction timeline by bringing all the major parties on board early. TVD enables the project team to design and deliver a high-quality project on time and on budget.
One important difference between the traditional design-bid-build and TVD models is that in TVD, everyone is hired at the beginning of the project. The GC and trades are brought on board from the start, along with the designers. The traditionally separate design team and build team work together collaboratively and transparently, and they design to a cost rather than estimate costs based on a design. Everything else is predicated on this unified team starting together on Day 1.
Project teams and responsibilities
The contract and bidding process differs considerably from the design-bid-build model. In TVD, all parties work together to determine realistic Conditions of Satisfaction. The owner’s responsibility begins with selecting trusted partners who have proven their reliability and commitment to work collaboratively. Next, the owner remains actively engaged, making timely decisions and standing by them, and empowers the teams while encouraging collaboration and innovation.
TVD works by putting together cross-functional teams or clusters comprising designers, builders and owner’s representatives. The teams needed may vary by project. Each team makes systematic decisions based on meaningful information and documents their reasoning before reporting to the management team. The management team, composed of representatives from each team, coordinates details, ensures a unified process and resolves any conflicts.
All stakeholders are accountable to each other and to the project goals. The teams work together to reach agreement and the design cannot move forward without everyone’s input and agreement at each stage. The team frequently revisits previous decisions to identify and resolve any issues before they can show up in the field.
To facilitate cooperation, it’s imperative that the key team leaders assigned to the job are on the job full time, with no responsibilities to other projects. The team members’ time commitment changes throughout the process, as the project moves from design to construction. Traditionally, construction staff works onsite and the designers and owner visit weekly. TVD requires everyone working on the project to be 100% focused on the project at hand, working out of a shared coworking environment called the “Big Room.” The Big Room eliminates the need for productivity-sapping calls and emails and contributes to TVD’s success with delivering projects on time by increasing efficiency.
Success depends on a well-organized team with a defined decision-making procedure. Getting the teams together early and investing time and money upfront enhances organization and helps to form cohesive relationships. Strong relationships built on mutual trust eliminate many of the problems found in the traditional design-bid-build process and lead to successful outcomes.
In the traditional model, the GC receives a design, then gives an estimate of the cost to build it. TVD reverses that by establishing the budget first, then designing to meet that budget. An agreed upon Basis of Design is the first step to a successful project. Without agreement, the team will be less productive during the design process.
TVD is one of the most effective tools for cost control strategy. The owner’s priorities, such as initial cost, total cost of ownership and user experience, inform design decisions, means and methods, project sequencing, and cost priorities. All parties work together to maximize value in a quantifiable way. Once the target project cost is set and the basis of design is locked, the cost cannot be exceeded. Only the owner can choose to increase the project budget and may do so to include a detail that it views as important, or to change the scope.
The Cardinal Rule of TVD is that teams cannot exceed their budget.
Each team has a budget they cannot exceed. Cost estimating and budgeting are continually updated, and every decision made is measured against the cost target. Teams work collaboratively to design to their specific targets, while considering other factors, such as constructability and sustainability. They reduce costs through innovation and smart decisions then take their plan to the management team, who signs off on the overall design, methods, and budget. If one team cannot meet their budget, they must borrow from someone else's budget to keep the overall budget on track.
The mechanical team has a $20 Million budget. They make drawings and run numbers based on satisfying the project conditions. If that number is over $20 Million, they must reduce it. This requires a lot of work, value management ideas and innovation. If they are still over $20 Million, another team must give up the difference from their budget to keep the overall project costs consistent.
TVD changes the cashflow by requiring a greater upfront capital investment. While traditional design-bid-build projects see a higher cashflow later in the project cycle, TVD realizes the following offsetting benefits:
It alleviates potential cost inflation and provides a guaranteed capital outlay by eliminating vendor-originated change orders and other hidden costs.
Upfront labor is cheaper than rework, change orders and loss of productivity in the field.
It eliminates surprises which can create disruptions, increasing costs and delaying the schedule.
TVD strives to create the best possible design and greatest value for an owner’s budget.
Applying TVD to Mission Critical Projects
Mission critical data centers rely on cutting-edge technology. Why then do we build them using an old-fashioned design and delivery system that has had problems since the last century? TVD provides a logical alternative for the mission critical industry as it results in projects done right, on time and on budget.
After selecting its trusted partners, including the architect, GC, engineers and major trades, the data center owner participates in developing team clusters based on current market conditions, past projects, specific project benchmarks and scope. Each team contributes its expertise to determining project costs. Then the management team, including the owner, sets a realistic overall budget based on input from the clusters. Everyone buys into the success of the whole project, not just their portion.
Mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) scopes typically account for 80% of a data center’s total construction costs and drive the operating costs during the facility’s life. Unfortunately, they are often the first scopes targeted for reduction in the early project stages, often without the crucial guidance of an MEP professional. Hiring a GC with in-house MEP professionals early in the process can forestall potential issues.
TVD challenges the teams with larger budgets to be innovative and to reduce costs without changing the scope or program. It requires thinking creatively and showing up with a prefabrication mindset.
Prefabrication is a cost-effective means of acquiring standardized or repeatable building components. In a data center, this may include hot aisle/cold aisle containment systems, electrical room skids and HVAC cooling skids. Manufacturers assemble and interconnect the pieces offsite, then deliver the whole assembly to the jobsite for installation as a single piece. This increases efficiency by reducing the engineering required and it can reduce the number of connections made in the field by 80 to 90%.
Other benefits include:
Improved quality. The factory environment eliminates weather and other onsite hazards, providing a clean setting that enhances worker focus.
Decreased labor costs. Labor costs less in a factory setting than on a job site. People can work faster, and work can be done in areas with lower wages.
Increased safety. A safety incident can shut down the entire job, delaying completion. The safer, controlled environment of a factory reduces the risk of injury and the associated schedule slippage.
Faster build times. Prefabricated components are manufactured in parallel with work done in the field, leading to earlier project completion.
Prefabrication speeds up construction. By embracing it as an essential component of TVD, it enables the project team to deliver a high-quality mission critical project on time and on budget.
In conclusion, TVD provides an alternative to the problem-riddled design-bid-build model for data center construction projects. It is a collaborative, innovative, team-based project management approach that relies on transparency, owner engagement and mutual respect to get the job done. By altering the schedule so all stakeholders join the team at the beginning, designing to meet a realistic budget and removing the barrier of a scattered, unfocused team, high quality projects finish on-time and on-budget.
TVD’s real “secret sauce” can be found in the team approach it fosters. Everyone shares the risk and the responsibility. With TVD, you can have fast, good and cheap.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a digital model is worth a thousand pictures. The information and value represented in the model sums up why Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) should be used on every project – especially during the design and preconstruction phases.
VDC services like design coordination are enabled by a data-rich Building Information Model (BIM) and applied design integration processes, which DPR uses to identify and resolve issues before construction begins. In the early design phase, better collaboration and information enables project teams to make more informed decisions about design intent and constructability. When issues are addressed at this stage of the project, it leads to better predictability, productivity and quality.
Breaking Down Silos
“There’s a common misconception that owners receive a coordinated design from the design team as part of the fee, but in reality there’s a significant effort in between early design and construction devoted to coordination or making the design constructible,” said Hannu Lindberg, DPR’s national VDC leader.
This process isn’t done on every project, but the case for it is clear, according to Lindberg.
“Hundreds or even thousands of issues on a project, regardless of scale or complexity, could be solved earlier in the project lifecycle,” he added. “That translates to reduced risk and greater schedule and cost certainty for all project stakeholders, which almost always exceeds the initial upfront investment.”
Another common mistake is assuming that design coordination happens by default on projects set up for a high level of collaboration, like Integrated Project Delivery or design-build. While it happens more often on these types of projects, silos can still exist in execution. Lindberg notes that, too often, preconstruction budgets for design integration and preconstruction services tend to be on the lighter side, whereas the construction budgets can be inflated with design contingency, mainly due to unforeseen issues that could be resolved during the preconstruction phase, without the added cost impact, delays or rework during operations.
Of the nearly 300 projects DPR currently tracks, DPR has identified over 150,000 issues ranging from existing conditions, to design specifications, to maintenance access, to constructability, to traditional trade coordination issues typically found through clash detection. Using the BIM Track platform, DPR can analyze issues by location, system priority, impact and other sets of criteria to calculate the priority in which design issues should be addressed and resolved. Assigning and tracking issue accountability for all project team members translates to more agile issue resolution. It also helps promote “right behaviors” through the ability to track progress and overall project team performance using data points, such as average time to resolve issues and issue accountability.
With this information, along with historical data about the company’s core markets, DPR can inform owners and designers of typical design challenges and equip them with the added knowledge to make better and more informed decisions. For example, on a recent life sciences project in Massachusetts, DPR converted an existing 261,000-sq.-ft. office into a multipurpose facility including labs, clean rooms, clinical spaces and a vivarium over the span of 15 months. The project stipulated liquidated damages, which made coordination even more critical to ensuring successful delivery. During the coordination process, more than 2,000 issues were identified and resolved by the project team, of which 150 were escalated into RFI’s without schedule impact.
After completing coordination, the DPR team reviewed 6 major roadblocks and assessed the averted impact to the project, and the results were eye opening: if not for VDC coordination and early trade engagement, the project would have hit a 14-week delay. In comparing associated costs for the six roadblocks to the cost for coordination services, DPR found a 200 percent ROI. Keeping in mind these metrics do not account for liquidated damages, the benefits of model-based coordination have been fully embraced by the team as a standard moving forward.
Now vs. Later
“Teams should consider what percentage of the total construction cost comes out of contingency versus the upfront cost for design coordination services” said David Stone, DPR's Northeast VDC leader.
When comparing the two numbers, DPR is finding that when VDC services are applied in the preconstruction phase, all that does is re-allocate a portion of money from one slice of the overall budget into another. The contingency might shrink, but rework is significantly reduced and project teams can easily recoup the upfront investment. In most cases the project realizes ROIs that generate more than tangible cost savings, as well a qualitative value due to timely coordination effort.
“There’s an objective and quantifiable return on investment,” said Stone.
The big takeaway: VDC services like design coordination shouldn’t be siloed, operationally and financially. By making slight adjustments to how project teams – owners, designers, contractor and trade partners – integrate early on, it’s possible to influence and mitigate the impact of design changes later down the road during construction.
“We’ve seen how leveraging VDC can avert additional costs to our customers,” said Lindberg. “We know that when the VDC process is implemented successfully on our projects, all project health indicators are a lot higher on those that embrace design integration and VDC strategies from the outset. For us the goal is to incorporate VDC into how we conduct business eventually on every project.”