In today’s Three Big Ideas interview, we’re talking to former AECOM Vice President, Innovation + Knowledge Share Director Anne Ellis, PE. Now CEO of her own engineering consulting firm in Washington, D.C., Anne is dean for “How to Streamline Infrastructure Projects” when Hanley Wood’s live event, Infrastructure Imperative, premieres this fall.
Getting team members to fully understand project requirements during the planning phase is essential to smooth implementation, she says. Join us as we explore why that’s easier said than done.
Anne Ellis: Every project has unique requirements, and that’s where things fall apart.
Sometimes the owner hasn’t internalized potential impacts, or the company the owner hired thinks they know what the client wants and maybe they’ve sold it but their client didn’t understand it and walks away from the table. As the project progresses, the owner sees things they want to change.
There’s always going to be some surprise along the way during construction. Make sure you fully explore the impact of those surprises. That starts at the very beginning: with the requirements.
Concrete Construction (CC): What’s the secret sauce for getting requirements on the table to minimize surprises later on?
Anne: Making sure everybody has a seat at the table while requirements are being developed.
CC: And whose responsibility is that?
Anne: It’s the owner, or the owner’s representative, responsibility for setting project requirements and tone.
CC: If human dialogue between the ownership, engineering, design, and construction silos is so mission-critical for a well-streamlined project, you must be excited about how technology factors in.
Anne: I’m a technology and innovation consultant, so I’m a big fan of looking at new and better ways of accomplishing things. That said, we’re in a scary situation right now. We’re so enamored with how technology has transformed our lives we forget it’s a tool, not a solution. We often rely on our chief technology officers to shop for solutions and say,” You Shall Use This,” whether or not it’s right for the project or right for the company.
CC: Technology + Humans. What could go wrong?!
Anne: I’ll give you a great example: building information modeling (BIM). Planners use them for their needs. Then they hand off the BIM model to the designers, who go, “But my needs are a little bit different,” so they start over and create another model. And they hand it off to the contractor, who says, “This is great but my needs are a little bit different,” and so the contractor starts all over again or makes major modifications.
CC: Sounds like Goldilocks for AEC.
Anne: Yes! Well, then that model gets handed off to the facility manager, or the asset manager if it’s an infrastructure project, and they’ll go, “My needs are a little bit different.”
And so now we’re having the conversation: Who pays for the model?
Technology decisions must be made upfront so everybody’s systems are interoperable and provide the transparency the owner desires.
People will say it’s the technology that’s the driver. I say the requirements are the driver and collaboration is the culture upon which to implement the requirements. Technology is just the tools to achieve the end game.
CC: Designer, builder, and supplier selection swings the direction of project planning. Which way is the wind blowing with regard to low bid and its infamous adversarial consequences?
Anne: Consider what did low bid has done for us: Low bid drove commoditization. It was a race to the bottom, and there’s a lot you sacrifice in a race to the bottom. Innovation. Quality. Sophistication. Once those are compromised, the potential for unfulfilled requirements goes up.
You just have so many more failure points that you’ve built into the process. That’s where the problem of adversarial relationships comes from.
CC: So, what’s the alternative? Are we stuck?
Anne: Quality based selection (QBS) allows the past performance of the designer, builder, or supplier to be considered in the selection criteria. Of course, many public jurisdictions have had low-bid requirements on their books, so QBS requires changes in laws and regulations in many places around the country.
QBS is part of the conversation that drove changes in laws. We saw the same thing when we wanted to implement alternative delivery methods like design-build. We’re seeing it now in the conversation around integrated project delivery (IPD), which is foundationally built on the collaborative model.
I’m very excited we have Lisa Dal Gallo from Hanson Bridgett LLP in California speaking in November. Her firm has been a leader in driving the conversation on IPD, and we have some new delivery guidelines on this topic.
Alternative service and project delivery models have really helped; they are responses to these problems in the marketplace that have been created by the low-bid model.
CC: Thanks for your thoughts, Anne. There’s obviously a lot of ground to grade here, so the infrastructure planning and building saga is To Be Continued. See you in Cleveland!