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CONSTRUCTION KNOWLEDGE BLOG

December 1, 2011

Learning from the Best Projects of 2011
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

I’m spending many hours judging the ENR Best Projects 2011. The 80 nominated projects spread between categories: civil works – infrastructure, cultural – worship, green projects, industrial – manufacturing, residential – hospitality, retail – mixed-use, projects under $10M, sports – entertainment and transportation. As I thoroughly review the proposal from each project, I’m enjoying learning from some of the best construction operators.

For example, when the Facebook Data Center had a transformer failure in the start-up, the team agreed they needed to understand what actually happened in order to avoid a future operational failure. So they studied the transformer failure with a millisecond by millisecond analysis. The team gained an understanding of what actually happened and was able to use that knowledge to improve the process.

How often do we encounter failure and go with the quick fix response rather than putting in the work to truly understand the situation? We can’t study everything ad nauseum, but we can probably slow down a bit and improve our understanding and our process.

A Merck Vaccine Facility took planning and bench-marking to an amazing level. ┬áThe team decided to design and build this facility much faster than a similar facility had ever been built. They succeeded by fanatically considering every reasonable contingency. They also used lots of modular construction, especially in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing areas. That’s a technique all of us could use when faced with compressed schedules.

Turner Construction probably impressed me the most with their Lean Construction approach. Evolved from the lean manufacturing model, Lean Construction manages and improves the design and construction process with an emphasis on customer needs, striving for minimum costs and maximum values. Simply put, it’s a thoughtful approach to determine the best thing to build and the best way to build it.

The constraint log illustrates the concept well. The team maintains a constraint log that identifies potential problems six weeks away, then devises a plan to help avoid those constraints from affecting project momentum. On the one hand, it’s a simple concept that good project managers and job supers do in their head. On the other hand, formalizing that process probably leads to a better outcome, particularly on complicated or intense projects.

So I’m having fun learning, even as I watch the hours melt away and know I should be evaluating bids and writing contracts. Oh well, a well spent life always fights to balance the necessary with the extraordinary.

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