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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.


November 25, 2011

ENR Best Projects of 2011
Filed under: Cool Projects — Tags: — nedpelger

I’m honored to have been selected a judge for the Engineering News Record Best Projects of 2011. ENR is the top construction magazine in the world, delivering in-depth coverage on innovative projects, pricing trends, overall economy trends and stories about the people who push the business forward. The Best Projects of 2010 shows the diversity of the projects they cover.

For this year’s projects, the 24 judges will rate about 80 projects that have already won regional honors. Then the judges will discuss the top vote getters and try to agree on the most impressive projects in the USA in 2011. When I look at the judges from last year, I feel like, to borrow my father’s phrase, a bastard at a family reunion. I’ll give it my best, though.

I’m enjoying studying the project details as I work through the rating process. I glean some ideas that could help us all. For example, Cape Corral, FL had tremendous population growth with no water and sewer upgrades. They were in a crisis. They had thousands of customer complaints each year and were failing regulatory requirements. The decision makers opted to go with a Design/Construction Management at-risk concept that had a guaranteed maximum price and shared savings. The seven year project produced 740 miles of pipe, 240 miles of roads and 34 wastewater pump stations. That’s a mega-project.

What impressed me most, though, was the Design/CM team‘s attention to customer communication and satisfaction. The CM set up a 24/7 telephone hotline available to the 23,000 utility customers. The CM tried to communicate their intentions and their struggles in many different ways, from door hangers to emails. After the project, an astounding 83% of the customers approved the way the work was done. The project was completed early with $26M in cost savings.

I noticed that they included keypad entry systems for the buildings, the kind of upgrade that tells me the CM was operating with the customer’s best interests in mind. I love to see innovative project delivery methods that work.

Another project also had an innovation that impressed me. The DiMenna Classical Music studio was renovated in Manhattan and the designers dealt with lots of hoitytoity musicians with opinions about everything. As an example, the musicians were positive they needed 100 foot-candles of energy inefficient halogen lighting. The designers did some mock-ups and testing and determined that 60 foot-candles with a mix of metal halide and halogen lights satisfied the musicians. So the Owner got lower installed costs and lower operating costs. That happy outcome occurred because someone was willing to put forth the extra effort and to go beyond the perceived design requirements.

As you think about how you do your job, ask yourself, “Do I push for the best solution, even when it makes more work for me or do I just go for the easy answer?” Those that do the extra work see increased success. It’s harder and more fun.