Message From the President: Silos don’t make for great buildings

PeterHiebertBy Peter Hiebert, CTR
‘Faster and cheaper’—sometimes, it feels like variations on that slogan are all we hear these days in the design/construction industry. How can we build it faster and cheaper? Of course, the two terms are intertwined, with many disciplines selling their services because they say they can do it faster and thus make the overall project cheaper.

This brings me to the concept of ‘silos’—a buzzterm no longer reserved for places to store your grain. Created to introduce efficiencies (i.e. faster and cheaper), there are many business unit silos in a project: from owners and consultants to constructors, subtrades, and suppliers. Even within each of these groups, there are also smaller silos.

In an effort to become more productive, we have become specialized in our areas. So we break apart into specialized silos. However, internal operational efficiencies do not guarantee a good outcome. In fact, fixed-in-stone procedures that create efficient process may end up being a hindrance to overall productivity.

While efficiencies may theoretically be improved due to a group’s special talents, the lack of collaboration is where the system falls apart. Since the owners may have separate groups managing budgets for capital and maintenance, they may not take life cycle costing into account. Consultants may have many groups working on the project at the same time. Overlap in scope or missed items may crop up. Constructors push trades past their capabilities to finish the project faster, while the estimators forget to forward critical information to operations in relation to scope. Subtrades do not get the needed information in relation to other subtrade work to ensure adjacent materials are compatible and that sequencing is completed in the correct order.

Everyone has such a narrow focus that it becomes difficult to see the big picture. Adversarial disputes happen because the focus is on the silo’s best interests, instead of the overall project. Instead of faster and cheaper, these challenges could mean delays, compromises in quality, or even escalating costs.

What is missing in all of this is collaboration. Everyone needs to work as a collective team, with the entire project as the focus.

Everyone has had a few projects (or more!) that have just been a pleasure to be a part of. I am sure when you reflect back on those projects, collaboration at all levels was key to success. Of course, CSC can assist with educational courses and construction documents to help in that goal. Your membership has its benefits.

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