BUILT: Wicked Solutions

This article presents a vision for Wicked Solutions in the BUILT industry. The initial article in the series served as a Wicked Primer, the second identified Wicked Problems in Construction, while the last article discussed Wicked Tools. This article tackles Wicked Solutions.

The Wicked Series, read alongside the Digital Assets Series from AUGIWORLD May, June and July, 2011, analyzes the Wicked Problems faced by BUILT industry professionals seeking to deliver Building Information Modeling (BIM) services as members of integrated teams in an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) environment.

Wicked problems require Wicked Solutions and there are no easy answers. A single article hardly qualifies as substantive analysis and the following should be viewed by readers as a jumping off point, not an end point, in the quest for Wicked Solutions to the Wicked Problems plaguing the BUILT industry.

Wicked Problems as Knowledge Problems

Because Wicked Problems are inherently difficult to define, identifying Wicked Solutions to those problems is exponentially more difficult. Thinking outside the box, drawing on analysis, insight from other disciplines, observing success in other sectors of the economy, and generally thinking deeply about these issues is critical. Doing so leads some to believe economic theory may be one useful prism through which to view Wicked Problems and Wicked Solutions in the BUILT industry.

In fact, Wicked Problems look a lot like the Knowledge Problem used by F. A. Hayek in his essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society” to argue central planning of an economy was doomed to failure (1).  According to Hayek, individualized plans, in large and small enterprises, enable efficient use of scarce labor and capital resources (2).  Hayek argued efficient planning entails formation of plans containing relevant data generated by others forming similar plans where data acquisition and analysis depends on a price system. The price system, as envisioned by Hayek, provides a framework for communication and plan coordination among entrepreneurs in a capitalist market system. Fluctuation of prices conveys critical knowledge to entrepreneurs regarding the broader economy, within which individualized business plans unfold.

Wicked Problems in Construction (AUGIWORLD December, 2011) represent project size “knowledge problems” that lend themselves to similar solutions. Pain share gain share protocols that incentivize collaborative and cooperative solutions drive “market-based solutions” on construction projects in much the way prices drive market-based solutions in the broader economy.

The Market as a Wicked Solution

Unfettered markets, in which intelligent actors procure and deliver services and supplies in accordance with their own self-interests, resolve little “knowledge problems” as they arise, especially when there are shared and vested interests in the outcome. Actors in such circumstances address Wicked Problems more effectively when they have timely access to critical data. With a finger on the pulse of discrete aspects of the Wicked Problems they face—and the authority and motivation to solve them—such actors find themselves well positioned to deploy creative solutions, exercise good judgment and resolve issues as they arise. These actions short circuit much of the paralysis by analysis caused by Wicked Problems with their evolving definitions, looping decision cycles, and other unique features.

Unfortunately, as with the larger economy, the financial reality of a complex construction project is anything but “unfettered.” Myriad government regulations and private sectors demands provide a variety of constraints with which stakeholders must grapple. Fragmented and sclerotic decision chains, lack of authority downstream, blame allocation (aka, finger pointing), fear of litigation, myopic vision, and flawed incentive mechanisms, among other defects, combine to limit the ability of project-level stakeholders to effectively deploy market-based solutions.

These challenges, viewed as the opportunities they are, provide integrated teams and owners that deploy such teams the chance to revolutionize the delivery of planning, design, construction, operations and maintenance services throughout the BUILT industry. Creating real market-based incentives throughout the life cycle of a facility, or a portfolio of facilities, requires typical project delivery methods, and the contracts upon which those methods are based, to be rethought.

Integrated Legal Frameworks as Wicked Solutions

Owners seeking delivery of fully functional digital assets from BIM-enabled firms currently procure services from a disparate and fragmented team of BUILT industry professionals. Very few of those owners, however, consider requesting—much less demanding—fully functional digital assets be delivered by providers throughout the life cycle of the facility. Even less attention is paid to the scope and nature of the legal instruments pursuant to which such assets would be delivered.

Instead, owners typically sign a series of traditional transactional agreements with each provider. For example, one firm might be hired to identify potential building sites while another is retained to complete environmental assessments. Paper copies of reports completed by the site selection firm/committee are filed along with the environmental studies, or digital copies are digitally “round filed” in a windows folder no one in the organization can locate the next year. Civil engineers, architects, structural engineers, mechanical engineers, general contractors, construction managers, trade contractors, commissioning agents, property management firms, facility management companies, and other providers in the BUILT industry similarly fumble the hand off of critical digital assets. The problem is compounded by the failure of owners, and their lawyers, to include digital assets as a deliverable and the failure, when they do, to accurately describe the scope and format of the digital assets requested.

Once providers are under they retreat to a bunker, complete the scope of work as assigned, then toss their work product over the wall to the next provider. Owners, conflating price with value and too often mistaking one for the other, lean on the bid crutch that prop up the tired and discredited design-bid-build procurement model to procure these services.

Antiquated procurement laws, regulations, and mechanisms represent significant constraints on BUILT industry stakeholders, especially in the public sector. The transactional contracts that flow from the design-bid-build method of procuring projects expressly pit stakeholders against one another and shackle them to outdated business models and processes that limit their ability to operate as members of integrated teams. More importantly, the outdated legal framework within which these services are procured fails to address delivery of functional digital assets, depriving most owners of the most valuable component of BIM, the information.

The BUILT industry needs an integrated legal framework designed to enable owners to procure planning, design, and construction services from integrated teams of BIM-enabled professionals. Procuring services from integrated teams capable of delivering fully functional digital assets will empower owners to achieve BIM to FM on a portfolio-wide basis. As more owners recognize the value of BIM and demand fully functional digital assets, new legal instruments, indeed a new legal framework, will be required to achieve and sustain success.

The economic interests of the key stakeholders in the BUILT industry align on a macro-scale and would be well served by a legal framework that encouraged collaborative and cooperative behaviors among integrated team members. The familiar features of effective project specific agreements, adapted for use on a cross-disciplinary and cross-sector basis, provide a viable starting point for such a framework.

Ironically, creation of such a framework presents itself, simultaneously, as both a Wicked Problem and a Wicked Solution. Useful as a solution to the myriad Wicked Problems confronted by the BUILT industry, the creation of a sufficiently robust integrated legal framework bears the earmarks of a classic Wicked Problem. The disparate and fragmented nature of the interests of the stakeholders required to begin the conversation deters many from moving forward. Analysis of a new legal framework as a Wicked Solution gives rise to another conundrum; when, where, and how can BUILT industry stakeholders craft, negotiate, and implement new legal agreements and a new legal framework?

Collaborative Workshops as Wicked Solutions

Collaborative workshops help answer the question. Of course, critical analysis of the BUILT industry's wicked problems occur everyday. Unfortunately, much of the analysis occurs within the same bunkers or silos to which many BUILT industry stakeholders retreat upon receipt of a contract to provide services on a specific project. Well intentioned, a plethora of associations and industry groups busily promote such analysis.

Among the more prominent of the national organizations are the AIA, AGC, CURT, BOMA and NASFM to name a few. In addition to private organizations, numerous governmental entities participate in the process. These include the federal entities like the GSA, DOD, DOE, USACE, and the VA, state actors in Wisconsin, California, Texas, and elsewhere, as well as quasi public-private entities such as NIBS and the BuildingSMARTalliance, among others.

These organizations have a history of working together to achieving laudable goals for the BUILT industry as a whole, especially regarding standardization of specifications and, more recently, the introduction of project-specific integrated or collaborative agreements. A broad cross section of industry organizations endorsed the new generation of legal agreements published by ConsensusDOCS, LLC. AIA responded with a set of so-called transitional IPD documents, designed to facilitate the use of BIM in an integrated environment, and private entities such as Sutter Health, HansonBridgett, and Collaborative Construction offer customized instruments as well. All of these instruments support and enable the use of IPD and BIM on a project-by-project basis. The legal framework concept contemplates a broader reach for these instruments and those who support IPD and BIM.

Collaborative workshops, whether project centric or industry wide, provide an excellent forum in which to discuss the Wicked Problems faced by the BUILT industry. Open and honest communication, along with cross-pollination of ideas, drives innovation in such workshops. Further, such workshops help stakeholders know where their interests converge, diverge, and conflict, knowledge that is critical to formulating effective long-term strategies on an industry-wide basis. Wider use of collaborative workshops, both project specific and industry wide, benefits individual and industry-level stakeholders.

Enterprise Level BIM or BIMxml as a Wicked Solution

Analysis of the complex, intertwined, and interdependent social and economic interests of the stakeholders in the BUILT industry cry out for technology-based solutions. Software providers and technology companies—from IBM and Microsoft to Autodesk and Dessault Systems—continue to improve the hardware and software available to conduct such analysis. But the Knowledge Problem discussed at the beginning of this article provides a cautionary tale regarding the use of such tools to “solve” the entire problem set. That said, technological innovation is a critical component to the solution and cannot be ignored.

Enterprise-level software solutions exist today in the manufacturing world and are used to virtually design, construct, and test a wide range of products. Weapons systems and similarly complex facilities delivered by the likes of Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Bechtel, and similar entities, are planned, designed, manufactured, and deployed using enterprise-level software tools on a regular basis. The vast majority of the facilities and infrastructure projects delivered by the BUILT industry? Not so much.

Frankly, the BUILT industry has an opportunity to leap-frog over 20 to 30 years of antiquated technologies and business processes, landing firmly in the 21st Century. Leveraging these virtual design tools, and the business processes and new-generation legal instruments required to deploy them throughout the life cycle of a facility allows BIM-enabled firms to deliver fully functional digital assets to owners. In other words, BIM-enabled firms that operate in an IPD environment can deliver BIM to FM.

As more and more owners, especially sophisticated institutional owners including the U.S. Government agencies listed above, the U.K. Government (which is demanding second-level BIM as a deliverable by 2016), and innovative private companies demand BIM as a deliverable, it will become more and more important for BUILT industry professionals to deliver BIM to FM.

Wicked Conclusions

Is your organization prepared to compete in an integrated environment? Is your organization BIM enabled? Is your organization prepared to create, utilize, and share fully functional digital assets in an IPD environment? Economies of scale, cultural differences, localized workforces, supply chains, and other factors combine to inhibit adoption of IPD, BIM, and lean business processes in the BUILT industry. As with other aspects of the Wicked Problems faced by the industry, these challenges actually represent tremendous opportunities.

Accordingly, the questions raised in this series of articles should be viewed as opportunities and not as hurdles. The BUILT industry needs to seize the opportunity and run with it. Innovative firms, organizations, and governmental entities can join forces immediately to begin charting a path forward.

(1) Hayek, F.A. 1945 The Use of Knowledge in Society The American Economic Review.
(2) Hayek F.A. 1937 Economics and Knowledge Economica V4 N13 33-54

James L. Salmon is President of Collaborative Construction Resources, LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.