Collaboration in Coordination

Time again for my annual, or so it seems, article on the status of collaboration.  This year I want to focus on collaboration as it relates to coordination in the construction industry, as this is the work world I currently live in.  Sometimes people use Coordination and Collaboration interchangeably, but they shouldn’t. Coordination is a process or workflow, while collaboration is the underlying basis of that process.

The definition that best fits the coordination process is a “cooperative effort resulting in an effective relationship.”  The definition for collaboration is the “action of working with someone to produce or create something.”  So, with these in mind, let’s go.

The Start

The only way that collaboration works in the coordination process is if it is implemented at the beginning of the project.  A project kickoff meeting, with ALL players, is critical to the success of this process.  You need to have representation from every discipline that is going to require coordination, and those representatives should be the people who are going to be involved in the process throughout the project life.

The overall project coordinator needs to set project expectations at this meeting.  Everyone involved needs to know the coordination schedule, what format the uploads needs to be, where the uploads are happening, and how often the uploads are to be done.

Not having these simple items in place can cause major headaches.  If a schedule isn’t produced, no one is working to a goal.  If the format isn’t provided, you will receive any and every format, and no consistency.  If you don’t set a scheduled upload time and location, you won’t be ready for your weekly meetings.  Without having these things in place, the overall project coordinator spends more time chasing down models instead of clashing the models to reduce issues in the field.

Another critical part is having a BIM Execution Plan (BIMxP) upfront that lays out all the pertinent information.  There are complex BIMxPs that can be 50 pages while others don’t contain the proper information. But there is a happy middle ground—BIMxPs that contain the pertinent information, but doesn’t overload information.  You can’t account for every piece of information or situation, so don’t try to do that in a BIMxP.

Talking the Talk, But Not Walking the Walk

Many people in the industry know all the buzz words—BIM, clash detection, coordination workflow, deliverables, etc.—but don’t know what they actually mean or the software that accomplishes these tasks.

This becomes quickly apparent after you leave the kickoff meeting and begin the process.  Often these things are brought to light by comments like, “I need this BIM’d up” or referring to everything as “The BIM” and not comments about the workflow or the product being delivered.

Another part of this is knowing the software that is required to complete this coordination process.  Just because you know pertinent terms doesn’t mean you understand the software and the process.  That is why it is important to have the people completing the coordination effort to be at the meeting and to become familiar with all the other players.  I have seen many kickoff meetings that only contain the company’s BIM managers, who may guide the overarching process for their company, but won’t be putting the modeling effort into the project.

We Aren’t Mind Readers

There needs to be open collaboration between all disciplines throughout the entire process.  Often one discipline has an issue they need to resolve, and they are given direction on how to proceed, but when staff in the other disciplines aren’t hearing the same instructions they may think that space is available for their geometry.  When this happens, rework almost always happens, and the last thing staff in any discipline wants to do is remodel in a coordination process.  There isn’t anything more frustrating when you believe you have avoided all other trades, only to find out someone was given direction to occupy the space you are in.

There is another area where minds can’t be read: during the population phase of the overall coordination process.  All disciplines need to be populating and coordinating the same areas, at the same time, and then proceed to the next area.  If all disciplines aren’t in the same area, then unrealistic space is available for whomever arrives first.  Often, disciplines get pushed around due to construction schedules and what areas are available for installation, but we need to be careful to not be fully driven by what is happening in the field.

In a perfect world, design would be completed, coordination would be started, and as those areas are complete, construction would begin—but we all know we do not live in that world.  Often the process is: design isn’t complete, coordination is all over the place, and construction is building on the opposite side of the site. 

There needs to be give and take, but a discussion upfront of which discipline takes priority and where are those areas most critical to the overall construction schedule would help the overall coordination process to be more streamlined.  Bottom line, all players need to be on the same page of the coordination process.

Clear Instructions

A typical coordination meeting is usually a mix of people on site and some form of web presence meeting.  During these meetings many different things may be discussed, and without fail, one person hears something, and another hears something completely different. 

It is of utmost importance that these meetings are followed up by written instructions that list who was involved in the call, what the general discussion was about, specific tasks that were assigned, critical clashes that need resolved, and when these things are due.  This simple meeting minute process will help to keep everyone on the same page as well as shed light on misunderstandings by all involved.  The meeting minutes need to be produced quickly and efficiently after the conclusion of the meeting, so people aren’t working under assumptions.  The turnaround time must be even quicker if you are holding a weekly meeting.

Along with the overall weekly meeting, if there are individual trade meetings, there should be meeting minutes produced from that to share with the rest of the group that is doing coordination.  Just because the issue may not seem to interfere with other disciplines, it could, and this will prevent lots of rework if it does.

Timely Responses

In our current technological age, it seems some processes are still antiquated.  The infamous “Request for Information” can be absolute death to the coordination process.  We can now leverage technology to give us more information then we have ever had in the design and construction process, but it can still take weeks or even more to get simple responses.  One of the end products of coordination is to minimize the RFIs, so why isn’t the process also speeding up the response to these RFIs?  I think it is a two-fold problem.

The first issue is that way too often we don’t include the design team, or the design team doesn’t want to be involved in the coordination process.  In short, we chose not to collaborate with the group who came up with the initial idea.  Why would we not want the people that came up with the design to be involved in making their design come to a reality?  If they are involved in the weekly coordination meetings, they can see what the issues are and what the changes need to be, to be constructible, which will mean that the RFIs can be answered in a quicker fashion.

The second issue is we tend to go back to the old way and submit 2D information on the RFIs and it isn’t always easy to understand why the change is necessary.  If we utilize the models we are coordinating it is much easier to get a better picture and understand the implications of current design versus a different routing.

If we keep these two things in mind when working through coordination, I believe the process could be made smoother and have a quicker response.

The Finish

Is this list exhaustive?  Of course not.  Is everyone’s opinion going to be the same?  Nope.  Will I still have more to write about on collaboration next year?  Absolutely!

I like to believe that we all want the same thing: delivering the best product possible for the clients, while saving time and money in our process. I believe that collaboration is a big part of that.

If we work on some of the things I have laid out in this article, I believe we will all see a marked improvement in the coordination process.  Whether it is making sure all parties are at the table from the very beginning, or that they are following a good BIMxP, or not just talking the talk, but walking it as well, trying to be on the same page so we don’t have to read minds and looking for quicker input from the design team, they all have a common tool, and that is collaboration.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to speak up, ask questions, and share thoughts when you see collaboration disappearing from coordination.  If you are struggling with it, chances are someone else is, too.  We are to work as a team to accomplish our goals and we can only coordinate as well as our weakest link.

Until next time… happy collaborating!

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