Embedding collaborative design feedback in the site-level supply chains
Construction involves the assembly of multiple components in the correct sequence by those on site. If these components do not fit together then those same site workers need to find solutions to maintain productivity. Therefore, effective design coordination is a key factor in achieving a successful project.
There is an abundance of experience in the site level supply chain that can inform and improve the design process, but this is often lost due to the lack of opportunities for timely upward feedback on design. The ability to effectively engage the site level supply chain in these conversations to improve productivity remains an ongoing challenge.
During a collaborative design workshop with a Suspended Ceiling Contractor and Mechanical and Electrical Contractor, site workers were engaged to investigate the design issues from their perspective on a current project.
After introducing the concept of collaboration during the workshop, participants shared their experiences on the distribution of design information. For some of the participants this information was only received over the weekend prior to their work commencing on site thereby leaving them with little or no time to plan their work before attending site. Participants also felt that this had impacted on time spent with their families. Some participants identified instances where design of electrical containment works had commenced at the start of the project was still incomplete towards the end of the project. Other participants identified how constantly changing design information and clashes in the design on site led to sequencing problems.
The participants undertook a series of collaborative exercises to raise awareness of the design process and the potential feedback loops at the site-level that is often lost. To illustrate the importance of understanding the design process and interpretation of the clients’ requirements, they engaged in an activity to design a tree swing for a hypothetical client. Each of the participants drew different designs of the swing which was later compared to what the client required. They were then provided with 'tongue in cheek' designed tree swings from the perspective of each player of a project, such as the architect, site manager - which was relatable by all. This demonstrated the importance of communicating the clients’ requirements effectively across all involved in the project so that this can be built.
A second workshop activity involved the participants in mixed teams constructing a Lego model of a car. The challenge was to complete the car within the given time. Only one instruction booklet was provided with each of the participants taking turns to describe and demonstrate the next instruction required for assembly to the rest of the group. At different points during the activity, the teams needed to catch up with each other so that communication of the instructions could continue. This activity was used to mirror the on-site criticality of design communication and emphasise the interdependency of all the participants that work together to achieve the project outcomes.
Lastly, the participants in mixed teams of different trades were given the task of identifying the design issues they faced day-to-day on site.
The participants responded with several of the common design issues they faced on site daily which included the following:
“Not knowing if everyone is on the same drawing version”
“Design is not realistic, it can’t have been designed by electricians”
“The set distances of hangers clash with services”
“Gaining access to ceilings and space within the ceiling voids is getting smaller”
“Services are set out differently to the ceilings – there are too many intricate details that are not shown on plans”
“Wrong information is often given”
“Designers not talking to the right people”
“I have forty years of experience, but people aren’t bothered”
Some good practices were also shared. These included getting design details of a job circulated during working hours, like on Wednesday/Thursday afternoon so that pre-planning can be done without interfering with their family time during weekends; weekly meetings e.g., every Friday at 10.30am on site with project manager available for comments and suggestions; voice meeting; opportunity to post notes on identified issues and use of anonymous drop box to share information.
The issues raised highlight the need to continuously challenge the believe amongst site workers that their experiences are not valued by those with immediate design responsibility. Also, as the level of digital adoption and Building Information Modelling (BIM) increases, the burden of ensuring that assembly can take place, stills falls on those carrying out the work on site. These site workers face the realities of implementing the design on site and have a considerable contribution to make in improving the design. It is not only the existence of tools and software for enhancing design collaboration that matter, but the emphasis on the people and how they work together to feed into the design process, especially site workers. The workshop activities raised participants’ awareness of on the criticality of their design feedback despite their feeling that this is not often valued. Experience from site workers such as those shared during the workshop can be captured in a collaborative environment to inform design decisions and enhance productivity on site, whilst allowing the supply chain to fulfil their full potential.