• Matthew Von Trapp

Time to begin the Disruption of the Construction Industry

Not every construction project goes as planned. In fact, when was the last time a commercial project was executed to plan?


Now don't get me wrong, the world of construction puts out some amazing products that are iconic and often spectacular. But the pain. Oh, the pain! Dealing with contractors and the myriad of consultants and other 'experts' who help steer these projects down unknown paths to higher cost and questionable quality - at a pace that only a snail could appreciate- is enough to drive any customer to drink (or worse).


For their part, construction guys see themselves as heroes. Heroism or not, when things go south on the project it's not uncommon to hear, "Our program is unique" or "It's never been done before"... but this reasoning isn't appropriate when it's your job to make new and interesting things year in and year out. And no matter how many times they 'save' the project or perform some miraculous activity, we can't really give them the heroic title they claim when they are the ones who created the conditions that led to the problems they solved in the first place.


Perhaps it's a bit harsh, but any industry that says "Judge us by time, quality, and cost" and then does not meet those criteria - repeatedly- might be a bit deserving of criticism. Yet, when these principles are discussed with long-time construction 'experts', they can't see it. Why? Their life in the "we still live in the 1980's" construction world is all they know. It's all they have ever seen since their first day on the job site.


Many articles have been written -with clear and accurate descriptions- of why the construction industry is ready for disruption. And those who know agree completely. In this article, I suggest a few simple steps to begin disrupting the construction industry in your own projects. That's right. No need to wait until someone else does it. AI is great whenever it reaches the construction industry, but you don't have to wait until then. Begin now. The time and money you save together with the increase in quality will have you wondering why you didn't do it sooner.


Know what success looks like

The first time I witnessed excellence on a commercial construction project was when the owner had 100% of the design complete PRIOR to anyone digging in the dirt. The customer knew exactly what they wanted and had the drawings to prove it. The structure was only $25 million USD, but everything was planned to the letter. The customer even knew the exact design of the patterns they were having stitched in their custom carpets.


The project was still imperfect, but definitely an improvement upon the norm. The Customer got exactly what they asked for and the quality was right. A couple of contractors lost their shirts on that job because they were used to being able to blame design changes for their failures. Oops!


So when the north wall was poured and found to be 5 mm out of tolerance, the Contractor was unable to convince the client to accept it. The reason was simple: The client understood the impact of moving 5mm. In fact, accepting their mistake would have set in motion a variation that would reverberate through all sub-contractors, suppliers, and their own architects. Nope. Not having it.


The contractor tore down the wall at their own expense and rebuilt it. This time to spec.

It's amazing what happens in a construction program when the design is completed first. Keeping contractors contained in their field of expertise in the engineering world and minimizing their activities in areas that their engineering minds have difficulty with - like project management, certifications, and paperwork- is crucial to success.


Be a Successful Client

So if you're a client looking to start a new construction project, among the many things you can do to have real control over your program, I highly recommend 3 simple things that will have the biggest impact in the outcome, and go the farthest in mitigating your risks of failure:


  1. Start with 100% design completion prior to the project start.

  2. Give the contractor a fixed-price contract with harsh penalties for time and quality violations (making sure the contract spells out both delivery requirements and hand-over)

  3. Buy all the materials yourself


You'll notice benefits right away as these simple measures will drive down cost, remove the potential for certain variations, and force the contractor to focus on engineering instead of project management. It also means they don't need a hefty start-up payment.


By starting with 100% design and controlling the materials, the contractor will quickly discover their weaknesses.


Outcomes

Stripped of the ability to use the incomplete design as an excuse, and having no way to hide poor workmanship that requires additional materials, the contractor will have nowhere to go with their delays. As a side benefit, scope creep also becomes a thing of the past!


With these things taken care of, you will notice that you will need the construction consultants much less. The elimination of the construction consultant companies should be a key target (and eventual benefit) of the coming disruption technologies.


So yes, the construction industry is ready for more than a make-over. We should see massive disruption in some areas in the next several years. With the advent of AI and the progress of advanced software, soon the industry that seems lost in the 1980s will find itself history.

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