03 August 2017 | by

The construction industry has a history of fragmentation. Various entities come together in linear stages to work on a project, they work largely in silos and, once the project is finished, they disband and move on to the next project. Information is gathered on an as-needed basis and knowledge is hoarded rather than shared. As a result, a lot of innovation and best practice information that would be helpful to the industry as a whole is lost.

This fragmented way of working also results in a lot of unnecessary waste, creating unnecessary costs. This results in short-term cost reductions, which have the potential to decrease quality while increasing overall project costs.

Working in silos also keeps parties unengaged and disinterested in the bigger picture, focussing instead on achieving maximising individual reward; something that lean philosophy tells us is detrimental to the project as a whole. 

Any effort that focuses on optimising a single part (“my bit”) de-optimises the whole – adversely affecting both costs and quality.
One of the key tenets of lean methodology

So, what is the solution? The overwhelming opinion is collaborative working. Taking their cue from other industries, larger construction groups are turning away from the traditional design-build and design-build-bid models and applying integrated project delivery (IPD) and lean construction methodologies to their projects. A key part of this effort is using building information modelling to generate, manage and share project data.

Benefits and challenges


  • It can result in significant project savings
  • Access to more resources mean better responsiveness
  • Access to a wider range of expertise results in better decision making, with more being achieved for less
  • Waste is reduced
  • There is a wider understanding of the ‘bigger picture’
  • Value engineering is integrated from the start, eliminating continual re-work and “reinventing the wheel”. Investment is made once


  • Higher initial cost. Savings and return on investment are not readily visible upfront.
  • Creating an implementation strategy that is flexible enough to allow everyone to start where they need to
  • Requires constant and clear communication. Our industry is used to working in silos, so this is a cultural change
  • Discarding the old industry belief that each discipline is different and there is little need to interact across them
  • Breaking the perception that not all stakeholders need to be brought in upfront or remain in the loop until completion

For collaboration to work, everyone needs to be involved from the beginning to the end.

Working collaboratively

At its abstract level, collaboration embraces:

  • Attentiveness – We are aware of and become a part of a wider working group that shares a single purpose.
  • Motivation –We harmonise with the group, working in consensus to develop plans and solve problems.
  • Self-synchronisation – We don’t wait for others to make all of the decisions but decide as individuals when things need to happen.
  • Involvement – We are involved, and we expect others to be involved as well.
  • Mediation –We work as a team and negotiate in order to reach middle ground.
  • Reciprocity – We share information with others to mutual benefit and expect them to share with us in kind.
  • Consideration – We keep our minds open to alternatives.
  • Engagement – We engage proactively rather than “wait and see”.

Active collaboration happens when all stakeholders bring together the structures, processes and skills necessary to achieve multiple levels of integration.

  • Strategic – continuous contact between owner and project leads
  • Tactical – line managers, supervisors, team leads, etc. all coming together to develop plans and solve problems with the input of the skilled workforce
  • Operational – sharing resources, skills, data, information and knowledge
  • Interpersonal – personal relationships are the mortar that holds the individual elements (bricks) of a project together
  • Cultural – respect, appreciation, understanding and awareness across disciplines and roles

The best collaborations are value-chain partnerships, where everyone involved links capabilities and complementary skill sets in order to create additional value from project start.

Integrated project delivery, lean thinking and BIM – the perfect partnership


Already a proven practice that has been successfully adopted by other industries, IPD offers the construction industry an effective way to reduce inefficiencies and improve project outcomes.

IPD uses collaborative working to align project stakeholders, their systems, practices and processes, talents, and insights to optimise value and return not only for the client but for all parties involved.

  • Minimise waste and associated costs
  • Maximise efficiency through all stages of work
  • Create a culture of collaboration between client, lead designer, and lead constructor from the early design stage through to project handover
  • Use digital virtual technology (BIM 3D, 4D, 5D) to optimise communication and eliminate conflicts, schedule delays, and cost overruns
  • Incorporate lean thinking throughout the process

Lean construction

We covered lean construction and whether you should adopt it recently on theNBS.com, but as a reminder, it is a management approach that focuses on maximising customer value while minimising waste. With lean, instead of working in silos to optimise your own individual element within a project, all of the stakeholders work together to optimise the flow of products and services throughout the whole of the project – from the design stage to hand over.

Some of the key tenets of lean include:

  • Focus on delivering value
  • Remove any obstacles that would prevent value flow
  • Eliminate anything that does not add value
  • Incorporate value engineering from project start
  • Encourage knowledge and idea sharing across disciplines
  • Manage work to optimise the whole rather than parts of the whole

Building Information Modelling

BIM is digital-based building design process that uses a single comprehensive system of computer models rather than separate sets of drawings. The models are more than just 3D CAD, they are rich in added information. Through BIM, a building’s construction and performance can be visualised, explored and analysed prior to breaking ground – thus eliminating potential clashes and other problems before they occur.

At the core of BIM success is collaboration. In fact, you can’t really “do” BIM if you don’t have the entire team on board in the earliest stages. Using BIM reduces time and cost, allows for smoother project delivery, and improves the potential for a higher quality build than what is delivered by traditional design-build and design-build-bid processes. When compared to traditional processes, BIM:

  • Enables the project to be fully coordinated from start to finish
  • Ensures that good ideas are not only shared but shared at the most beneficial time
  • Eliminates the assumption that “cheaper is better” by taking a holistic approach
  • Reduces owner risk to contractor re design errors
  • Removes the barriers that restrict cooperation and innovation by creating a non-adversarial team structure
“The biggest enemy of the construction industry was the arrival of email. Two parties would make amendments to the drawings, but they wouldn’t tell anyone else. With BIM, everyone can see what has happened.”

Construction Industry Council chief executive (ex-officio) Graham Watts in an interview with Guardian journalist Mike Scott (2014)

As BIM-related technology continues to evolve, the tools necessary to collaborate and create BIM content is not just becoming better functioning, but it is becoming more accessible to smaller subcontractors and other SMEs. While, from a technical standpoint, BIM can no longer be considered “distinctive” in itself, how BIM integrates with other technologies – especially virtual and augmented reality applications – is quickly becoming BIM’s next big frontier.

While the industry as a whole recognises BIM’s importance and potential, far too many within in the industry are not yet competent enough to use BIM. Thus far in the UK, the majority of uptake has been on the largest scale projects. And, while designers and architects are doing fairly well with BIM and collaborative working, contractors are much further behind. By the time a project reaches the traditional contractor stage, any BIM information provided is effectively ignored because the supply chains have not invested in the necessary technology. There is also a disconnection between the developer and the end-user, and the result is poorer decisions being made, simply because the end-user is not involved.

With BIM, there is an opportunity to bring everyone on board, including the end-user, to provide input into the crucial decisions that differentiate a great project from a good one and a successful project from a failure. Further, the knowledge inherent to a comprehensive building information model can be passed on to continue providing value well past construction finish and throughout the whole of the building’s lifecycle.

  • BIM is not just for main and/or Tier 1 contractors
  • In the UK, BIM is mandated for all public sector projects
  • In the private sector, organisations using BIM – including main contractors who require subcontractors to demonstrate BIM ability – have a competitive advantage
  • For companies adopting BIM, there are training courses that are aligned with government and industry requirements. There are also certification schemes available from organisations like BRE, RICS and BSI.
  • BIM is not “just 3D CAD”. At its core lay collaboration between owners, architects, engineers, and contractors in a virtual, three-dimensional construction environment.
  • BIM’s inbuilt collaboration requirements enable more efficient methods for design and construction, minimising waste and eliminating inefficiencies.
  • BIM is not going away.

Embracing collaborative construction

  1. Together, the owner, architect, lead contractor, subcontractors, (end user, if possible) set goals, objectives, timetables and budgets. All get to offer any ideas or opinions they might have early on, and this whole team approach means that early decision making is informed, allowing value to be created early on in the project.
  2. By eliminating silos, communication is opened and decision-making becomes a shared task. Conflicts are reduced, redundancies are minimised or eliminated, and efforts are optimised.
  3. Plans, schedules, deadlines and other project details are developed by the whole team. This has a positive impact upon design and documentation which, in turn, eliminates delays caused by change orders, thus helping to ensure that the project is delivered on time and within budget.
  4. The open, collaborative culture created by IPD, lean working and BIM fosters trust amongst stakeholders. Decision making is transparent and contingencies are visible and can be provided for.
  5. Collaborative construction reduces or eliminates the liability problems inherent to design-build and design-build-bid projects. Information flows freely, reducing any ground for dispute and fostering innovation and proactive problem-solving.
  6. Everyone involved is incentivised to meet common targets and achieve project objectives because they all share the risk as well as the reward. At every stage, the success of one is tied to everyone else’s performance. It is in everyone’s best interest to work together because project success means individual success.

Having everyone on board and engaged with the project before the designs are even drawn is a huge step-change in the way we think as an industry. Equally, entering multi-party contracts can feel like a legal risk. However, those within the industry who have adopted collaborative working attest to its success, and contracts can be drawn up to clearly outline a project’s purpose and objectives, thus mitigating risks for everyone involved.

This article has been edited and repurposed from “Bringing together IPD, lean working and BIM”, written for the Construction Information Service.