Improving project execution

January 2007 » Business Briefs
A recent survey of leading architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) executives finds that 10 of 11 firms are pursuing software initiatives to raise process productivity without disruptive re-engineering of their work practices. The research is summarized in a new white paper, "Improving AEC Project Execution: Lessons from 11 Industry Leaders."
A recent survey of leading architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) executives finds that 10 of 11 firms are pursuing software initiatives to raise process productivity without disruptive re-engineering of their work practices. The research is summarized in a new white paper, "Improving AEC Project Execution: Lessons from 11 Industry Leaders."

Newforma, Inc., a New Hampshire-based software developer, commissioned Spar Point Research of Danvers, Mass., to interview North American AEC executives in five market segments: architecture, building engineering, civil engineering, design-build, and transportation infrastructure. While the executives agreed on the business pressures and project risks their organizations face, no consensus arose over how best to tackle key challenges such as resourcing growth, managing risk, maximizing productivity, and implementing efficient project processes to raise profits.

Spar Point Managing Partner Bruce Jenkins attributes the absence of industry-wide best practices to the relative newness of process improvement as a discipline in the AEC industry. "The industry has built distinct silos of digital information, from CAD to e-mail to business data," Jenkins says. "Some of the least-well managed-e-mail, for example-are nevertheless relied on as a 'primary source of truth,' as one executive put it. The industry is only now starting to think about how to get more value from the information in some of those neglected silos, and how to better connect them all for more efficient, lower-risk project execution."

Among the problems AEC firms face, those mentioned most include scarce human resources, compressed project schedules, culture gaps between companies on the project team, incompatible work processes, and fragmented software environments.

"The looming presence of building information modeling-BIM-also ranks high among factors affecting AEC work processes, if not now, then in the near future," Jenkins says.

The scope of the problem hasn't deterred firms from taking action. "We detected an industry mindset that improving the way projects are executed will require heavy doses of process re-engineering," Jenkins says. "But despite this preconception, we also discovered many firms do have some kind of software initiative either implemented or planned to help team members handle project information better-without major surgery on current work processes. The common thread: Most are based on, or work with, software already in everyday use [such as] Microsoft Outlook, Windows directory folders, Exchange Server, Microsoft Project, [and] Deltek Vision. The emphasis is on minimizing change and disruption for users."

Firms represented in the study are BNIM Architects; Bohannan Huston; Burns & McDonnell; Dynasty Group; Ghafari Associates; HOK S+V+E; Jaros Baum & Bolles; Jordan, Jones & Goulding; Psomas; The Walsh Group; and Walter P Moore and Associates.

The full research paper, which includes detailed quotations from interviewees on every area of discussion, is available upon request through the Newforma website at www.newforma.com.

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