In the old saying, owners are told they can have quality, value or speed; but they can only have two of those at the same time on any project, and they have to choose.

The most successful projects today are getting all three. By focusing on collaborative planning and the use of lean thinking to support a 3D design-to-fabrication workflow, and then planning collaboratively with the supply chain, project teams are focusing not only on the content of the design, but also on how the information flows from design to fabrication. As a result, owners can optimize time, quality and cost.

No owner today should be forced to choose only two out of three.

The 3D design-for-fabrication approach synthesizes a project process with the specific business objective of fabricating the design directly from the 3D model. The reusable 3D model is a primary deliverable, not 2D drawings derived from the model.

Incorporating a 3D design-for-fabrication process requires strategic planning and a different form of contracting. Setting up should start even before a project is launched. Here are the key elements for success:  

Identify a core integrator group

Projects embarking on the 3D design-for-fabrication approach need a core group that is focused on system integration. This group should be a subset of the project team.

One of the main reasons for implementing 3D design-for-fabrication is to drive change in the supply chain. Change happens through the core integrator group’s work in planning the processes; and then in ensuring the fidelity and consistency of the representation of the project in the models of the designer and subcontractors.  

The core integrator group observes and evaluates the criteria and how those criteria are translated into the 3D model. The team constantly reviews the model to ensure it meets the requirements for budget, schedule and cost.

Identify a core-group champion

A core integrator champion should come from the owner level so that the project team, along with its approach and process, is aligned with the owner’s vision. The core integrator group needs leadership from the top level to implement tough but necessary workflow changes to supply the chain.  

The owner’s vision comes to the project team as a consistent and steady message. The core integrator group translates the vision into processes, requirements, and workflow.

Having an owner’s representative as champion also provides a more neutral view of the work to balance the needs of the various stakeholders. If the champion were someone on the design team, for example, that person’s input might be influenced toward design. If from the construction side, he or she might be most focused on execution. As an owner’s representative, however, the integrator champion can act primarily to balance all the needs of the supply chain.

The owner, through the champion, also can collaborate in the process and help to optimize it by modifying the owner’s traditional requirements for deliverables to accommodate a design-for-fabrication process. The owner can participate in the review of the in-progress design information in the model, and their input becomes part of the development of the design.

Optimize project process

Collaborative planning for the 3D design-for-fabrication workflow should strive to ensure clarity in the content and timing of handoffs. This needs to start from the first activity and continue through fabrication and installation at the construction site. The Lean principle of pull planning will help the team optimize the workflow by identifying all the handoffs among the work steps required to achieve a specific goal, and then plan by working backward from the goal in collaboration with those responsible for the work.  

The goal is to reduce variability, increase the reliability of execution and improve the alignment between what can be done and what should be done on an ongoing basis.  

To improve this alignment, team leaders create a collaborative context at the start of the project, building relationships between the key design members and contractors toward their working interaction in design-for-fabrication. Because it takes time to establish the process, this dialogue and collaboration normally occurs outside the context of an initial project meeting.  

Specialized planning tools such as vPlanner, which visually manages the work, are required to continuously prioritize the activities.

Training the project team

Owners seeking the design-for-fabrication approach need to align with project teams that have deep knowledge of how technology integrates with, and supports the 3D design-to-fabrication workflow, and who understand how the comprehensive management of the supply chain enables project efficiency.

Training of project team members in the core competencies of supply chain management is one of the most important keys to success, but training and leadership need to be tailored for the project team. New teams need more training, experienced teams typically need less.

For teams with mixed experience, leaders need to tailor the approach to bring the newer members quickly into alignment with their more experienced counterparts. Many project teams understand the fundamentals of project optimization. Experienced project teams translate this understanding into successful projects time after time.  

Develop relational contracts

Relational contracts offer the context for such teams to redefine workflows and maximize their use for design for fabrication. Team efficiency improves even more when the same team delivers a series of projects for the same client champion.

Relational contracts (or integrated project delivery contracts) are the owner’s key to achieving the goals of quality, value and schedule. Conventional transactional agreements create boundaries that prohibit collaborative behavior. Relational contracts that focus on behavior and maximize collaboration and early involvement set the stage for identification of clear and consistent objectives that can maximize success. Relational approaches to project planning and execution create opportunities that don’t exist in the old delivery models, especially for owners.

All are achievable: quality, value, and speed 

Using the design-for-fabrication concept in conjunction with collaborative planning and other lean methodologies, owners win. They get what they want, for the price they are willing to pay, and within the time frame they have defined. Under conventional methods, at best, they might get two of these.  

The team wins as well. Its resources are freed from performing many non-value-added activities traditionally required to deliver or exchange information. That is where the time-quality-value benefit comes from. The less non-value-added work a team has to do, the more time it has to deliver value, and the less expensive the project becomes.

With less time spent on non-value adding activities, the team can use its limited resources to explore more options, do more analysis, and use its resources more effectively to deliver value to the owner.

Samir Emdanat is Director of Management Services with Ghafari Associates. He can be reached at or 313.441.3000.