Having an integrated project design and construction team can spell the difference between having a project that ends successfully and on schedule and having a project that’s mired in change orders, cost overruns, and even litigation. And one of the most effective systems for building and maintaining an integrated project team is virtual design and construction.

The VDC framework provides an ongoing, updated, and holistic view of the project while ensuring that the input of all project stakeholders is gathered, considered, and acted upon very early in the design phase.  

As an architectural engineer and experienced project manager I have been using BIM and lean construction techniques since the late 2000s; I have been searching for an approach that delivers the promise these industry movements have been touting. Now, in virtual design and construction, I’ve found a framework that brings that promise to real project performance. I have recently completed the VDC Certificate program at Stanford University’s Center for Integrated Facility Engineering.

Here are three insights I have gained from years of experience working with integrated teams around the framework of VDC.


Number One: Getting the Right People on the Team is Key

A successful integrated project team absolutely depends on collaboration, so when assembling a team it is imperative that all members have a proven ability and willingness to truly collaborate with clients and other project team members.  As VDC integrates the project team and transforms much of the sequential process of a construction project to an overlapping one, it is essential that team members view team success, rather than their individual company success, as their goal. 

Construction partners must prove that they are ready to provide early input to design to drive constructability. Design partners must show a track record of being willing to consider alternative strategies, such as modularization and prefabrication, and that they are ready to incorporate the input of the partners who will ultimately fabricate and install. And owners must show that they are willing to sit at the design table and provide input as the design takes shape, rather than stand back and wait for design submissions at traditional review milestones. 

Design teams that collaborate in real time with fabricators often are astonished at how small design decisions can add wasteful labor and require inefficient fabrication. In a project for a major semi-conductor manufacturer, we are providing architecture and engineering services as part of an integrated project joint venture with a general contractor. This project framework also brings major trade contractors into the team early in the project. In this example, our piping system detailers had dimensioned pipe spools in a way that forced the fabricator shop to splice in spacers at every connection point between the spools, doubling the number of welds and nearly doubling the labor.  

The designers had not understood how the fittings were welded to the pipes, but as soon as the team visited the fabrication shop and saw the pile of spacers, they quickly adjusted the details to eliminate the spacers and significantly reduced the overall cost of the piping installation.