In order to match the challenge of creating high performance buildings, the construction industry needs to move toward high performance construction, says McGraw Hill Construction senior director Stephen Jones. During his remarks to open ENR’s Futuretech conference March 18-19 in San Francisco, Jones said the industry should foster “the industrialization of construction to reduce risk and uncertainty and get better designs out there.”

Lean construction practices are paramount to a high performance construction strategy, but awareness and adoption of lean techniques is lagging. According to a McGraw Hill Construction study conducted in 2013, 30% of firms surveyed had not heard of lean construction and 43% of firms had implemented it. High performance construction needs to be scaled up across the industry so all projects are built using those principles, not just a few buildings here and there, Jones says. 

John Kunz, executive director of Stanford University’s Center for Integrated Facilities Engineering, picked up on Jones’ call for scaling up high performance construction, and said the key to driving it forward is to capture construction performance metrics so companies know where they stand and through comparison and analysis, can discover where they are likely to find processes that are ripe for improvement.

Very little in the way of capturing performance metrics is being done now, according to surveys conducted with industry practitioners in various aspects of construction activities. But, managers are very open to the idea and believe it could lead to significant benefits, Kunz says.

CIFE is in the midst of a seven-year plan to performance breakthrough by 2015, challenging the industry to reduce the project cycle time for major commercial structures. Design currently can take from one to six years, and construction up to 18 months, and CIFE challenges the industry to reduce that to one year of design and six months of construction.

“The physics completely allows it,” Kunz says, describing the roadblocks to achieving high performance construction as issues of organization and coordination.

In another panel, several industry practitioners of high performance construction shared specific initiatives underway at their companies to measure and improve project delivery. Bruce C. Cousins, regional lean manager with Turner Construction Co. said that the construction industry is behind schedule and has low productivity levels compared to industries such as manufacturing, where lean techniques have been well established. As an example, Cousins cited a study by the Construction Industry Institute which found that the construction industry experiences 57% productivity waste, compared to only 26% in the manufacturing industry. 

But lean construction is about more than just eliminating waste. More importantly, it provides added customer value, Cousins said.

To provide more value to the client, Susan Klawans, director of operational excellence and planning at Gilbane Building Co. outlined several key steps. First the building team must define the conditions for success for providing value to the customer, and develop a plan to exceed their expectations. By implementing high performance team principles, the project participants must then collaborate in a meaningful way. The final step is to measure the results, because, as Klawans puts it, “what gets measured gets improved.”