Faster and More Efficient: How the Pandemic Has Sparked Project Delivery Innovation

December 1, 2021

Principal, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: We believe that strong project management drives great design. In this four-part series, we will explore four different and important aspects of project management. The first post in the series—which was originally published by Project Management Institute—focuses on accelerated and innovative delivery methods.  

This post was co-authored by Sarah Markovitz and Kwang Lee.

One of the challenges facing hospitals across the country has been the urgent need for space due to the Covid-19 pandemic and increased emergency psychiatric visits. In this context, it is especially important to deliver projects as quickly as possible, all while maintaining social distancing measures during design and construction. According to a Health Facilities Management survey, almost a third of recent hospital projects have been fast tracked. This critical need for faster delivery has spurred new virtual and logistical approaches to project management, including our work with Massachusetts General Hospital on its 7,050 square foot Acute Psychiatry Service project.

The project team, led by NBBJ (design) and Walsh Brothers (general contractor), worked with a compressed schedule which enabled Mass General to finish the project more than 30% faster than initially planned, while accommodating changes requested by the hospital during construction. From this experience we have distilled three key strategies, described below, that can deliver projects faster and more efficiently—streamlining the request for information and user engagement process, developing Building Information Models (BIM) in collaboration with engineers and consultants early in the design process, and using platforms like Open Space to rapidly track on-site progress virtually.

Streamline the Request for Information (RFI) and User Engagement Process
Needing to quickly create new psychiatric space to shift psychiatric patients out of a cramped emergency department, Mass General developed a compressed project timeline. Accommodating this schedule required NBBJ to develop a new process for responding to construction related questions and reviewing submittals. Typically this takes one to two weeks and involves several engineers sending documents back and forth to identify and work out design and technical issues.

To keep to the compressed schedule, NBBJ committed to a one day RFI response time and introduced group Zoom calls with the relevant project team members—from engineers and equipment suppliers to security contractors and door consultants—to quickly coordinate live comments.

A similar Zoom-based approach was used to streamline the user engagement process. The Mass General Emergency Department staff wanted to participate in the construction meetings to check the construction process and to relay last minute design change requests. This virtual meeting enabled the project team and client to communicate quickly while maintaining social distancing measures and also allowed a range of stakeholders to participate even at the peak of the pandemic period.

Develop Collaborative BIM Models Early On
With a compressed schedule, it was important to ensure early coordination between the design and construction team. Recognizing the need for more accurate bids to save time and money, the team invested in earlier, more complete BIM development, coordinating with engineers in the BIM model before they would typically be engaged in the design process. As a result of this approach, the project received far more accurate bids and minimized the amount of changes needed during construction, enabling a faster timeline.

Early BIM development was particularly important as a portion of the project is located in a building built in the early 1800s, with a very low ceiling. NBBJ collaborated closely with a mechanical engineer as well as the construction team to find the right routing for a new mechanical system in the tightly packed ceiling space.

In the same spirit of collaboration, the design team worked more flexibly with the general contractor on construction material selections, recognizing the need for substitutions on certain items due to their impact on the schedule. With widespread material shortages, especially for items with microchips or items coming from overseas, it was critical to both order materials early and be flexible with substitutions in order to maintain the project’s tight schedule.

Use Virtual Platforms to Track On-Site Progress
Given the pace of the project schedule, it was critically important to maintain a high level of coordination among all team members to identify clashes and track on-site progress. The team used Navisworks, a design collaboration tool, to coordinate with engineers and mechanical subconsultants to identify any conflict between existing and new mechanical systems weeks before they would typically be discovered. The team also held weekly meetings to review clashes and find alternate solutions.

This process was greatly enhanced through the use of virtual platforms like Open Space, which maps live jobsite photography to plans. Using Open Space, construction team members were able to to walk through the construction site with a camera that takes pictures at regular intervals, creating a point-to-point virtual 3D model of the project. This enabled the team to quickly identify, collaborate and resolve issues, and create a visual reference model that was readily accessible online. It also reduced on-site visits, which saved time and reduced infection risk.

Open Space was particularly useful for this project as the team had to work in a highly coordinated fashion to adhere to the project timeline. On a typical construction project, the trades would work sequentially, moving from work like MEP ductwork and electrical to finishes and flooring. But to maintain Mass General’s schedule, the trades worked more concurrently—adapting measures like installing and protecting flooring so that other trades could continue work. This required the design team to push forward on submittals and order materials early. Using Open Space reduced the number of people working on and visiting the site and enabled faster coordination.

While these project management strategies may not be applicable to every project, they can help to streamline the design and construction process—particularly when the schedule is an overriding concern. Given the ongoing restrictions to in-person collaboration and collocation due to the pandemic, and the critical need for more clinical space, the adaption of virtual tools and strategies like these will likely gain traction as clients look to complete projects quickly, safely and more efficiently.

 

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