New ideas don’t easily find their way into the world of construction. Whether it’s due to the age-old excuse of “We’ve been doing it this way for as long as we can remember” or just good-old fashioned resistance to change, the industry has not fundamentally altered its ways for many years.
As a result, our industry’s production stats have decreased in certain places while other industries have increased production exponentially.
Take the manufacturing realm, which has been steadily improving its production statistics for a while now. All because they’ve been open to being “lean” – a concept the construction industry has only very recently begun to adopt. But it’s an idea whose time has come, and one that can radically improve our processes as well as the buildings we construct.
To speak in very general terms, the lean concept focuses on optimizing workflows, removing waste, continually improving processes and making decisions that will add value to a project. If you think these sound like broad ideas, I agree with you. So I won’t attempt to explore here all the ways we can incorporate them into our construction practices. For the purposes of this post, we’ll touch on my favorite element: optimizing the team! (Watch this blog for more on other elements of the lean construction and design idea.)
Let me explain what “optimizing the team” means. If you think about it, you probably spend as much time during the week with your “construction family” as you do with your actual family. Strange but true, given the demanding hours in this business. So the bonds that tie together your team are extremely important and worth strengthening.
Why is that so important? Because a strong team is built on trust. When you know you can count on the people next to you to do their jobs, you won’t have to spend time double-checking their work or making multiple follow-ups to make sure they’re on task. You can rely on each individual’s commitment to achieve at the highest possible level so as not to let the team down. In other words, when a team is optimized, they are far more productive and less wasteful.
Everyone who works on a construction project is a member of the same team, even if we don’t work for the same company. We share the same goals of making a profit for all the companies working on the project (including our own) while delivering the best project with the highest value to the owner.
There are a couple of tools we use to do this. The first is co-location, which calls for all members of a construction team to work out of the same open office. Co-locating builds relationships across the entire team, streamlines the communication process, improves efficiencies, and simplifies the collaborative effort. My multiple experiences co-locating have all been met with great success.
There are different ways to achieve this at the company level. First, trust your employees and empower them to make strong, decisive decisions without having to check in with management at every turn. Second, make sure all companies that are part of a project team have the correct personnel on site who can make these decisions in the co-location space. Third, don’t work in silos and ask individuals to solve problems on their own. Instead, use your team and their strengths to resolve issues as they arise.
At VPCS, we’ve relied on these same tenets for our entire 20-year history. Now that these common-sense ideas are also recognized as the foundational ideas of lean design and construction, it’s easy for us to adapt. Building our business on these principles has allowed us to deliver higher-value projects — constructed by optimized teams — to our owner clients.
By Eric Van Pelt
This month, I will attend my fourth California State University Facilities Management Conference, which is held every two years. As we prepare VPCS’s exhibitor booth, choose fun giveaways and assemble information on the long list of CSU major capital projects with which we’ve been involved, I’ve been thinking about the important relationship between VPCS and the CSU System.
The CSU Maritime Academy (Cal Maritime) gave VPCS our first major project way back in 1997. George Owens, a well-known figure in the CSU Facilities Management community, chose to entrust an important assignment to two guys just starting out on their own. It was a good call and a great fit . . . a new CM for a new CSU campus. In the nearly 20 years since, VPCS has managed every major capital project at Cal Maritime, as well as numerous projects at CSU campuses throughout the state. This is a fact we are more than a little proud of. The best part of this story is that years after that fateful day in 1997, George Owens ended up coming out of retirement to work for our firm. A former client interested in working on our team – truly the highest compliment.
This give-and-take, this strong and lasting client relationship, all started at CSU Cal Maritime. Now, that foundational assignment represents our relationship with the CSU system itself – a system that has given our firm so much! Yes, it’s allowed us to work on exciting new projects. But more profoundly, it’s given us an opportunity to collaborate with true professionals and to work within an environment of diversity, forward-thinking and creativity. It’s no coincidence that those very characteristics embody the true spirit of the Facilities Management Conference.
I have never left this conference without having picked up a new concept, a new delivery method or a new approach to planning/design. CSU is always looking for ways to reinvent itself; always striving for more success in capital planning, design, construction and facilities management. This aligns with the larger goals of higher education and resonates with those who have worked within and for the CSU system.
Attending the conference also gives me the opportunity to connect with a community of people with whom I have worked over the years. Like the conference itself, these individuals and the projects we have in common have shaped the way I manage construction. They’ve given me a template for success, which I also apply to my work in the K-12 arena. I catch myself saying over and over again, “Do you not have a process for that? Well let me share my experience with how the CSU system handles this kind of thing.”
I’m excited to see what this year’s conference has to offer. If you’d like more info about the processes, procedures and staff that make the CSU Capital Planning, Design and Construction program tick, check out their site here. Also, look for more updates from the conference in this blog and via Facebook and Twitter as the VPCS team shares what we learn.
By Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson
Welcome to the new Van Pelt Construction Services blog. It’s one of the many exciting things we’re celebrating these days at VPCS.
First, we’re thrilled to unveil a brand new VPCSonline.com. It offers a complete picture of our firm, our people and our work – all wrapped in a beautiful modern design and presented in a format that’s easy to navigate from any device. We’ve included overviews of our core service offerings, as well as a rich collection of project summaries (complete with accompanying photos) spanning all the market segments where we operate.
This blog is one of the site’s most noteworthy features. It will continue to build as we fill it with insights, observations and news from VPCS team members who devote their time and attention to our many projects around the region. Alongside this debut entry, you’ll find posts from our two regional vice presidents, Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson and Eric Van Pelt. Kelli writes about this month’s CSU Facilities Management Conference and reflects on the long and fruitful relationship shared by VPCS and the CSU system. Eric provides a glimpse into how and why lean design and construction is becoming the way of the future in the first of several posts in which he will delve more deeply into the elements of lean principles.
We created the new website and blog as part of a milestone event: our 20th anniversary. It’s sometimes hard to believe that my brother Mike and I established this business a full two decades ago. In the years since, we have had the great privilege of working for and alongside some of the finest professionals in the business. Respected educational institutions, school districts, healthcare systems and other organizations have entrusted us with their projects and their legacies. In turn, we have striven to provide a level of quality and service that demonstrate how seriously we appreciate the honor.
That original two-man operation that opened its doors in 1996 has grown steadily, carefully and strategically. Today, we are as proud of our expansive reach as we are of the fact that VPCS has never strayed from its day-one commitment to integrity. Whether you’ve been along for the ride with us since the beginning, or are a more recent addition to our “family,” we’re glad to have you. We are grateful, we are humbled, we are VPCS.
By Mark Van Pelt