Collaborative Construction Environments

Today in the business world and regarding any discipline, it is absolutely necessary to work collaboratively, not only with our team, but also with other teams from the same sector, and it is even better if we manage to collaborate with other sectors. The construction sector is one of the most traditionally fragmented in the industrial landscape. It often deals with team-based projects working with individual subcontractors that can turn into one of the most critical aspects to reach a successful result.

What is Collaborative Construction? 

When we speak about collaborative construction, we refer to work in synergy with different teams to carry out an efficient construction work development and obtaining the following main benefits:

  • Optimization of means and efforts
  • Maximizing value to the client
  • Reducing times, Costs and Waste

It requires a simplified and as easy as possible communication between all specialized technical teams, suppliers and subcontractors that have the compromise of carrying out a construction project. A fluid communication strategy is key to arrive to a collaborative project’s success. The collaborative aspects should cover from the planning phase to the close out, considering the whole building life cycle which will bring a significant impact on the overall efficiency and effectiveness of a project.

One main consideration while facing a collaborative project is to have clear that to reach the owner’s objectives, and to arrive to a fruitful business consecution for all the stakeholders that take the decision to participate, is to count on the building owner’s alignment as a member of the core team group, who will assume and share both compromises with all the participants, as well as responsibilities and risks.

Another important point to have in mind is that not all kinds of projects are adequate for a collaborative solution; this should be well studied and detected in advance to avoid further problems. It should also be clear that the stakeholder group that will develop the project has to be aligned in the idea of a collaborative project, because it is a compromise that they will assume through specific Collaborative Contracts, that we will briefly mention later.

Principles to have in mind from the beginning while implementing collaborative environments:

  • The whole goes first, and should be optimized constantly
  • Focus on processes and flows
  • The system needs continuous improvement
  • This implementation should generate value
  • It should reduce waste generation

These early agreements and interactions can help to ensure that the completed project meets the needs not only of the owner’s economic interests but of the building occupants as well and provides insights into ways to improve the end user’s well-being.

“Undoubtedly, collaborative methodologies require a Culture of Collaboration built on respect and confidence in the team.”

Collaborative Methods to apply Lean Construction principles

Lean Construction is a “way to design production systems to minimize waste of materials, time, and effort in order to generate the maximum possible amount of value”
(Koskela et al. 2002[1])    

Lean Construction is a relatively new work philosophy with countless competitive advantages, but how did this trend emerge? At the end of the 20th century Toyota covered 40% of the Japanese market applying this new concept in the production of the automobile industry, providing better quality at lower cost, with shorter delivery times and eliminating losses. As a result, 30 years later this philosophy is applied globally in all industries under the term “Lean”.

Later the Toyota Production System (TPS) was renamed under the term Lean and was adapted to other sectors with the name of Lean Production. Thus, this work philosophy based on new production models finally reaches construction, calling itself Lean Construction.

The intention to implement an integrative and collaborative construction process drive us to refer to different Lean Construction methods that can be considered to reach these functional, economic, and environmental goals that we pretend, and that we can summarize as:

  • Integrated Project Design (IPD),
  • Integrated Design Process (IDP),
  • Integrated Design and Delivery Solutions (IDDS),
  • Last Planner System of Production Control.

Each one of them, with its principles, tools, and benefits will drive to the main objectives of the Lean Construction philosophy; that is to deliver all the value promised to the client without the usual waste that typically comes with projects in the traditional built environment.

It is not the objective of this article to explain widely each one of these methods mentioned above, but we should have in mind that we can apply any of them to the whole project or to a part of it, from conception, design, fabrication, construction and in use phases throughout all the life cycle of the project, always considering the following:

  • Remain transparent with your team.
  • Foster collaboration between subcontractors.
  • Implement an open streamline of communication to let all participants to be updated about any changes to the project.
  • This will help to reduce delays and increase the project satisfaction.

Benefits of Collaborative Construction

Implementing collaborative construction methods can provide several benefits that will help to deliver a successful project: 

  • An efficient internal communication
  • Possibility to deliver the project on time and within scope
  • Optimizing means and methods
  • Eliminate redundant efforts and conflicts
  • Maximizing off site construction
  • While anticipating to errors on site, avoid redoing work
  • Avoid budget overruns
  • Improve benefits for everyone involved
  • Improve brand reputation and client satisfaction

BIM solutions and other management softwares

The use of construction project management software, as Building Information Modelling (BIM) solutions, can aid in fostering collaborative construction as it is getting, day by day, easier to integrate on the job site via mobile applications. Here is where SPHERE Project bases it strength; helping to connect the back office to the field, helping to keep projects organized and streamline the construction process, helping in the elimination of inefficiencies and optimizing daily workflow. Also adapting other technologies that enable the optimization of the design and management of the project, all in the frame of collaborative methods. 

Through the use of management software tools, a project manager can communicate instantly important information with all the team, from direction to on site workers, about start times, task flows, or adjustments to the scope of the project across the entire job site.

Main Challenges of Collaborative Construction Environments

As we mentioned, the construction industry is extremely fragmented, people do not like changes and in general they intend to do things as the tradition says, so, there can be some resistance to implement a collaboration-based construction system. 

If a fluid communication and confidence between subcontractors fails, this can lead to delays and budget overruns. The main communication issues are:

  • Lots of talking, but no listening
  • Miscommunication and misunderstanding
  • Lack of respect and honest

Another common problem are the tight margins in the construction industry that leads to competition between subcontractors for profits share, instead of working synergistically to create a collaborative construction environment.

Collaborative Construction Contracts

Collaborative practices have been implemented in the United States earlier than in Europe. Due to this situation, we count with more documentation about contracts from North America and Great Britain, but not enough from Europe. It will take some time to reach the American development standards in this area.

Designing and constructing under collaborative principles, means forgetting about traditional processes considerations. The new collaborative agreements should be developed and aligned with the collaborative project itself. It is fundamental the adoption of Lean principles and BIM as standards of practice for the conception of these contracts.

As previously said, the main intention of collaborative construction is to achieve high-quality delivery of a project by eliminating redundancies, errors and waste. To reach this intention, the agreements should reinforce these collaborative principles:

  •  Mutual respect and trust
  •  Mutual benefit and reward
  •  Collaborative innovation and decision making
  •  Early involvement of key participants
  •  Early goal definition
  •  Intensified planning
  •  Open communication
  •  Adoption of appropriate technologies
  •  Organization and leadership

Negotiation Aligns the Team

Negotiating a collaborative agreement can be hard, but valuable work. It helps to align the team to the project goals, giving each participant the opportunity to learn who their potential partners are from the beginning, while the stakes are still low. Key workshops should be implemented to develop the business and contract model.

As part of these collaborative actions, the whole team should contribute to refine the model, and jointly negotiate the final terms.

It should be considered that the contract doesn’t lead this process, it follows and documents it:

“Begin with a DEAL, then build the CONTRACT around.”

Collaborative Contract basic considerations:

  • A team of Owner, Builder and Designer lead the project with a bias toward consensus decision making.
  • The project program should be complete, and a target price set agreeable to all.
  • All parties agree to openly share information.
  • Collaborate cooperatively for the project, as well as for mutual benefit.
  • As trade contractors and design consultants are added, they should acknowledge this arrangement.

How to Create a Successful Collaborative Construction Environment

We can reach our objectives following these steps:

  1. Change the project delivery methods.
  2. Start from an appropriate contract.
  3. Delegate responsibilities to team members.
  4. Welcome challenges and learn from errors.
  5. Learn to communicate efficiently.
  6. Use collaborative tools.
  7. Foster human relations and diversity in your teams.


Collaborative building always begins with simple, streamlined communication from the top down, starting with the project owner, the project managers, technical teams, suppliers, and then gradually reaching front-line workers at a job site. Sometimes achieving collaborative success for a construction project can be difficult because it means the implementation of a new collaborative building policy and methodology that involves training at different levels, but lately we can see the payoff always outweighs the investment.

Koskela, L.; Howell, G.; Ballard, G.; Tommelein, I. (2002). “Foundations of Lean Construction”. In Best, Rick; de Valence, Gerard (eds.). Design and Construction: Building in Value. Oxford, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann, Elsevier. ISBN0750651490.

Written by Alejandro Adell, from Octopussy