There are many fads, subcultures, and quite frankly useless practices that are adopted into the construction industry. Many times these prove to be useless endeavors that, when we look at them in retrospect, have wasted time and resources and did not promote the positive trajectory of the industry over long term.
Big Room, a lean practice, is not a practice that falls into one the above mentioned trends. Big Room is a practice that does not just encourage communication and collaboration among the project teams it demands it. What is the basic idea of Big Room? Communication…and a lot of it.
A Big Room in a construction setting gives the opportunity for open (and at times, unfiltered) communication between subcontractors, designers, and management teams as they sit together and discuss the ebbs and flows of the construction project on a weekly basis.
Topics are then discussed on very focused levels – from project restraints/constraints, delivery dates and times, issues and actions, as well as upcoming inspections and coordination to name a few. Fostering discussions focused around these standardized topics creates healthy conversation that is then documented in the form of tables, charts, and schedules that are then posted for all of the project staff to see.
Let us look at an example of how this may benefit your job beyond the standard way of thinking. For the sake of an example, let’s create a fictional job called Project Hammerhead. Project Hammerhead is a large data processing facility that has a very intricate M/E/P system that has taken months, if not years, of modeling and preconstruction to get all of the right materials, systems, and teams in place.
The first construction step is always designing the schedule. Now, for most of history, the general contractor would have built a schedule with milestone dates getting input from subcontractors regarding lead-times, durations, and output, much like we still do using lean practices, and the communication would have ended there.
A schedule would then have been etched into a stone tablet and the rest would’ve been history. Today, in a lean approach, we build schedules as organic references pointing us in the direction of that hard end date. It’s what happens between the start and finish that has revolutionized construction.
In the scenario of Project Hammerhead, we have spent millions of dollars and months of time designing and laying out the perfect project on paper, so why stop there? We have a schedule that is a great baseline to get us from point A to point B; but as we all know, things never seem to happen as we plan.
At Project Hammerhead the project is moving right along and we are putting up thousands of board feet of gypsum board daily; hundreds upon hundreds of lineal feet of pipe, duct-work, and conduit are being laid as fast as they are taken off the truck. Production is good! This in itself is in no way a problem – but it can become a logistical nightmare.
At Project Hammerhead the drywall contractor is moving slightly faster than schedule and because of an unforeseen issue with the availability of petroleum, plastics have become a commodity. In-wall inspections are scheduled to happen on Area A and the electrical conduit is not even on-site yet. The schedule clearly shows that once we have the in-wall inspection on Area A, there is no time to waste, we are going to hang drywall on the backside of the walls before moving to Area B.
In the days of ride or die to the day of the schedule, the unforeseen conditions of a petroleum shortage 7,500 miles away would have resulted in back charges being muscled onto subcontractors and then handed down to suppliers, in some cases, litigation and expulsion from jobs. When the right hand did not know what the left was doing, mid-job dates were gospel and communication and flexibility were nil.
Fast-forward to Hammerhead, the entire project team (project managers, superintendents, foreman, etc.) sits together weekly, discussing; production, restraints, weather, schedule, manpower and deliveries. In this discussion, they realize the time restraint that the petroleum shortage is putting on the production of PVC and foresee the reality, collectively, that the conduits will not be completed in time to follow the schedule as originally set. Instead of arguing and placing blame for the disruption, the team creates a new path together to compensate for the supply shortage.
Lean Construction gives each project the best opportunity to succeed. It’s less about personal and company recognition and more about a collective team approach that emphasizes successful projects. Big Room is a practice that will bring your job greater efficiency by identifying deficiencies sooner, breeding greater opportunity for more practical solutions.