Planning for expansion

This article outlines tips to keep design-build project on schedule and on budget.


Meeting the project schedule is best accomplished when all disciplines are present to plan what information will be needed by each milestone date as can be seen in this pull planning session. Images: Courtesy SSOE GroupAs manufacturers look to expand their physical plants to accommodate new lines, the issue of in-plant construction projects becomes an issue. Meeting the agreed-upon schedule is a top priority in almost every project. Time is valuable and there are often product or line launches dependent on a project completion date.

Many project managers and teams will do whatever they can to meet deadlines, which become increasingly aggressive in today’s fast-paced and competitive manufacturing environments. Schedule delays can also have huge cost implications, making it even more important to avoid them. 

Making sure the schedule is always one of the top priorities in a project is key. Tough choices and prioritization are sometimes needed, especially later in the project as the deadline becomes more pressing. Even the best plans can sometimes encounter challenges as the project progresses and unforeseen issues come up. 

Change managementThe best way to get results and lead your team to success is through effective planning of the anticipated project execution with milestones that cannot be missed.

Meeting the project schedule while staying within budget and effectively allocating resources can be a delicate balancing act. In projects with aggressive schedules, the typical approach is to find out the deadline, estimate the time it will take and work backward, creating an aggressive schedule to drive the project and meet deadlines.

The project budget is also a factor. If the budget is low and the focus on quality is strong, any surplus in the budget will be eaten up by the people employed to keep the quality high. On the other hand, if financial and schedule considerations are a challenge, the diminished effort put toward the labor force will result in low quality.

In one example for a renovated existing space, drawings received from a third party after the design was complete revealed thousands of clashes when examined in the 3D model. The drawings were correct, but were generated very quickly. The team had hired a scanning company to do a 3D scan, but the scans hadn’t been resolved because the schedule was very aggressive.

The scans also were incorporated into a model, construction documents were already being issued in the field for bids and existing infrastructure, such as ducts running through a compressed air line, had to be reconsidered. The project team rectified all the clashes, and there was pressure from the aggressive schedule.

Technical leaders corrected the model as much as possible and presented several options to the project team that represented competing priorities. They could move the things that had changed around the existing infrastructure, try to work the existing things around the new construction, or shift what was already under contract as much as possible and deal with the results. Another option was to go back and completely redesign what the team had in the scans, but that would have incurred additional costs to the project. The solution was to workaround the existing infrastructure and to maximize addressing clashes while keeping on task.

Some of the issues were insignificant, or the same issue was marked by multiple placeholders, and these could be resolved relatively easily. This solution worked well and the team addressed the issues on the core and shell and inputting infrastructure, gathering equipment nameplate information and data sheets, and designing the process connectivity.

The project team had to make some challenging decisions to keep to the aggressive schedule.When the schedule is of utmost importance, creative thinking is sometimes required to get the project completed on time and meet the needs of all the key stakeholders. In this case, a solution was employed that addressed all the issues and made the project team feel at ease while still meeting the schedule.  

Rethinking the process 

Design-build sometimes seems like an easy answer to simplify the overall process and avoid delays. With schedules growing increasingly tighter with every project, project leaders have a tendency to push for a design-build process, but that isn’t always the best solution.

Design-build can save money and time, but it does not always support the quality of the project process or the final product or design. The fast pace of design-build projects does not allow for concessions on the things that typically improve quality but may have longer lead times.

Project team leaders use design-build with the intention of driving down cost, and meeting the aggressive schedule, but involving too many people in the review process slows it down, dictating the design to the architect who could have done high-quality work independently. In many cases, holding a charrette with all the contractors early in the design phase of the project will accomplish the same level of accountability and buy-in, without the delays associated with design-build. Taking a plan-oriented approach early on helps companies avoid the need to be reactionary later in the process.

The other critical factor in any project, but especially in manufacturing, is cost. Cost drives everything and budgets are often very conservative for building renovations, with most of the available capital being invested in equipment on the manufacturing lines. In addition to the up-front cost of new construction or a renovation, there is the profit lost during a disruption in the output of a manufacturing facility when production has to stop due to renovation. Careful planning is needed to determine the best way to do this with the least cost impact.

Trying to meet the demands of a tight schedule while also staying within the constraints of the budget means that priorities must be set, and sometimes this means choosing from among competing demands. Take the most efficient route: That sometimes means foregoing common approaches and solutions such as design-build and allowing all parties to participate in their own area of expertise, while always looking for opportunities to cut costs. 

Plan to succeed

There can be many challenges associated with meeting a tight project deadline, but good planning that takes cost and quality into consideration can ensure overall project success. Think creatively about the unique aspects of the company and project and avoid going the usual route if it isn’t actually the best choice for the particular project.

Get the necessary buy in from key stakeholders early on and make sure time is used effectively throughout the project to avoid costly rework and production shutdowns. Even when the schedule is tight, employing these strategies can help meet the deadlines and stay within the defined parameters of the project.

Meeting the project team’s needs has a great deal to do with planning efficiently to avoid costly disruptions to production and schedule delays that may create additional headaches, both in terms of cost and schedule. As the timelines for projects grow ever shorter, it is important to develop and reuse key strategies that meet the project demands and enhance the quality without disrupting schedules or adding costs.  

Corey Zachel, PE, LEED AP BD+C, is a Section Manager and Senior Associate at SSOE Group, a global project delivery firm for architecture, engineering, and construction management.

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