Collaboration as competitive advantage

A collaborative planning and design process may seem like a common-sense goal, but the concept can be a challenge to achieve in the fragmented AEC industry. SPONSORED BLOG

November 12, 2014 |
Steven Burns

Photo: jesadaphorn via

A collaborative planning and design process may seem like a common-sense goal, but the concept can be a challenge to achieve in the fragmented AEC industry. 

“Inefficiency due to the lack of an interdisciplinary collaborative process is prevalent in our industry,” writes Management Consultant Mel Lester, in a blog post. “More typical is a compartmentalized, sequential approach where work flows from discipline to discipline with coordination limited largely to the points of handoff. What's needed is an interdisciplinary team that together guides the work through planning, design, construction and startup.”

He offers a few suggestions for overcoming the culture of competition to achieve true collaboration:

Start with mastering collaboration among your own staff. The genesis of internal coordination problems is usually structural—how offices and departments are organized and incentivized. Look here for obstacles to collaboration. 

“The secret to better collaboration is rethinking the usual sequential approach to planning and design, and getting parties engaged throughout,” Lester writes. “Designers can help strengthen planning. Planners can bring a valuable perspective to design. Architectural schematic design can be improved through early engineering input. Construction specialists can help designers reduce costs and improve constructability.” 

Commit to integrated project planning. All the relevant disciplines and stakeholders should have input into planning the work. The more disciplines and stakeholders involved in the project, the more opportunities for disconnects when proper planning is neglected.

Strengthen collaboration with regular teaming partners. This will reveal some valuable, previously unknown insights about what each party needs from the other to be more successful. Areas to focus on include aligned project goals, project planning, sequencing of work tasks, lines of communication, decision making, roles and responsibilities, interim deliverables, coordinated quality control, addressing problems and delivering great client service.

Advocate for partnering sessions with design-build teams. Ideally, these should involve the owner and key members of the design and construction teams. Start by aligning goals, which is critical to creating the environment for effective collaboration in other aspects of the project.

Sell clients on the benefits of your collaborative process. Though the contractual relationship between planning, design and construction partners may prevent you from extending your collaborative process over the full scope of the project, you can promote the advantages of that which you can control. But it's vital that you compile data that demonstrate the benefits of collaboration. 

Read more from the E-Quip Blog.

Steven Burns | The Business Behind Design

Steven Burns, FAIA spent 14 years managing the firm Burns + Beyerl Architects, and during that time the firm’s earnings grew at an average rate of 24% per year. After founding his own software company, Steve took his management expertise to BQE Software, where he is refining their business strategy and product development for the company’s groundbreaking project accounting solution, BQE Core.

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