Our Top Takeaways from the DBIA Design-Build Conference and Expo 2020

DBIA planned the most extensive design-build education program in their history for the 2020 Design-Build Conference & Expo. Hats off to the planning team who not only took the event virtual, but revamped programming so topics reflected the climate of 2020 and addressed the critical issues facing design-build teams. With seven tracks of sessions, this event offered endless design-build education and training opportunities.

We’re sharing our top takeaways from the “Teaming & Collaboration Techniques for Optimal Outcomes” track.

Takeaway 1: Revisit What Working Together Means

Integrated Design-Build is a departure from standard practice. As the team adjusts to operating within a new process, don’t underestimate the power of soft skills! Leverage teamwork, communication and flexibility as you navigate the transition. Not only will this create a more positive experience for all involved, but it will establish an essential element among your team: trust. Design-build demands that members respond to skepticism, tackle different conversations, and make decisions relatively quickly. At each crossroad, trust will serve the team well.

On especially large projects, there can be more than 50 firms involved in early design. Learning to collaborate with a large team can be a challenge, so the basics become especially important again. In these early phases, set the team up for success by completing meeting prep, defining who attends, who leads, and what the outcomes are. It may be best to assign a strong leader to guide the process, ensuring the entire team is making parallel progress.

Idea We Love: Co-location.
Co-location should be a consideration for every design-build project. And while it won’t always be a fit, for some projects it yields important benefits, especially if the project is especially large or complex. A co-location makes coordination easier, not only because it facilitates working side by side, but more importantly, because it provides structure to how a team functions and how work streams merge.

Design-build works best when team members are thinking holistically, striving to understand the needs of team members and disciplines beyond their own. This can take many forms: Bringing stakeholders into the process (engaging them proactively before and during the project), respecting the design process (avoiding over-collaboration and allowing designers time and creative space to think and process), or communicating with the owner’s internal team (they need to know what’s happening and what to expect).

Session Source: Journey Worth Taking – Valuable Advice for Owners Transitioning to Integrated D-B
Mountain climbers don’t start their first climbing journey without ropes and a spotter. However, some have been known to do so. Transitioning from Construction Management at Risk to Integrated Design-Build can feel like that at times. Before you let go of the ropes of the traditional delivery systems, build your awareness of the necessary mindset changes to be successful. On their journey together, the team featured below explored how giving up “control” built trust, unity and true collaboration.

Elise Burkardt, AIA, NCARB, Gensler
Hilleary Hoskinson, MVP Performance Institute LLC
Dana Pomeroy, AIA, DBIA, LEED AP, The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company
Eliot Postma, Heatherwick Studio
Craig Unger, FDBIA, Unger Security Solutions LLC
Drew Wenzel, Google LLC

Takeaway 2: Healthy Teams, Healthy Projects

The GSA General Session was full of takeaways, but something presenter Laura Stagner, Assistant Commissioner (retired) of GSA Public Buildings Service acknowledged stuck with us: “A healthier team may have found a more successful path forward.” She was referring to some of the early hurdles encountered by the team’s five-year modernization project. We’re excited to bring some healthy team-building habits back to our office and into our design-build projects.

So, what constitutes a healthy design-build team?

  1. First and foremost, they’re led by a strong owner.
    Owners truly set the tone for a team, so one who is excited about and invested in the process will inspire the best results.
  2. Partners are selected with care.
    Selections are qualifications-based and teams are equipped with appropriate support and training.
  3. Teams are resilient and flexible.
    It’s essential to establish a collaborative culture where team members are both accountable and feel safe to contribute. Building and nurturing a resilient and flexible team ensures that when missteps happen, you can recover!

Session Source: Lessons Learned on a GSA Project (General Session)
How many times have you come to an end of a project and thought, “If I could do this all over again, I’d change a few things?” GSA did not just think it, they acted and conducted a post-mortem on a 1970s era, 16-story federal building modernization that took place from 2009–2014 using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Funding. Ms. Stagner shared critical lessons learned on this project and what the owner and team would do differently if they could do it all over again.

Takeaway 3: Embrace a Flux Culture (and Ditch the Stuck Culture!)

In “stuck” culture, it’s enough if cost, schedule, quality and safety are being delivered. But if the status quo is satisfactory, what are we leaving on the table? This is the question of “flux” culture, which pushes us to think bigger and define new goals. We ditch the simple “plan and execute” mindset and ask ourselves, “What’s next?”

In challenge-driven design-build, the team assumes that cost, schedule, quality and safety are a given and can instead start with major goals. Understanding and responding to the real goals and aspirations of the owner is the opportunity of design-build. This requires the right team (full of members who are invested in the process and comfortable in a disruptive culture) and a forward-thinking owner. Both flux culture and design-build require a value-driven client who is interested in more than budget and schedule, who is aligned to a mission that requires more than competency, and who prioritizes creativity, ingenuity, and innovation. This is contrary to the client who is satisfied by off-the shelf solutions, and is driven primarily by price, and is focused on speed-to-market and known outcomes.

Idea We Love: Customer Advisory Board.
We know the flux culture design-build team is required to think differently. Invite strategic players into partnership, and together, pilot the approach, communicate learnings, and evaluate results post-project.

In evaluating our own stuck-ness, The Disruption Mindset encourages us to ask these questions about our approach and culture: Are we stuck in the, “this is the way we’ve always done it,” or are we always searching for better ways? Is there a rigid chain of command? Do we share information freely, or are we hoarding knowledge? Are challenges welcomed or rejected?

Session Source: Shifting From a “Stuck Culture” to a Robust “Flux Culture” with Design-Build
Presenter: Barbara Jackson, Ph.D., FDBIA, University of Denver
Cultural transformation isn’t an easy thing to accomplish. However, there are critical signs that suggest this is exactly what is missing and desperately needed if the design-build process is to flourish into the future. With numerous workforce issues, productivity challenges and lack of technological advancement, the design and construction industry is at a crossroads. This session focused on how to shift your organization from a status quo “stuck culture” to a growth oriented “flux culture,” transitioning from progressive DB to Challenge DB.

Keith Kruger, an Associate DBIA, provided these takeaways from the recent conference.