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Enhancing GC-MEP Collaboration on Large, Complex Construction Projects

May 6, 2024
Digital planning solutions are emerging that make it much easier for GCs to understand and adopt Lean Construction and to better integrate the critical work of the MEPs.

The construction industry is experiencing unprecedented demand for sophisticated facilities in advanced manufacturing, data centers, healthcare, and life sciences, with the construction value in those four markets alone approaching a staggering one trillion dollars. In addition to the explosive growth in such projects, another thing that sets them apart from conventional construction is the outsized importance of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) contractors who are essential to the effective installation of the complex equipment and infrastructure needed for constructing these facilities.

To cope with the complexity, cost, and competition of such large-scale projects, general contractors (GC) are increasingly turning to Lean Construction and the Last Planner System® on the job site. Ironically, while traditional back-office master planning has gone digital, Lean Planning on the ground is still too often managed with whiteboards, sticky notes, and spreadsheets, resulting in poor collaboration and communication, especially in relation to the participation of the MEP contractors.

The traditionally manual, analog processes of the Last Planner System can make it appear complex and cumbersome to new teams. As a result, subcontractors often balk at the process changes called for by Lean Construction. Fortunately, digital planning solutions are emerging that make it much easier for GCs to understand and adopt Lean Construction and to better integrate the critical work of the MEPs.

Benefits of Digital Lean

Two hallmarks of Digital Lean Planning are fewer meetings and more accountability. Digital Lean makes it easier to set expectations and get all team members prepared for meetings. When tasks and outcomes can be loaded into a digital plan ahead of time, project meetings can be fewer, shorter, and more productive. As for accountability, the Digital Lean system makes it easier for all team members to share the responsibility of updating their activity status and surfacing problems as they arise. This gives the GC and the MEP contractors a shared view of handoffs, issues, and dependencies, and it allows teams to course-correct when needed, avoid finger-pointing, and get back on track quickly.

Overcoming MEP Resistance

The supply chain uncertainty and skilled labor shortages that are much-discussed in the trade and business media these days weigh most heavily on the MEP contractors in data center, chip fabrication, and other large, complex construction projects. They suffer from the long lead times and uncertain delivery of the specialized materials and complex equipment they must work with, and from the difficulty of recruiting and retaining up-to-date trade skills across many disciplines. Given these immediate, pressing challenges, MEP contractors can be understandably resistant to taking on the additional challenge of adopting the new Lean Construction methodology. However, Digital Lean Planning can enable MEPs to easily deal with those supply chain and labor challenges.

Digital Lean Planning means that everyone on the project has an accessible, common platform for providing real-time visibility of project requirements, schedules, constraints, conflicts, status, and performance. Additionally, the Digital Lean Planning system provides rich management analytics, enforces best practices, and makes it possible to capture, reproduce, and adapt successful project plans for easy reuse on new projects. And finally, to the particular benefit of the MEP contractors, Digital Lean Planning allows them to be much more nimble and flexible in coordinating crew scheduling with the unpredictable delivery of the materials and equipment they must install.

Once the trades are comfortable with the Digital Last Planner System, they can collaborate more extensively and effectively with engineers, designers, and GCs, and take ownership of the plans that are essential to their work.

The Challenge of Change

Among a growing array of Digital Lean Planning solutions, the cloud-based, real-time Touchplan® platform from MOCA Systems, Inc. is the leading choice for large, complex construction projects and is being widely adopted by owners, designers, and contractors across the industry.

Apollo Mechanical is a leading MEP contractor that boasts a very large team of highly skilled mechanical construction professionals and has become an enthusiastic proponent of Digital Lean Planning. According to Project Manager George Schlotz, “A planning platform like Touchplan is super easy to implement. Our field guys, who aren’t always technically savvy, are able to use it without a lot of training, and it’s a great way for them to communicate, track changes in real-time, and stay informed on the progress of each project.”   

The pace of today's complex construction projects won't be slowing anytime soon, and owners are under more pressure than ever to see their sophisticated facilities come online on schedule and on budget. By adopting Digital Lean construction, GCs, and MEP contractors alike can easily work together to ensure timely, successful project completion and burnish their reputation as reliable, forward-thinking construction partners. 

Change is challenging, but the urgent new realities of complex construction demand nothing less, and Digital Lean Planning is making it easier than ever for contractors of all kinds to meet those challenges.

Michael Sullivan is Vice President of Operations for MOCA Systems, Inc.


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