Building (Together in) the Future – The Post C-19 Era

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Adjust the Sails

Part 3: Leadership Starts with You

March 18, 2020 – Boston (USA) announced a complete cessation of construction projects by March 23rd. It is quite plausible that other cities and/or countries around the world could follow suit and the design + construction industry will grind to a hard stop. While we all keep safe, protect our families, watch out for our workmates, support our neighbors and do our part to flatten the curve there is no doubt many wonder – once we emerge from all of this, will we just pick up where we left off? 

No – we won’t. 

An expiry date that’s well past due.
While we are amid this unprecedented socio-economic maelstrom, we will witness the rapid descent of an ostensibly 200-year-old design & construction process into redundancy. Given the disruption on traditional supply chains, impact of a dispersed and diminished workforce, restricted financing along with the possible limitations on movement and trade, we will be faced with business models that literally become obsolete in possibly months and not years. At present, many design + construction firms are left with Remote Protocols that only include email, a smart phone and an online meeting platform. Of these, many have no ability to move their production capacity from a physical to a virtual presence. 

Change isn’t linear, especially in a time of crisis.
It is likely that we will now see a rapid evolution with disparate working parts/groups that speedily coalesce into a new form, exponentially leveraging pre C19 and post C19 emergent technologies to digitally (without drawings) design, procure, fabricate, assemble, and better operate our buildings. The approach will need to be generally right and move ahead, rather than to be prescriptively correct and go nowhere. This will greatly change the landscape – including public procurement and risk management, moving from ineffectually protecting against loss (increasing cost), to the active promotion of gain (decreasing cost). 

An outcome for all infrastructure (vertical and horizontal) is that it must result in highly predictable, accelerated and achievable timelines, completed at the least (fixed and certain) cost, return greater positive cash flows for the private sector, and reduce the spending burden for the public sector. Post C-19 we will be faced with many challenges. Like never before, time will be of the essence – approaches and processes that are highly cross-functional, disrupt every aspect from finances, the snail paced supply chain, and on into regulatory structures – will require us to be focused on employing entirely divergent ideas and essentially new business models for the infrastructure industry. 

Timing is everything.
How quickly we begin the change is up to us and our willingness to discard what was held dear and sacrosanct for over two centuries. Already, pre C19 incremental innovations that attempted to salvage an ailing industry such as “Incentivized” Project Delivery (IPD) simply looks odd and out of place today when the “Big Room” is examined through the lens of social distancing and (just one example of the waste) the exorbitant cost of putting (as can be seen below) about 30 highly trained individuals in the same room at about $4,500/hr. Suddenly, we come to the realization where design + construction as we know it resembles the late 1990’s dot.com collapse and like any other bubble, it has just burst. 


Big Room Meeting
Image from dpr.com

We can use the time we have now between the pre/post C19 era to move quickly to reset the industry. As 80% of vertical infrastructure was $10 Million (CAD) or less in construction cost, then we begin there and eventually scale up processes to the remaining 20%. Stimulus packages that see large scale projects will not help and they will still take longer to design, procure, fabricate and assemble even with nascent processes. Smaller projects will get people working quickly and if we (initially) have a more regional approach to the supply chain we can retool redundant industries, fast.  

Lead the charge at the dawn of a new era.
For the present, I am reminded of how we desperately need great leaders in times of crisis – I am convinced they will emerge in your neighbourhood, your cities, your provinces, countries and continents. These leaders will help us through some of the most troublesome times. They will help us see that while Humankind will be terribly shaken, it will not be defeated. Each day the sun sets and another day dawns – there is a day that will come full of promise and hope, of new and exciting things we never imagined we could accomplish. Rise up and be that leader.  

Stay safe.