Implementing a Constructability Program - A Beginner's Guide
Updated: Apr 28
Constructability is a project enhancing practice that improves communication between engineering and construction stakeholders within a project environment. It empowers team members to focus on the early identification of advantageous opportunities to boost construction activities, practices, and processes that benefits the project in cost, schedule, and safety performance. Early in a project, constructability also helps the team identify any potential construction obstacles that could cause complications and to identify alternative solutions to rectify and align the project's true objectives.
Most organizations implement constructability methods and practices throughout their projects, but they often lack the proper structure to reap the benefits that a formal organizational Constructability Program offers. Constructability is a critical facet of successful project delivery; far too important to lack coordination and formal implementation within an organization. The use of constructability concepts and principles during front-end project planning can result in substantial savings on a project schedule durations and costs. Implementing a formal Constructability Program drives improvement in health, safety, and security during the project’s construction execution phase, and even further into the facility operating life cycle. So why then do so many project teams simply go through the constructability motions, failing to truly engage their programs beyond simple reviews of operational checklists.
To be successful, Constructability Programs must be well structured, yet empowering enough to participants to identify risks and devise creative solutions. The most successful programs are implemented during early design. If deployed too late, usually engineering has progressed so far that design changes to improve constructability are impractical or cost prohibitive. The Constructability Program should be integrated within the Project Execution Plan (PEP) and should encompass analysis of contract strategies, 3D design, bid packages, project durations and schedules, selection of materials and systems, site layout optimization, and construction technology applications to be utilized. It is important to note that implementing constructability on a project of any size requires focus, attention, and effort throughout all phases of a project. A continuous project team involvement is required for the program to succeed.
Constructability’s Two Cents During Front-End Planning
The Constructability Program should be an essential part of the PEP. The PEP is the primary resource for project planning information for all large and medium-size projects. Incorporating constructability program requirements within the PEP is a critical step to ensure successful program implementation. The PEP will play a critical role in achieving buy-in from project team members, whether they join the project at the outset or after the project has started. The PEP is also used as an alignment document among key project stakeholders to ensure project objectives are agreed upon, which is obviously critical to the project’s overall success. The table below from the Construction Industry Institute (CII) shows what should be included in the PEP structure concerning constructability objectives.
If constructability input is not provided to the engineering and design teams in a timely fashion during front-end planning, then decisions will undoubtedly be made without the benefit of having the proper skill sets and professional expertise involved. This lack of coordination and collaboration early in the project usually results in excessive project costs and increased schedule durations. It is imperative that front-end planning issues are tackled with construction teams’ input before critical design milestones are reached. Too often, construction experts are missing from conceptual project planning.
Many important conceptual and front-end planning activities can benefit from more effective timely constructability input such as project objectives prioritization, key resource identification, facility site selection, and project duration (CII, 2019).
Prioritizing Objectives will determine all major and minor project decisions that will be made during a project life cycle. Let’s say a client’s primary concern for their project is cost. Normally, change management decisions on change will be driven by cost even at the expense of other important project metrics, such as schedule. Alternatively, if the client is more concerned about schedule, then decisions may be schedule driven with little consideration of cost. It is essential to determine primary objectives as soon as possible during the conceptual phases of a project to manage and adhere with owners’ requirements and expectations. It is also critical to weigh decision benefits with drawbacks, and clearly convey these to the client. Sometimes a constructability initiative can facilitate great schedule performance but at a substantial cost. When pursuing constructability initiatives, it’s important to ensure that the effort aligns with the client’s prioritized objectives.
Identifying Key Resources during front-end project planning will pave a solid, durable, and reliable road to a project’s success. There’s no question that a project’s resources will affect a project either negatively or positively. For instance, a contractors’ knowledge of locally preferred suppliers and subcontractors coupled with their awareness of contracting and procurement lead times is extremely advantageous to the project team. This expertise will pay dividends as it allows the formation of more accurate estimates of wage rates, gross profit margins, resource work hours, potential impacts of overtime, productivity rates, and even local weather effects. Project budgets and schedules can be prepared by resources other than local construction professionals, however, with little knowledge of local construction markets the results can produce budgets and schedules that are not realistic or achievable.
Facility Site Selection requires cautious considerations of the various factors that would go into making the plant contribute towards its working environment and make it into a technologically and economically viable unit. Decisions are normally strategic, long-term and non-repetitive in nature. If the owner is considering multiple site locations, then constructability input concerning the relative issues of each potential site can be extremely beneficial. Constructability input such as transportation access, manpower availability, access to fabrication and construction facilities, power availability, and weather constraints, to name a few, can influence where a project should be located.
Project Duration, as we know, affects a projects overall cost performance. Labor and project progress assumptions, including positive or negative estimates on the impact of seasonable weather on productivity and project progress, often serve as the basis for determining project schedules by either displaying windows of opportunities or identifying constraints. No one is more aware of these factors than the construction contractors themselves. Their input can be a valuable contribution to the project planning process when implemented early in the conceptual planning phases.
For any project to succeed, realistic goals and expectations must be set. For instance, overly optimistic budgets and schedules can pollute otherwise praiseworthy project performance. We all know this is easier said than done; however, once project budgets and schedules are established, the targets are set, and performance deviations are closely monitored and measured against these set objectives. It’s important to know that unrealistic budgets and schedules are a substantial de-motivator for high performing teams as they see these targets as unachievable from the outset. Therefore, it is important to make certain that constructability input is provided during front-end planning, before these important benchmark decisions are generated.
Why are Contract Strategies Important for Constructability?
Project owners have no shortage of contract strategies from which to select. These strategies can affect the ease in which timely construction input is obtained, and even the quality or value of that input. It’s essential then that the owner’s decision concerning which contract strategy to adopt is based on thorough analysis of constructability risk factors, including the risk of poor quality or late constructability input.
Construction input is only one of many factors that must be considered in selecting the appropriate contract strategy for a project, but don’t underestimate its value. Those responsible for contract type selection should be aware of the potential for contract type to enhance the potential for early and sustained constructability engagement. Therefore, it is recommended that teams identify the possible sources of construction input, ranked in order of preference. From that list, the desirability of the various contracting strategies can be better determined. The chart below connects the sources of construction input with the contract strategy offering the highest probability of delivering that construction input. This information is based on CII’s data and are recommendations only; each project is unique, and the contract strategy will require thorough analysis to select the most advantageous contract structure.
Owners should also be cognizant of contract strategic partnerships when discussing contract project options. For instance, some facility projects are heavily impacted by installation and testing requirements for permanently engineered equipment. For these types of facilities, equipment vendors can provide invaluable constructability input on issues concerning equipment modularization, utilities, configuration types, equipment transport, equipment installation sequence and even start-up activities. It would be prudent to consider including the suppliers of major equipment within constructability efforts. Even though advanced planning and contract preparation would be required, the benefits to project outcomes are well worth the effort.
Schedule Influences and the Constructability Program
Today more than ever, project teams are realizing schedules should be construction sensitive. Project schedules must be developed with optimized construction sequences beginning in front-end planning. To accomplish this, major construction sequence strategies should be thoroughly analyzed prior to finalizing the overall project schedule. It is recommended that project teams key personnel and stakeholders, including the constructability team, create a Path of Construction (POC) by dissecting a preliminary plot plan into Construction Work Areas (CWAs). It must be understood that the POC must also align with the start-up strategy to ensure that front-end activities support the desired completions goals. Early constructability assessments during conceptual planning can lead to improved work area sequencing or work packaging decisions that increase efficiency of design, procurement and site construction activities. These changes may greatly benefit the overall project by reducing significant costs and time required for construction deliverables.
A helpful practice defined by CII is the Feed-Forward Approach. Essentially, each functional element in a project (design, procurement, permitting, and construction) should anticipate the requirements of the construction forces by taking into consideration what information they will need and when they will need it. A good way to understand the Feed-Forward approach is to think of construction as the customer of design and procurement. Then ask, how can design and procurement be scheduled to better facilitate an efficient construction and start-up schedule for the project? By anticipating the needs of the construction, we are “beginning with the end in mind” as Stephen Covey advises.
Plan Forward, Prioritize Backward!
In achieving a fully integrated schedule, the concept of Feed-Forward scheduling is easy to understand (CII, 2019).
During early constructability efforts, teams must analyze the sequence and critical durations of start-up activities before detailing the sequence of construction. Project teams should consider how each of the operating systems will be tested and checked for operation, what information and operational capabilities will be required, and how the entire plant will be operated at start-up. Also, there should be a hard stipulation in the Constructability Program that the project team will be required to examine and review critical durations of construction activities before they start to detail the sequence of procurement. Project teams should consider when procured items as well as critical information about the items (i.e. Data Sheets) will be required.
The Constructability Program should specify the necessity to analyze the sequence and durations of procurement before detailing the sequencing of detailed design deliverables. This will require consideration of each of the prior planning efforts (start-up, construction, and procurement schedules) when planning the engineering and design deliverable dates. Project teams should take into consideration the information that is needed to support each of the downstream activities and when that information will be required. These requirements should then be integrated into the project schedule. Only when planning forward and prioritizing backward does the project schedule align all stakeholders in support of defined completion goals. CII proposes the following approach.
System and Material Choice is Crucial for Constructability
The selection of major systems and materials should be predicated on not only analysis of design intent and cost, but also on constructability. Too often, planners, engineers, and designers directly or indirectly select major systems and materials without giving much thought to associated installation methods. This oversight, most often than not, has considerable impacts on project budgets, schedules, resources, demands, sequence, and continuity of work. Therefore, a successful Constructability Program fosters a more rigorous approach to systems and material selection.
CII has listed some examples of facility systems and components, as well as crucial construction aspects that should be considered during systems and material selection, which are illustrated in the table below.
The construction industry is also recently realizing the advantages of modularization. Modularization can dramatically improve overall project outcomes, and therefore should be included in the project Constructability Program. The modularization topic is vast and complex; constructability coordinators and teams must familiarize themselves and become well informed about the new approaches to modularization that are facilitating plug-and-play opportunities that reduce on-site installation costs.
Constructability Input for Site Layouts
Constructability Programs can greatly enhance site layout arrangements. Overall facility site layouts should be construction-friendly to enhance efficiency, productivity, and improve health and safety measures. Timely planning and design of the overall site layout can pay exponential dividends during construction in the form of improved field labor productivity. Facility site layout decisions should include proper discussions concerning permanent facilities and temporary construction facilities to improve project efficiency. CII points out six ways to improve productivity based on site layout.
Layout of Permanent Facilities should include discussions concerning the density of the facility layout (how close facilities are to one another), horizontal versus vertical configurations, and at-grade versus elevated/underground configurations. These decisions can lead to more compact designs that can reduce piping and cable tray runs. Also, at-grade designs of industrial piping can lead to significant cost savings in scaffolding materials and efforts.
Proximity of Different Facilities to each other should be considered, both permanent and temporary. For example, welding, sandblasting, and painting should be separated from many other facility types.
Adequate Space for lay-down and fabrication yards must be sought after. Many projects forget or delay this effort until the mobilization of field forces, when cost saving solutions are no longer available because of prior decisions. It’s extremely important for lay-down and fabrication yards to be designed and located to support the work required in those areas and provide easy access to the site without restricting the travel of materials, components, and assemblies.
Space for Large Components should be continuously discussed throughout the project. Access routes and maneuvering space is required for large components and construction equipment. Early recognition of those requirements can allow for simpler, more cost-effective solutions that support construction efficiency and productivity.
Use of Facilities concerns the sequence and timing of construction, duration of the temporary requirements, and any necessary modifications and possible schedule conflicts. These are equally important matters that the Constructability Program should address.
Drainage Systems are required on all site locations. Front-end thorough planning of construction site drainage systems is required to accommodate changing site conditions and to minimize the adverse effects of weather or water from other sources, including management of flows onto site from areas outside the control of the project team.
Construction Technology Advancement
Many advanced Information Technologies (IT) and Information Management (IM) systems can enhance and streamline constructability policies, procedures, practices and processes. IT/IM solutions for capital projects are emerging at a rapid pace, and many of these solutions can directly enhance constructability analysis. Organizational executives and project teams should periodically review and evaluate technologies and complete a detailed analysis of potential benefits they may offer.
IT/IM advancements for projects are now so plentiful and sophisticated that organizations may justify the need for an IT/IM technology manager. This individual would be responsible for identifying and evaluating new and emerging IT/IM technologies for potential implementation on projects or within corporate functions. Many of these new technologies will directly improve project constructability efforts. Constructability tools may be web-based or local, simulation tools, tracking tools, and/or site tools. Below are some technologies becoming prevalent on large and medium-sized capital projects.
4D/5D Planning Tools (Visual or Graphic Representations of Complex Construction Schedules and Costs)
On-Line Database of Constructability Best Practices (Modularization, AWP, Agile Construction etc.) and Lessons Learned.
Integrated Database of Project Components and Assignable Attributes (Quick and Accurate Tracking Tools)
Web-Based Team Collaboration Systems (Facilitates Critical Yet Routine Communications)
Web-Based Procurement Systems
Simulation of Operations (Useful as Training Tools)
Bar Coding/RFID of Materials, Tools, Documents, and Even Workers On-Site
Site-Based Tablets and Computers
Computer-Assisted (Smart) Construction Tools
Things to Remember when Implementing
CII advocates that project teams follow four essential steps when implementing a Constructability Program:
When considering implementing a Constructability Program, the following are useful points to consider:
Constructability is a practical process for developing present opportunities and minimizing future execution challenges
The essential process includes the integration of construction thinking with planning and engineering design
Attention to constructability concepts improves the focus on critical challenges and amplifies the effectiveness and efficiency of the project team
Constructability efforts have a PROVEN Return on Investment (ROI)
Constructability Programs: The Business Case
Complex construction projects often exceed budgets and planned schedule durations. In fact, it’s such a common occurrence that it’s almost expected. Teams become misaligned, design is delayed, materials are misplaced, and construction execution is out-of-sequence. It’s a story many teams can relate with; the good news is, it’s completely avoidable.
Constructability Programs are necessary in todays competitive construction landscape. With an effective program, teams may enhance early identification of beneficial opportunities to improve construction activities and processes. They may drastically reduce schedule durations and reduce the cost of construction delivery. Further, the program offers longevity, benefitting future projects through innovations and lessons learned. The most effective Constructability Programs are rigorous and timely; while deployment and implementation require effort, the benefits are well worth the investment.
CII conducted intensive research on over 300 projects and concluded that a well-implemented Constructability Program can result in a 2.5% reduction in project Total Installed Cost (TIC). Further, CII suggests that the benefit/cost ratio of applying constructability on a project has historically averaged not less than 10/1, meaning that for every dollar invested the owner sees at least a 10-dollar benefit. Some additional benefits are identified below:
Improved Health, Safety and Security
Potential Improvement is Operating Efficiencies
Shared Success and Cohesion
How can Trillium Advisory Group Help with Implementing a Constructability Program?
Trillium Advisory Group provides services and support in the following areas of Constructability Program development and deployment:
Contracting and Specifications
Sequencing and Scheduling
Site Layout/Site Access
Selection of Components/Configurations
IT/IM Tool Selection