Lean construction in practice
KvalhoTalks with Birgitta Schock | Co-Founder of schockguyan GmbH |Chairwoman buildingSMART Switzerland
Are you interested to know what movers and shakers of the building industry focus on in the era of digital transformation? Learn what's happening within the industry today and what comes next? If so, I would like to welcome you toKVALHO TALKS – a series of interviews and discussions with experts, innovators and entrepreneurs.
I recently visited the Zurich-based architectural practice – schockguyan GmbH to talk about Lean Construction with Birgitta Schock– one of the company co-founders and an experienced practitioner of lean construction.

Continue reading to learn how Birgitta applies lean management in practice, working on the most innovative construction projects in Switzerland and how using such a method could help your company to better manage design and delivery of construction projects.

Enjoy !

Could you give us a short overview of your career and what prompted you set up an independent architectural practice?
I started my academic journey with studying law – which one year later I exchanged for architecture at the ETH Zurich. Setting up my own practice was an organic process. After graduating from ETH, I worked for a German practice AS&P, Frankfurt a. M. and after 5 years I decided to start my own business. Executing my projects involved regular visits to the construction sites in Switzerland and Germany. That's when I realised that the process of designing and constructing buildings can be improved by strengthening the communication and collaboration among all involved parties. I was eager to try to do that on my own projects.

Your niche is human centred design and lean management in architecture. How did you find this?

My business partner – Annigna Guyan and myself both graduated from our master's program – Architecture, Engineering and Construction management from Stanford University in 2001. We wanted to implement what we have learned during this program into the real-life projects in Switzerland. During our time at Stanford we were fortunate to meet a few lean experts from the USA, who set up the Lean Construction Institute in the mid 90's. So we were motivated to implement these novelties into our projects and were convinced that this will be the way to realise all projects from now on. It was easier said than done. At some stage we realised that convincing our clients to use the new concept was getting us nowhere, and therefore we applied a different tactic. We stopped convincing anyone and just applied it into our daily work. And we have been focused on improving design and construction processes ever since. And to do that we often adopt methods from different industries like IT or automotive.
What does Lean Construction stand for?
It stands for avoiding the waste and respecting human beings. It's not only about avoiding material or financial waste but also giving the individuals the opportunity to work in a balance and not doing unnecessary, unneeded work. It is about optimising the processes in all steps of the building cycle. At the end of the process, its whether you get a good or bad product / building.
Lean is about ''stopping the machine'' and ''fixing the problem'' before errors and failures happen.
Tell us more about your approach, its innovative process and how does it benefit your clients?
We have developed our own methodology called ''Our 5P'' based on a strong human-centred approach. We get involved straight from the beginning when clients start thinking about their project, without having a clear business plan yet. That's where we help to define the project goals and client expectations of this project. For example, when the Client tells us he/ she wants to build a new hotel, we start with questions like: Who is your customer target group ? What is their profile? We are mapping their idea with the business model canvas, value proposition canvas and other design thinking tools to understand their needs and defining the unique selling point (USP). Often during this first exercise our customers realise that they have not thought about these important points.

When within your 5P process you start involving BIM?

It is slightly different for every project. We normally start understanding when using BIM within the design process can bring most benefits, when during an ongoing conversation with the client we learn if the property will be managed by them during its entire lifecycle, or it will be sold. We need to understand what data is needed for managing the building and how the data will be managed. Also what building performance is expected? We use the BIM process when we see clearly that BIM can support achieving client's goals in regards to using and managing data properly.

Do you use BIM in every project?

Since we are coming from the ''lean-management'', we focus on where the ''waste'' comes from in design and delivery of the construction projects. For that we use various tools- BIM method is one of them. In some projects BIM is used in a more detailed way than in others. Sometimes we do not need all the detailed information from the beginning. But you need to know what information is valuable.
We are not interested to bringing outputs – we focus on an outcome!
You are very active in bringing BIM to Switzerland and your practice was one of the pioneering Swiss offices which adopted BIM in your projects. What made you decide on using BIM?
I am a member of the Acumen7 business network based in the UK. It's a group of 30 highly experience individuals from across industries, helping businesses to solve the challenges of development and change. One of my colleagues from that network is Richard Petrie, the Head of Building Smart International. Once during a conversation, he told me about buildingSMART International. At the same time, BIM become more popular in Switzerland. There was a strong movement to found a group of interested people, based on best practice in Switzerland. Half a year later Bauen digital Schweiz was founded and the buildingSMART International decided to award the Chapter to this organisation. Now Bauen Digital Schweiz hosts buildingSMART Switzerland , which I am a Chair of.

What benefits of using BIM do you see for your practice and for your clients?

The BIM process helps me to drive my business forward and helps my customers to get a better value. We all need to change our behaviour when it comes to collaboration.
Our business models are changing. But we also need a mature client market, able to order, procure and maintain their own portfolio and ask for competition in a good sense.
Can the benefits of using all these lean and digital tools in a project for design and delivery be measured?
We are currently working on Baufeld 1 Suurstoffi Campus in Rotkreuz Switzerland . We started the journey to help the design and construction teams to deliver this project in a very tight schedule and to optimise the whole production flow on the construction site, including site logistics. We use some pioneering ideas and tools to achieve this and we measure the impact of it. We realised, that there is more upfront time and resource investment but if we can deliver the building in this super tight schedule, we save appx 1 year of construction time!. So the pay-out and saving is enormous! 42 000 m2 x 12 months/ year for rent. You can calculate the savings.
Additionally, by applying lean processes supported by BIM we avoid material waste– we don't ''over'' order materials.
There is no storage on site so we came up with the solution how to order the right amount of material needed for carrying out the building construction on a particular day. We manage the supply chain by tagging all materials and at the end of the day we scan it and the information goes back to the BIM model. This has never been done before. In this particular project we strongly focus on collaboration. All companies involved work as a team – from the architects, engineers via subcontractors to the site manager. Every day we have a 15 min -joined meeting, asking each other questions about the work done on that day and the work we need to perform the next day. We listen to suggestions and advice of those, who at the end need to construct the building. It works brilliantly, and everybody feels included in creating a valuable outcome for the client.
Can you please tell me how BIM can help to speed up project delivery?
With BIM we can simulate things, I can study things before starting the work. It also gives a clear understanding what has to be done and what is really done. And this makes the project more transparent which most likely doesn't fit for most current industry business models.

You are also a co-author of the book '' Generalplanner – all in one''. To whom is this book addressed?

It's a collaborative book initiated by Peter Diggelmann from Archobau who brought a team of experts together to address the issues faced by general planners and building investors in Switzerland, motivate people to try new things and focus on a question ''WHY''. We are planning to re-write a book and add the Integrated Project delivery into it which focused on combining Lean, BIM and contracts. It's a new business model for collaborative project delivery.

Where do you see the opportunity for applying innovation into the business model of the construction industry?
Our business models are outdated. As designers and planners, we are used to selling our services on an hourly rate not based on the value we deliver.
We are not asked for value either, so we don't like transparency. Construction companies do similar things – they focus on charging manpower hours. What is the owner expecting? Transparency. How can we do things better. I believe we should we getting paid for the value we deliver- not the hours we spend on something without having a clear value. We need to start talking about a building project as a product.
When I speak about a building as a product I think of having high performance buildings (which is measurable), predicted energy consumption, less maintenance etc. These things mean real value!
What will construction look like in 2030?
12 years from now seems like a long time but its not. There will surely be more collaboration between people and machines. We still need to learn what tasks and restrictions can be given to the machines and which once should be performed by people.
By 2030 the construction industry will have adopted machine learning and Internet of Things for suitable projects. Data has no borders and doesn't need a passport. So surely in the near future we need to also work on data protection related topics.