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October 24, 2011 / Brendan McFarlane

Why Coordination Fails

One of my presentation themes which never fails to focus minds on the reason why we need to consider a better way of working uses a simple analysis of the number of building elements in a project, and their inter-relationships, and the documents which have to accurately reflect information about them. These “coordination paths” are the lines of coordination which need to be created and maintained during the development and execution of the project.

Consider a single element such as a light fitting, which has the following relationships:

1. To a space and zone
2. To the ceiling in which is hosted
3. To the switch that controls its operation
4. To the electrical circuit that feeds it
5. To the electrical panel that feeds the circuit
6. To a plan drawing
7. To a section drawing
8. To a light fitting schedule on a drawing
9. To group of similar light fittings
10. To a specification which describes its technical characteristics
11. To a document which is used to procure the electrical system
12. To an installation schedule
13. To a set of operating and maintenance documents
14. To a vendor
15. To a stockholder or parts supplier
16. To a health and safety instruction
17. To a dismantling and recycling document

There are other less direct but nonetheless important relationships such as its proximity to other objects hosted in the ceiling, so the final number is considerably higher.

So we are talking about almost 20 direct relationships, coordination paths that need to be consistently maintained throughout the duration of the project design and execution. If you then extrapolate this across the whole project, the number of paths which need to be maintained is staggering. The rough estimate we use for a typical project is 7 building elements per square metre, which for a 5000m2 building is 35,000 elements and a whopping 700,000 coordination paths.

If each path needs on average just 5 minutes coordination time for the whole project (and this is a very conservative figure which could easily be ten times higher), for this 5000m2 building you are talking about almost 60,000 manhours just to ensure that each element is coordinated with all its associated documents and with the other elements. This does not include the document control function which exists just to keep the various bits of paper flowing on a project, this is purely concerned with the coordination of the relationships of the elements to each other, and their associated documents.

One project we are working on is just over 4.5 million square metres of built area, which works out at 26 million manhours just to maintain basic coordination between elements.

Because, in the traditional way of construction, this coordination is largely a manual process, it is highly prone to human error, resulting in significant loss of productivity and downtime while the problems are ironed out, so if you were looking at the return on investment of BIM, integrated with efficient contract management (we use Primavera on our projects), the case is overwhelming.

The reality of construction is that we expend nowhere near the number of manhours necessary for effective coordination because it is just too expensive, even with the cheap labour costs in the middle east. The result is the chaos of missing and incorrect information, and the construction teams are left to join the dots at the end of the process.

There is a better way, and it isn’t rocket science!


One Comment

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  1. Håkon Kvåle Gissinger / Nov 2 2011 7:47 am

    That’s why you may only connect the spesific item to path 1, 2 and 9

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